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Man charged with storing deadly cyanide in Chicago mass transit system

Updated:

CHICAGO (AP) _ A homeless man charged with storing deadly cyanide in part of Chicago's downtown subway system was an anarchist known as ``Dr. Chaos'' in Wisconsin, where he had fled charges of sabotaging utilities, authorities said.

Joseph Konopka, 25, formerly of De Pere, Wis., was charged in federal court Monday with possession of a chemical weapon. U.S. Magistrate Edward A. Bobrick ordered Konopka held pending a hearing Wednesday.

The FBI said Konopka, a former systems administrator for a computer firm in Green Bay, Wis., claims to be the leader of a Wisconsin group of teen-age vandals known as the ``Realm of Chaos'' that attacked power stations, cellular phone towers and radio towers.

``What we're looking at is someone who styles himself as an anarchist, as a domestic terrorist, who tries to live up to his computer moniker, which is Dr. Chaos,'' Door County, Wis., District Attorney Tim Funnell said.

Authorities said Konopka was carrying a vial containing one gram of sodium cyanide when he and a 15-year-old were arrested late Saturday in a utility tunnel at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where officers had set up a stakeout because of a series of burglaries.

The juvenile told FBI agents Konopka had taken over an area in a Chicago Transit Authority underground passageway to store chemicals, authorities said.

That prompted police to shut down service on the CTA's Blue Line, which runs from the Southwest Side to O'Hare International Airport, for three hours while officers in protective clothing searched it.

Federal agents said they found almost a pound of sodium cyanide and four ounces of potassium cyanide in a storage room under Chicago's downtown Loop district, a block from the federal courthouse.

Officials said the cyanide compounds could be combined with other substances to release toxic cyanide gas, but police and federal officials said transit riders were never in any immediate danger.

``It is a serious situation, but we don't want to blow it out of proportion so that people are afraid to ride the subway,'' said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

The FBI alleged that Konopka kept a stolen laptop computer that he used to access networks without permission using a wireless modem.

Authorities also said they found burglary tools and a digital camera used to take pictures of the university tunnels. Konopka also allegedly had sketches of elevated train stations, a Global Positioning System device and a scanner tuned to Commonwealth Edison frequencies, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday, citing unidentified police sources.

Asked how Konopka was able to enter locked rooms and buildings, police Superintendent Terry Hillard said: ``He is a burglar by trade. He is someone who has the equipment and skills and expertise to get into those locations.''

In Wisconsin, Funnell said Tuesday that Konopka had been charged with vandalism in five counties, and had skipped bail last year.

``He's an anarchist,'' Funnell said Tuesday. ``He's sort of disillusioned with society in general, disillusioned with the way society works, disillusioned with the way government works. This is the way he chose to protest.''

He was being sought on more than a dozen warrants in Wisconsin. Last year, he was charged with damaging an electrical switch that caused brownouts in the small town of Algoma. He also was charged in Shawano County with opening a valve at a natural gas facility and trying to ignite the escaping gas.

Konopka's grandmother, Marian Konopka, 76, said in a telephone interview from De Pere, Wis., on Tuesday that she had not talked with him since he jumped bail in June when he was ``scared to death'' that he would be sent to prison for 10 years on vandalism charges.

``I don't know what kind of dark clouds have been going through his mind,'' she said. She said that she and her husband had raised him and that he had never known his father.
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