- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The FBI, revisiting an old lead in the anthrax investigation, recently interviewed a former Fort Detrick researcher and his co-workers about his whereabouts when the letters were mailed, he and his attorney said.

Ayaad Assaad, who now works for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said the agents also quizzed him last Tuesday about his knowledge of producing finely powdered anthrax like that used in the letters.

They assured Mr. Assaad that he is not a suspect in the attacks that killed five persons and sickened 17 others in 2001, according to both the scientist and his attorney, Rosemary McDermott.

FBI spokeswoman Debra Weierman said she could not discuss details of the investigation.

Mr. Assaad is an expert on the toxin ricin and says he never has worked with anthrax.

He contends that the FBI’s focus on him stems from a plot by the anthrax mailer to frame him for the crime. He said he doesn’t think that investigators suspect him of the mailings.

“They just wanted to know some additional information. They want to cover all their bases, and that’s about it,” said Mr. Assaad, a Frederick resident.

All the anthrax letters bore a Trenton, N.J., postmark. Mr. Assaad said he gave the agents receipts and other documentation that he was in the Washington area during two, three-day periods in September and October 2001 when the letters might have been mailed.

He said he also discussed with them his theory about how one could make the type of anthrax used in the attacks by forcing steam from a hot, liquid mixture through a nozzle and collecting dried residue from the condensation.

Mr. Assaad said he never has been vaccinated against anthrax, a precaution many experts say would have been necessary for the mailer to avoid illness.

The Egyptian-born scientist was laid off from his biological-warfare defense job at Fort Detrick in Frederick in 1997, prompting him to file an unsuccessful claim of ethnic discrimination.

He said the FBI first questioned him Oct. 3, 2001, two days before the first anthrax fatality, in Florida. The subject of that interview was an anonymous letter that the FBI had received, purportedly from a co-worker of Mr. Assaad, warning that Mr. Assaad might be planning to mount a biological attack.

An FBI spokesman said in December 2001 that the agency had looked into the charge and concluded that it was unfounded.

The letter was dated Sept. 26, 2001, eight days after the first batch of anthrax-laced letters went out but before their effects were known.

The agents who interviewed Mr. Assaad last week seemed interested in the letter, Mr. Assaad and Miss McDermott said Sunday.

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