Saturday, November 3, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

East-West Center
hit with threat
of anthrax

Ofiicial says the white powder
in a letter was meant to cause alarm

By Lisa Asato

At a time when false anthrax scares abound, an envelope sent to the East-West Center this week was a deliberate threat, a center official said.

The envelope, addressed to the Human Resources Department, contained a white powder and a handwritten letter saying "Allah is great," said Karen Knudsen, director of the center's Office of External Affairs.

"It was sent to intentionally cause alarm because it contained both powder and a message," she said.

A Honolulu Fire Department field test on the substance was negative for anthrax.

On Wednesday, a student working at Burns Hall at 1601 East-West Road opened the letter and white powder that fell a "little bit on her hands and a little bit on her lap," Knudsen said.

The student worker and about five others in the vicinity were isolated inside while University of Hawaii Campus Security evacuated the building shortly after the 2:43 p.m. alarm, said Capt. Richard Soo, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department.

Knudsen said the student was not wearing gloves because she was in an office outside the mailroom, the only place gloves are required.

"The letter that was delivered did not look unusual," she said. "It had a return address, it did not look unusual." The letter's postmark and return address were from Virginia.

The center follows safety guidelines set by the U.S. Postal Service as well as those outlined by police and fire, Knudsen said. "The first thing we did was turn off the air conditioner, for instance," she said.

"East-West Center has fairly stringent safety procedures ... but we're meeting to review them just to see if we need to do anything differently."

Soo said the substance was double-bagged when HFD Hazardous Materials, or HazMat, teams arrived. But he said there was "definitely criminal intent because of the letter."

Since Oct. 12, HazMat teams have responded to more than 300 calls, including a record 32 on Thursday, to check unidentified substances or odors, Soo said.

Another letter received yesterday again brought HazMat teams to the Manoa site. Knudsen said the unopened letter was considered suspect because there was no return address and it had a "questionable postmark."

"We're an international organization," she said. "We get letters from all over the world. Some of them are addressed differently with different kinds of handwriting, so we need to determine how we're going to be looking at these different letters and packages."

HazMat teams found no powder in the sealed envelope.

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