Cheney says anthrax could be linked to bin Laden

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The Independent US

US Vice President Dick Cheney has said that there could be links between the the four confirmed cases of anthrax and Osama bin Laden.

The FBI has said that there were no clear links between the three cases in Florida and yesterday's confirmed case at the New York headquarters if the NBC TV network, but Mr Cheney said in a television interview that the cases were "suspicious"

He said: "I think the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked," adding that the United States had ample evidence that bin Laden's followers were trained in how to spread biological and chemical weapons.

The NBC employee contracted the skin form of anthrax after opening a threatening letter to network's anchorman Tom Brokaw which contained a suspicious powder, authorities and the network said.

The employee, aged 38, was being treated with antibiotics and was expected to recover.The letter was postmarked 20 September and opened five days later, authorities said.

A criminal investigation was launched to find the source of the anthrax, and health officials were retesting the powder to see if contained the germ. Initial tests had been negative, but authorities said the sample was so small they were reluctant to interpret the results.

The letter to NBC in New York and a letter containing an unknown powder received yesterday by The New York Times both were postmarked from St. Petersburg, Florida, said Barry Mawn, head of the FBI office in New York. The Times' letter was postmarked 5 October.

There was some similarity in the handwriting on both letters, Mawn said, declining to discuss the contents. Both were anonymous letters with no return address.

At the end of his broadcast last night, Mr Brokaw thanked viewers for their concern and then spoke of his colleague. "She has been, as she always is, a rock. She's been an inspiration to us all," he said.

"But this is so unfair and so outrageous and so maddening, it's beyond my ability to express it in socially acceptable terms. So we'll just reserve our thoughts and our prayers for our friend and her family."

A few blocks away, one floor of The New York Times building was cleared after Judith Miller, a reporter who co-wrote a recent best seller on bioterrorism, opened a letter containing a powdery substance a spokeswoman said smelled like talcum powder. It turned out to be innocent.