- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Panic over bioterrorism escalated locally, nationally and internationally yesterday as more anthrax scares were reported.

Around the globe, hoaxes and false alarms kept people on edge as government scientists raced to check out peculiar packages and test suspicious powders:

• In Athens, the Greek Health Ministry closed after a pink powder was found in a letter addressed to former U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns bearing the message: "Death." The letter was mailed from inside Greece and there was no immediate indication it contained anthrax or posed any health risk, the government said.

• In China, health workers were disinfected after coming into contact with "suspicious substances" enclosed in a letter sent to an American firm, China's Foreign Ministry said. The letter contained publicity about the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.

• In Spain, one person, suspected of sending a letter containing flour to a farm manager, was questioned by police in the northern Zaragoza province and released.

• In Thailand, authorities investigated 16 suspicious letters sent to newspapers, leading companies and a well-known monk, while moving to double the nation's stocks of antibiotics to a four-month supply, officials and reports said.

• In France, 20 persons were hospitalized after suspicious mail was found at the parliament building and also at the post office in the eastern city of Nancy. All were later released and tests on the substances found in the mail were pending.

• In Vienna, an Austrian Airlines jet en route to New Delhi was halted so the 256 passengers and crew members could be tested for anthrax exposure after a passenger found some white powder in her seat, the company said.

• In South Africa, two letters and a parcel containing powder were removed from a house and two businesses near Johannesburg, police said. Forty-one South Africans who were rushed to hospitals after anthrax scares around Cape Town on Wednesday all tested negative, a military spokesman said.

Meanwhile, newsroom and mailroom workers in and around Washington remained on heightened alert after Wednesday's shutdown of part of the Senate Hart Office Building.

The building was evacuated when more than two dozen congressional staffers from the offices of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, tested positive for exposure to anthrax.

Among other scares this week was an e-mail threat to the University of Maryland in College Park Wednesday.

Campus police said yesterday an e-mail sent to them Tuesday mentioned a campus-wide bioterrorism threat.

"The e-mail was from somebody who said they were from Afghanistan and they had extensive knowledge of the university's ventilation system and they had planted anthrax and smallpox in it," campus police Capt. Paul Dillon said. "It turned out to be a hoax."

There also were a telephone call threatening an anthrax attack on Baltimore and Tuesday's report of suspicious packages at The Washington Post and USA Today.

Baltimore officials raised security Wednesday when an anonymous caller told Police Commissioner Edward Norris that an anthrax attack on the city would start Wednesday afternoon.

Federal and local authorities responded Tuesday to USA Today headquarters in the 1000 block of Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, to investigate a suspicious letter found in the Life section of the newsroom.

Steve Anderson, director of communications for USA Today, said yesterday the newspaper was still waiting for the FBI to return test results.

But as a precaution, Life section employees had been moved out of their usual area and into other parts of the building.

Also on Tuesday, The Washington Post, in the 1100 block of 15th Street NW, found a powdery substance on a desk after a female employee opened some mail.

"We don't know anything yet because the FBI has not released any test results to us yet," Lisa Jaczko, a spokeswoman for the Post, said yesterday.

Other anthrax-scare-related developments in the capital region yesterday included:

• Montgomery County's establishment of a hot line to handle public bioterrorism fears. County health officials said they are receiving an average of 300 to 400 daily calls from county residents. Residents can call 240/777-4200 to hear taped information about anthrax and other microbes or speak with medical professionals.

• The closing of a state office building in Richmond. For the second straight day, workers at the Monroe Building, a few blocks from the state Capitol, were evacuated while authorities investigated "the possibility of intrusion of the building's ventilation system," said Reed Boatright, a spokesman for Gov. James S. Gilmore III.

On Wednesday, the building was evacuated for two hours because authorities found a white powder in an elevator.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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