But the details of the affair, in which two men were arrested and charged with possession of the deadly germ warfare agent, became increasingly murky.
As the United States prepared for military action against Iraq, justified in large part by its alleged chemical and biological weapons program, Larry Harris, 46, and William Leavitt, 47, appeared in a Nevada courtroom laden with leg and arm shackles.
Test results were awaited yesterday to determine whether they had indeed been driving down the Las Vegas strip with anthrax in the boot of their car. Harris, a trained microbiologist, had ties to a far-right white supremacist group, the Aryan Nations, as recently as 1995, claiming the rank of Lieutenant- Colonel.
Hours after an informant reported he had bragged of possessing "military- grade" anthrax, a team of 100 FBI agents and police swooped on the two men.
President Bill Clinton was briefed personally on the case. But a lawyer for Leavitt described his client as a respectable businessman and former Mormon bishop who was interested in investing in radical treatments for victims of biological warfare.
Harris has claimed to be testing a ray machine that kills toxic bacteria like anthrax and bubonic plague. Tests continued yesterday on the car the men were driving, which was isolated and wrapped in plastic at a US airbase. Eight to10 leather bags marked "biological" and stashed in the boot were apparently the focus of the FBI.
But Leavitt's lawyer predicted that scientists would find only anthrax vaccine used on farm animals. When the news broke residents of suburban Henderson, near Las Vegas, flooded local radio stations with calls asking whether they should evacuate.
With many questions still to be answered about the case, it was Harris' name that apparently triggered the massive response. Last year, he pleaded guilty to acquiring plague bacteria by mail order from a laboratory, but claimed his research for a book was aimed at preventing rather than causing biological terror. The FBI affidavit, however, said that last summer, he had spoken of his plans to unleash bubonic plague toxin in the New York subway.Reuse content