U.S. Suspects Four Nations Possess SmallPox
W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 5 — U.S. intelligence believes four nations other than the United States — Iraq, North Korea, Russia and France — probably possess samples of the smallpox virus, a U.S. official said.
Al Qaeda is also believed to have sought samples of smallpox for weaponization, but U.S. officials don't believe the terror network is capable of mounting an attack with smallpox. Evidence recovered in Afghanistan pointed to Osama bin Laden's interest in the disease, the U.S. official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials worry that Iraq and North Korea could develop potent biological weapons with their samples, and lax security in Russia could allow other nations to obtain the deadly disease for use as a weapon.
The fears that smallpox, declared eradicated in 1980, could again be loose on the world have driven the Bush administration to consider vaccinations for the American populace and to prepare emergency plans should an outbreak be detected.
Smallpox historically has killed about a third of its victims and can be transmitted from person to person, unlike other biological weapons such as anthrax.
Many experts suspected North Korea had samples of the smallpox virus. A Russian intelligence report made public in 1993 accused Pyongyang of having a smallpox weapon, though that has not been publicly corroborated.
A declassified U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report from May 1994 also quotes an unnamed source saying Russian scientists gave North Korea smallpox samples.
Before 1998, U.N. weapons inspectors discovered limited evidence of a smallpox program in Iraq. They found a machine labeled "smallpox" and Iraq is experimenting with a related virus that infects camels.
Russia acknowledges having samples of the virus, as does the United States. But Ken Alibek, a former top scientist in the Soviet biological weapons program who came to the United States in 1992, claimed the Soviets covertly developed smallpox as a weapon in the 1980s.
The Washington Post, which first reported the intelligence finding in today's editions, said France's samples are believed to be for defensive research programs aimed at limiting casualties from a smallpox outbreak.
Routine smallpox vaccinations ended in the United States in 1972, and experts believe that those last vaccinated more than three decades ago have little residual immunity remaining. Only Russia and the United States overtly kept samples of the virus.
But the decision to offer the vaccine is a difficult one because the vaccine itself can be dangerous. It is made with a live virus called vaccinia that can cause serious damage both to people vaccinated and to those with whom they come into close contact.
— The Associated Press
War, Sniper Shootings Make Ramadan Anxious Time for Muslims
P A T E R S O N, N.J., Nov. 5 — The threat of war and the sniper shootings case promise to make the holy month of Ramadan an anxious time for U.S. Muslims, just as it was last year after the terrorist attacks.
"It would be like on Christmas Day, if Christians felt they were in the position of guilt by association," said Hodan Hassan, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
At the holiest time of the year "you feel like you have to defend your faith and defend yourself and prove that you are a real American," he said.
In Islam, Ramadan marks God's revelation of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad nearly 1,400 years ago. Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sex during daylight hours in an act of sacrifice and purification.
The holiday is marked on a lunar calendar and begins at the first sighting of the crescent moon, which should take place on Wednesday in the United States, according to Khalid Shaukat, a lunar observation consultant for major Islamic groups.
Last year, the holiday came two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Hundreds of Muslims, many from the Northeast, were detained or arrested by authorities looking for terrorists. American bombs were falling on Afghanistan.
This year, the nation is poised for another military conflict with a Muslim nation, this time Iraq. And news that one of the Washington-area sniper suspects was a convert to Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam has some Muslims fearful of a backlash similar to the one that followed Sept. 11, even though the status of Farrakhan's group as part of orthodox Islam is disputed.
While Muslims will continue to fast, pray and gather with family as they have done for centuries, this Ramadan will be more restrained and anxious, many say.
"Our teaching is that anything that happens to us is a test," said Nabil Abbassi, president of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, one of the most influential mosques in New Jersey. "There were beautiful, pleasant, easygoing times before, and they were a test of how we handled blessings.
"Now we are in a different kind of test. Our religion is being questioned and attacked everywhere."
Ramadan is a time of introspection, prayer and compassion. Each day of fasting ends with family and friends gathering to share a rich meal that begins with dates, juice and soup and ends with sticky pastries.
That communal meal in the evening has traditionally been a great celebration. But for the past two years, world events have dulled some of the joy.
