- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Law enforcement authorities investigating anthrax scares nationwide have focused on meetings between one of the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attack on America and an Iraqi intelligence agent as a possible source of the potentially deadly bacteria.
Mohamed Atta, 33, believed to be the pilot aboard the American Airlines flight that first struck the World Trade Center, met secretly twice last year with Iraqi intelligence agent Ahmed Samir Ahani raising the possibility of Iraqi involvement in the suicide strikes that killed more than 5,000 people.
Atta lived at one time lived near the Florida site where deadly airborne exposures of the anthrax bacteria killed one man and infected another. He has been identified as the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington and as the head of a terrorist cell linked to fugitive Osama bin Laden.
The Iraqi agent later was expelled by Czech officials for activities they said conflicted with his diplomatic mission. Czech officials also are investigating whether Atta met with other Iraqi officials in Prague, including Farouk Hijazi, Saddam Hussein's former director of external security who also met with bin Laden.
Iraq is one of the nations on the State Department's list of "state sponsors" of international terrorism. The country is believed to have used its technology to produce anthrax for itself and various terrorist organizations. Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey has said the sophistication of the attacks on Sept. 11 suggested possible Iraqi support.
Richard Butler, former U.N. arms inspector in Iraq, told reporters in London there was some evidence that bin Laden's al Qaeda network had acquired anthrax from Iraq. He said the Egyptian government believed the bacteria could have been handed over to Atta during the Prague meetings.
He said a "credible report, not yet fully verified" says Iraq may have given anthrax to the terrorists who struck the World Trade Center.
Justice Department and FBI officials have declined to discuss specifics of their ongoing criminal investigation into the anthrax exposures.
Anthrax is a colorless, odorless and tasteless bacteria that protects itself from sunlight, heat and disinfectant by forming a protective coat. With this coat, the bacteria is called a "spore," which are so small that even an infectious dose between 8,000 and 10,000 spores is smaller than a speck of dust.
It is considered a biological weapon and when used as an airborne threat, such as the Florida cases, can be fatal 90 percent of the time. Less-lethal forms include cutaneous anthrax infections, which occur if the bacteria comes in contact with the skin.
Bob Stevens, a photo editor at a Florida-based supermarket tabloid, died Oct. 5 after inhaling the anthrax bacteria. A co-worker, Ernesto Blanco, also has been diagnosed with the airborne form of the disease. Mr. Stevens lived about a mile from an airstrip where flight school owner Marian Smith said Atta rented planes. Several suspected hijackers visited a crop-dusting business in Belle Glade, 40 miles from Mr. Stevens' home in Lantana, Fla.
The two men paid $38,000 to the Florida school for flight training.
The Palm Beach Post yesterday reported Atta sought treatment for "abnormally red" hands from a Florida pharmacist in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks. The newspaper said the pharmacist recognized Atta from news reports and contacted the FBI.
Police in Germany said Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, named as the pilot aboard United Airlines Flight 175 that crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower, shared an apartment in Hamburg before traveling to Florida. German authorities said Atta was part of an anti-American Islamic fundamentalist group in Hamburg.
Atta obtained a visa to enter this country at the U.S. consulate in Berlin on May 18, 2000, and came to Newark, N.J., on June 3 on a flight from Prague. He was admitted under a temporary visitor's visa good for six months.
He lived in at least five Florida cities: Venice, Hollywood, Coral Springs, Lantana and Opa-Locka.
Atta, who traveled regularly between this country and several countries, used an Egyptian passport but was believed to have been a United Arab Emirates national. At one point, he was registered as a student at the Technical University in Hamburg.
U.S. intelligence officials said bin Laden also was in contact with Iraq from his base in Afghanistan in the days leading up to Sept. 11.

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