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ANTHRAX PROBE NOT LIMITED TO FOREIGN ORIGIN

Though it is entirely possible that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network is behind the current wave of anthrax attacks, a local FBI agent Tuesday told emergency officials that radical domestic groups or individuals could just as easily be responsible.

Special Agent John P. Culhane Jr. shared his thoughts during a disaster-preparedness seminar sponsored by the Erie County Local Emergency Planning Committee, a voluntary group of representatives from industry, government and first-responder agencies.

"There is no factual data regarding the anthrax that points to the Taliban or anyone else at this point," said Culhane, supervisory agent for the Niagara Falls FBI office.

Culhane, a specialist on international terrorism, showed slides of various terrorists believed responsible for attacks on the United States and American interests overseas.

The images included bin Laden and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But not all of the photographs were of foreigners.

Displaying a photo of white-supremacist skinheads with a swastika, Culhane said the ultra-right wing in this country could not be ruled out as perpetrators of mailing the anthrax, which has killed three people so far.

"Skinheads and others are anxious to foment unrest, and they have an opportunity here to lay it off on someone else," Culhane said. "This is the kind of right-wing activity we have to pay attention to."

Culhane also displayed pictures of executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, a former Pendleton resident, and James C. Kopp, the accused killer of Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, an Amherst physician who performed abortions.

"James Kopp is as much a terrorist as Osama bin Laden. Whether it's killing a doctor in Amherst or 6,000 people, they are killing to accomplish their mission," Culhane said.

He explained that terrorists often are driven by twisted perceptions of religion.

When one of the estimated 150 people at the conference asked Culhane whether churches could become terrorist targets because radical Islamic fundamentalists are believed to be behind the Sept. 11 attacks, the agent said that any meeting place is at risk.

Culhane said a multiagency terrorism task force of 15 law enforcement investigators is being formed, including agents from the FBI; the IRS; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Customs Service; and Buffalo-area agencies, including the Amherst and Niagara Falls police departments and the Niagara County Sheriff's Department.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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