Malaysian Government Vows Full Weight of the Law in Anthrax Probe

Sunday, October 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Malaysia's government pledged Sunday to prosecute anyone shown to be behind an anthrax-tainted letter believed sent from the Southeast Asian nation to a Microsoft office in Nevada.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said officials were ``shocked and deeply disturbed'' over the matter. He said the government had asked the FBI for all relevant information about the case.

``As a matter of policy, the government ... will extend its fullest support and cooperation to the U.S. authorities,'' Syed Hamid said. ``We will not hesitate to use the full weight of the law against anyone found to be involved in such dangerous and malicious acts.''

Officials at the Microsoft Licensing Inc. office in Reno, Nev., contacted U.S. health officials Wednesday over an employee's suspicions about a returned envelope, which had been mailed earlier to an unidentified vendor in Malaysia. Pornographic pictures had been inserted into the envelope, which also contained a check made out to the vendor.

An initial examination Thursday indicated anthrax on one of the five pictures, which had been apparently been clipped from a magazine. On Saturday, the third in a series of tests came up positive for anthrax.

So far, no one has tested positive at Microsoft for the disease or become ill.

Syed Hamid said Malaysian authorities had still not confirmed that the ``letter did ``did indeed originate from Malaysia, or that it was not tampered with in the United States itself.''

In a written statement, Syed Hamid said it was ``highly unlikely'' that any groups linked to terrorism in Malaysia had access to biological weapons like the anthrax bacterium. He did not identify which groups he meant.

U.S. officials in Washington say the al-Qaida group of Osama bin Laden, the top suspect in the Sept. 11 terror bombings, has been trying to build ties with Islamic militants in Malaysia, as well as in Indonesia and the Philippines _ working to make Southeast Asia a hub for terrorists.

One of the suspected hijackers in the attacks on the United States, Khaled Almihdhar, was shown to be visiting Malaysia early this year, appearing on a surveillance videotape meeting with a suspected bin Laden associate.

Health Minister Chua Jui Meng said the government would hold a meeting of Malaysian laboratory officials, doctors and veterinarians sometime this week as a ``precautionary measure.''

``Just because the Americans are having a problem there, we want to respond by making sure that we are ready, even though there is no occurrence (of anthrax) in this country,'' Chua told reporters.

At least eight people are confirmed to have been exposed to anthrax in the United States since the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.