Muslims agonized over the deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan last fall, and fear much greater destruction and death if the U.S. attacks Iraq in an effort to topple Saddam Hussein.
"The war against Iraq will never benefit the American people or humanity," said Imam Mohammad Qatanani, the spiritual leader of the Paterson mosque. "We will pray this month by raising our hands to God to stop any kind of war between brothers and sisters. We will make it a special occasion to build bridges between brothers and sisters in faith, and ask people to stop their desire to wage war and kill."
But Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, based in Plainfield, Ind., said American Muslims have one reason to be especially joyful this Ramadan.
"The terrorists thought the power of America was in those tall towers and took them down," Syeed said. "But they didn't know the real power of America is in its people of all colors and religions coming together to make a society in which everyone contributes, and that has not changed."
— The Associated Press
Defense Department May Not Release Report on 9/11 Pentagon Attack
N E W Y O R K, Nov. 5 — A report that helps explain why the Pentagon suffered relatively small structural damage during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may not be publicly released.
The Defense Department, concerned that the report could expose the building's vulnerabilities, has held up the study in a classification review, The New York Times reported today.
"We've obviously been the site of a terrorist attack, so we don't want to disclose anything that would assist someone who would want to attack us again," John Jester, acting director of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, a security agency, told the Times.
Jester said the study's findings could possibly be shared with certain engineers even if the report is classified.
The review, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers and completed last July, also provides recommendations for making buildings safer.
The five concentric rings of the Pentagon are built of heavy layers of limestone and brick, as well as concrete. Engineers have said that those materials helped absorb the impact of the plane crash and the flames that broke out immediately afterward.
Few of the 125 Pentagon workers who died in the attacks were from outside the immediate impact area. A total of 59 passengers and crew members on the plane died.
— The Associated Press
Vietnam Veterans Honor Ground Zero Rescue Dogs
N E W Y O R K, Nov. 5 — After raising money to help victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and other causes, the Vietnam Veterans of America found they still had "a few bucks left," so they bought a dog.
Not just any dog, but one of the hundred or so plastic DOGNY statues that are now being placed around New York City by the American Kennel Club, commemorating the search and rescue dogs of Ground Zero.
The veterans' dog, gussied up in camouflage combat gear, was placed in the lobby of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Manhattan, where on Monday it was dedicated to the 4,000 scout, sentry and tracker dogs and their military handlers in the Vietnam War.
"A lot of our guys were dog handlers so they really appreciate this," said John Rowan, president of the VVA's New York chapter, who led the delegation laying a wreath in the colors of the Vietnam service ribbon, which is based on the yellow and red flag of the U.S.-backed Saigon government.
The dog statue, clad in camouflaged helmet and poncho, web gear, canteen and boots, with a "K-9" dog tag around its neck, drew amused and curious looks from hospital staff, patients and visitors.
"It's so beautiful," gushed Fanny Vitagliano, of Manhattan, who was visiting the hospital with her husband Biagio, a World War II veteran.
"This is a good thing, really an honor, recognizing that those dogs did a lot," said Robert Deluccy, a former Vietnam War artilleryman who was seeing friends at the hospital. "Those dogs saved a lot of lives. It's a shame we had to take theirs."
Dogs were popular with many American combat units in Vietnam, especially valued for their ability in scouting the rugged terrain and spotting trip wires and other clues to hidden booby traps.
Of the dogs that served with U.S. forces in Indochina, about 280 were killed in action. Unlike the original K-9 Corps dogs of World War I and World War II, the rest of them did not return home. Concerns about disease and readjustment mandated that they be put down.
The American Kennel Club's DOGNY program provides financial support for canine search and rescue organizations nationwide. The statues can be sponsored for $10,000 or bought outright for $13,500.
Rowan, who served with Air Force intelligence in Vietnam, said the VVA had found many uses for its own post-9/11 fund-raising, helping veterans and "people who otherwise fall through the cracks." With "a few bucks left over," Rowan said, the group decided to buy the dog statue, and plans to take it on tour to other VA hospitals.
"I think it's a fitting tribute to all the dogs that went out there," said David Frei, spokesman for the American Kennel Club. "It's just another testimony to the good things that our dogs do for us everyday."
— The Associated Press