Kenyan authorities today said a letter mailed from Atlanta has tested positive for anthrax spores, the first such case outside the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The unidentified Kenyan recipient and four other family members "may have come into contact" with the bacteria and were being tested, said Health Minister Sam Ongeri.
He said the five were being tested, but were not in any danger. The powder in the letter was undergoing more tests at a government lab.
The letter had been mailed from Atlanta three days before the Sept. 11 attacks, was received in Kenya on Oct. 9, and was opened on Oct. 11, Ongeri said.
Kenyan authorities were also investigating two other letters, one to a U.N. official in Nairobi and another to a businessman in the central Kenyan town of Nyeri. The two letters, one of which was mailed in Pakistan and another in Nairobi, had suspicious white powder on them, he said.
Panic Around the World
The latest revelation came as the anthrax cases in the United States have triggered panic attack, hoaxes and alerts around the world.
Postal services were in a disarray across parts of Britain today as hundreds of postal workers were evacuated from the main postal office in the British town of Birmingham after a "suspicious" letter addressed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair triggered a panic.
Tests on the letter came out negative and postal staff was allowed to return to work hours after the evacuation.
The incident came despite pleas for calm by British authorities and warnings that hoaxers, if caught, would be severely punished.
British Home Secretary David Blunkett today said hoaxers would receive a maximum penalty from six months to seven years, putting them on the same level as bomb hoaxers by British law.
Although the public has been urged to stay calm, British emergency services have been issued new guidelines on how to cope with an anthrax attack, should it occur.
In the Greek capital of Athens, offices of the Health Ministry were shut down today after an employee opened a letter containing suspicious powder addressed to the former U.S. Ambassador Nick Burns, Greek police said.
Health Ministry workers were undergoing tests and there was no immediate indication of whether the powder contained anthrax spores. It was also unclear how the letter addressed to Burns, who ended his stint in Athens earlier this year, landed at the Health Ministry offices.
In France, an envelope containing a suspicious white powder was discovered at the National Assembly today and three people were taken to the hospital as a precaution. The suspect package, addressed simply to the "National Assembly," was discovered during the morning's mail sorting. Mail services at the assembly were not halted nor were any rooms in the building closed.
Even Israel, a country familiar with bioterror following widespread reports of Iraq's biological weapons capability during the Gulf War, was not immune to panic attacks. In Jerusalem, police closed off a section of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office when an employee reported feeling ill after opening a letter with a foul smell. Security officials removed the letter and two employees were taken to hospital for tests.
Preparing for a Crisis
As emergency services around the world responded to panicked calls, governments of several countries were assessing their ability to respond to a bio-crisis.
Following the latest disclosure of the testing of a "suspicious" letter in Kenya that was mailed from Pakistan, health officials in Pakistan today said there were no facilities to produce anthrax in Pakistan. But Gen. Mohammed Aslam, director-general of Pakistan's Health Ministry, was quick to assure Pakistanis that should an anthrax outbreak occur, the impoverished South Asian country was in a position to handle it with antibiotics.
In neighboring China, workers at a U.S. firm in the capital of Beijing were disinfected today after an alarm was raised when a letter with "suspicious" substances on it was opened, according to a statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The letter apparently contained information about the banned Falun Gong movement.
As emergency alerts, disruption of services and hoaxes appeared to unite the world under an umbrella of universal fear, hundreds of protesters in Greece seized on the symbolic potential of the latest cause for terror.
At a demonstration protesting the U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan in Athens, Greece, today, protesters sprinkled white powder on envelopes outside the U.S. consulate to call attention to what they called the global consequences of the current strikes on Afghanistan.
There is no evidence of any links between the current spate of anthrax cases and Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Sometimes the incidents were incongruous, even humorous. In the East German town of Chemnitz, an elderly resident called local authorities in a panic after receiving a package marked "Gift" from the United States. "Gift" is the German word for poison.
And in Canada, a mailing from World Vision Canada, a Canadian-based aid organization, caused a panic when recipients received a package stamped with the message: Shake this envelope and hear the sound of hope.
If not exactly the sound of hope, fans of corrido, a folk music popular in Mexico, have been tuning in to the sound of the times. In Mexico City, Rigoberto Cardenas, a popular corrido composer famous for his "narco-ballads" extolling the heroics of legendary drug traffickers, is releasing his latest work on the terror of the times. Cardenas' latest Bin Laden Corrido though is not so much an exhortation as a denouncement of the terror, direct and indirect, that the Saudi-born millionaire is suspected of unleashing on the world.