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POWDER IN LETTER SENT TO NEWS TESTED

Three employees of The Buffalo News are taking precautionary doses of the antibiotic Cipro after being exposed Thursday to a letter from Scotland that contained an unknown white powder.

The letter sent to The News was one of a series of at least five letters sent from Glasgow, Scotland, that FBI agents believe came from the same source.

"There are enough similarities between them that it would appear the source is the same," said Stanley J. Borgia, an FBI agent in the Buffalo office.

A similar letter with the same Glasgow postmark was sent to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and two offices in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. The New York Times and the Albany Times-Union received similar letters earlier in the week.

Preliminary tests show each of those letters was a hoax. FBI officials expect the letter from The News to be tested for anthrax within 24 hours.

Two other suspicious unrelated letters, which arrived Thursday both at the Washington Bureau of The Buffalo News at the National Press Club and at another office in the building, were opened by Washington, D.C., police and found to contain nothing unusual.

"Five letters originated from Glasgow," a police spokesman told the Scottish Daily Record on Thursday. "Given the similarities, it is likely that all five packages are part of a tasteless hoax."

Both the envelope sent to The News and to the Rochester newspaper contained a single sheet of paper with the word "Jihad," the Arabic word for holy war.

Borgia, the FBI agent, said the Glasgow letters were in similar envelopes, carried similar handwriting, had no return address and were postmarked on the same day, Oct. 17.

The two letters from Scotland sent to Washington, D.C., addresses, Borgia said, were mailed to the National Public Health Organization and the National Federation of Federal Employees.

At The News, the letter was part of a delivery of mail that was picked up at 9 a.m. at the William Street Post Office.

Under procedures set up because of earlier anthrax mailings and hoaxes, the letter was opened in a room separate from the newspaper's mailroom by an employee wearing a mask and gloves.

When he opened the envelope at about 10 a.m., a white powder spilled out, he said, and some of the powder spilled onto his shirt.

The mailroom employee and two other workers who also were exposed were not identified. But Erie County health officials said they will receive Cipro while the powder is being tested.

The FBI, hazardous-materials teams, firefighters, police officers and rescue crews came to The News and sealed off the Washington Street entrance until the letter was removed but allowed people to come and go through the building's Scott Street entrance.

Evacuation of The News was not deemed necessary, but the Democrat & Chronicle building in Rochester was evacuated from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

News Executive Vice President Robert J. Casell said News readers should not be concerned about the safety of holding the newspaper.

"There is no question the papers are safe to handle," he said. "The production of the newspaper is in a completely separate location from the mail area."

A field test generally thought to be accurate determined the powder sent to the Rochester paper was harmless. Results of a more accurate test are expected within 48 hours.

A public health lab at the University at Buffalo has been gearing up for the testing of bioterrorism-related diseases and will be ready to handle anthrax testing Monday, Erie County officials said.

The county's public health lab also is working to upgrade its ability to handle anthrax testing, and could be ready to do the tests as soon as January, county officials said.

e-mail: mbeebe@buffnews.com

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