Doubts remain as case against 'anthrax killer' is revealed

Prosecutors in Washington have made public the first details of their case against the government scientist suspected of carrying out the 2001 anthrax attacks. But doubt still persisted about the FBI's handling of the affair – including even whether Bruce Ivins was in fact responsible for the attacks that killed five people.

The evidence that emerges from affidavits released yesterday by the Justice Department after a seven-year investigation is powerful but essentially circumstantial. It will not be tested in court, as Dr Ivins, senior researcher at the government's bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, killed himself with a drug overdose as the government was preparing to indict him on charges that could carry the death penalty.

Perhaps most damning, Dr Ivins was said to be the custodian of a large flask of the deadly spores that had, as one affidavit said, a "certain genetic mutation" that was "identical" to the anthrax contained in the anthrax-laced letters sent to Congressional leaders and various media organisations in Washington, New York and Boca Raton, Florida.

He was also unable to explain some of his movements, including various late night work sessions in his lab, around the time the letters were sent in September and October 2001 – the first of them mailed exactly a week after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Other affidavits say he had "incredible paranoid thoughts," and a history of mental problems.

Dr Ivins, it is also alleged, submitted false samples for analysis by investigators. He also apparently sent out an email just before the anthrax warning that Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida organisation had both anthrax and the deadly sarin agent. The email contained language similar to the crudely written notes in the letters themselves. Finally, Dr Ivins is said to have made self-incriminating statements under questioning by investigators.

"We only started to focus on Dr Ivins in 2007," Jeffrey Taylor, federal attorney for the District of Colombia, told a press conference last night, after prosecutors had explained their findings to relatives of the victims, and most of the other 17 people infected by the anthrax spores but who survived.

"We believe that on basis of the evidence we collected, we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond reasonable doubt," Mr Taylor said. "We are confident that he was the only person responsible for the attacks." The evidence was circumstantial but compelling, a "chain of evidentiary items that lead to only one conclusion".

Even so, much remains unexplained. The envelopes in which the anthrax was sent "very probably" originated at a post office in Frederick, Maryland, where Dr Ivins maintained a PO box, investigators said. He also had the time to drive to Princeton, New Jersey, where the letters were postmarked, but Mr Taylor conceded there was no evidence actually placing him there.

At least equally baffling is motive. Investigators have suggested Dr Ivins sent out the letters to test whether a vaccine he was preparing worked. "He may have been trying to create a scenario whereby people realised they would need to take the vaccine," one official said. Others, however, point out that the scientist must have known the acute danger in which he was placing people. In the days following Dr Ivin's death, several colleagues have publicly insisted he was incapable of doing such a thing.

Officials flatly rejected suggestions yesterday that agents had hounded Mr Ivins for years, creating a pressure that eventually led him to take his own life.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power