Friday, November 30, 2001

The FBI yesterday identified a self-proclaimed “anti-abortion warrior” as a suspect in the sending of anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics nationwide, and appealed to the public for help in finding him.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Assistant Director Ruben Garcia said Clayton Lee Waagner, on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list since September, had taken credit for hundreds of letters sent to clinics across the country although no powder in any letter tested positive for anthrax.

“The Department of Justice considers Waagner’s threats and all anthrax hoaxes to be serious violations of federal law,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “Perpetrators of anthrax hoaxes and those who threaten abortion providers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“We are committed to identifying, tracking down and prosecuting these domestic terrorists who threaten the lives and welfare of innocent Americans,” he said.

Mr. Garcia, who heads the FBI’s criminal investigative division, said the bureau considers Waagner “extremely dangerous,” adding that he is believed to be heavily armed.

“This investigation once again proves the determination of the FBI and the Department of Justice in protecting civil rights of American people and ensuring the safety and well-being of this nation during this unique moment in history,” Mr. Garcia said. “We are absolutely committed to identifying and prosecuting anyone who tries to intimidate or frighten the American people or to violate our civil rights.”

Mr. Garcia asked the public to “lend their eyes and ears” in helping to track down Waagner “so we can bring to an end this violent crime spree and his wanton disregard for the rights of our citizens.”

The FBI said that during the second week of October, more than 280 letters purporting to contain anthrax were mailed to abortion clinics on the East Coast, each marked “Time Sensitive” and “Urgent Security Notice Enclosed.” The envelopes bore return addresses of the U.S. Marshals Service or the U.S. Secret Service.

Earlier this month, a second series of more than 270 anthrax-threat letters were sent to several clinics via Federal Express. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the FBI said, authorities received information that Waagner had claimed responsibility for sending the letters.

Waagner, 44, was convicted on charges of possession of a firearm by a felon and interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle. He escaped from the Dewitt County Jail in Clinton, Ill., in February, where he was awaiting sentencing and facing a term of 15 years to life.

The FBI believes Waagner has committed several bank robberies since his escape. He has been charged with the robbery of a First Union Bank in Harrisburg, Pa.

The bureau said that during Labor Day weekend this year, Waagner abandoned a vehicle in Memphis, Tenn., following a hit-and-run accident. They said authorities recovered a rifle, shotgun, pipe bomb and pro-life literature from the vehicle. That same weekend, they said, Waagner fled the area after committing a carjacking in nearby Tunica, Miss.

Waagner was arrested in September 1999 after entering Illinois with his wife and eight children in a stolen Winnebago, which had four stolen handguns under the driver’s seat, the FBI said.

In June, federal authorities warned abortion clinics after someone purporting to be Waagner had posted an Internet message threatening to kill employees of abortionists.

Waagner is described as a white male, 6 feet 1 inches tall, 175 to 220 pounds, with brown hair and green eyes. He was born in North Dakota in 1956 and had used more than 50 aliases. Because of possible frostbite injuries, he may have limited use of his left hand and may, at times, walk with a limp. He also is known to be a heavy smoker and gambler and drinks Crown Royal bourbon.

The letters Waagner was accused of sending were not associated with those that went to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, which did contain anthrax.

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