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Pakistani Officials Send Mixed Signals on Identity of Anthrax Mailer

Pakistani officials have issued conflicting statements on the identity of the individual who mailed anthrax spores to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in October, the New York Times reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Feb. 1).

Government spokesman Akram Shaheedi said security officials have singled out a Jamshoro University associate professor, identified only as Ms. Zulekha, as the culprit. He was not able to answer whether she had been taken into custody.

Hakim Khan, a high-ranking law enforcement officer who heads presidential protection, however, rejected the assertion that Zulekha had been identified as the culprit; he did verify that investigators had been dispatched to Jamshoro to probe the matter. The anthrax package was mailed from a university postal site om tje Sindh province city, Khan said.

Gilani was never exposed to the deadly bacteria as the packet containing the spores was headed off by his protective team. The package was sent to the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, which tested the contents and verified the substance was anthrax.

Though assassination plots against government personnel are not unusual in Pakistan, the country does not have a history of attempted targeted killings using anthrax or other weaponized pathogens. A leading newspaper and two other Pakistani companies received anthrax spores in November 2001, but the reason for the mailings remains unknown (Salman Masood, New York Times, Feb. 1).

The lethality of the spores is not yet known, along with how the mailer would have been able to acquire the material, Agence France-Presse reported.

Anthrax occurs naturally in animals and is particularly common in regions of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"After the laboratory test confirmed that the parcel contained anthrax, we registered a case against unknown people" on Tuesday, Khan said.

Authorities provided no reason on why a criminal case was opened months after the incident. Gilani's office first intercepted the package -- comprised of an envelope containing a smaller envelope that held the anthrax powder -- on Oct. 18, according to the police report.

Authorities declined reporter requests to view the laboratory results conforming the authenticity of the anthrax (Sajjad Tarakzai, Agence France-Presse/Google News, Feb. 1).

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This article provides an overview of Pakistan’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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