Wednesday, April 23, 2014

FBI arrests Mississippi man in ricin letter case

Published:

President Barrack Obama

The ricin poison scare hit Washington after bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured 176 on Monday.

The FBI arrested a Mississippi man in connection with letters sent to President Barack Obama and two other officials believed to contain the deadly poison ricin, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Paul Curtis was arrested at his home in Corinth, Mississippi. He is “believed to be responsible for the mailings of the three letters sent through the U.S. Postal Inspection Service which contained a granular substance that preliminarily tested positive for ricin,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The letters were addressed to a U.S. senator, the White House and a Mississippi justice official, the statement said.

The ricin poison scare hit Washington after bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured 176 on Monday but the FBI said there was no indication the incidents were connected. The envelope sent to Mr. Obama was received at a mail-screening facility outside the White House and was immediately quarantined. Preliminary tests showed it contained the deadly poison ricin, the FBI said

Washington was put on edge on Tuesday when news emerged that authorities had intercepted a letter sent to Republican Senator, Roger Wicker of Mississippi that had initially tested positive for ricin.

Following the arrest, Wicker issued a statement thanking the FBI and Capitol Police “for their professionalism and decisive action in keeping our family and members of staff safe from harm.”

Earlier on Wednesday, a flurry of reports of suspicious letters and packages rattled the U.S. capital and caused the temporary evacuation of parts of two Senate buildings. Most of the reports quickly proved to be false alarms and business was only temporarily disrupted on Capitol Hill.

The letters to Obama and Wicker, which had identical language, included the phrase, “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” They were signed, “I am KC and I approve this message,” according to an FBI operations bulletin.

Two law enforcement sources said investigators believed the man arrested was the same person as Kevin Curtis, who they say has posted rants on the Internet and performed as an entertainer and Elvis Presley impersonator. In an online comment on an Elvis blog post in 2007, Kevin Curtis complained that several Elvis contests in several states were rigged with hosts and judges getting kick-backs. The signature was read, “This is Kevin Curtis and I approve this message.”

Northern District Mississippi Public Service Commissioner, Brandon Presley, who said he was related to Elvis Presley, said that Curtis contacted him via Facebook late on Sunday asking him if he was a relative of the late rock singer. Mr. Presley said he did not know Curtis.

“I don’t know if he’s fixated on Elvis or Elvis’ family or what,” he said. “We’ve been told by the authorities to be very cautious with our mail for the next few days.”

The envelopes believed to contain ricin both bore postmarks from Memphis, Tennessee, and were dated April 8. Memphis Mayor, A.C. Wharton, noted in a statement, however, that it did not mean the letters originated in that city. An aide to Mr. Wharton said many areas near Memphis were included in its postmark – including some in neighbouring Northern Mississippi, Mr. Wicker’s state.

For Washingtonians, the situation was an unsettling reminder of events of nearly 12 years ago when letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to the Washington offices of two senators and to media outlets in New York and Florida, not long after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

The FBI said White House operations were not affected by the latest scare. It noted that filters at a second government mail-screening facility had preliminarily tested positive for ricin this morning and other mails from that facility were also being tested. The tests were being conducted at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland, a government source said.

White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said Mr. Obama had been briefed on the situation.

Ricin is a lethal poison found naturally in castor beans but it takes a deliberate act to convert it into a biological weapon. It can cause death within 36 to 72 hours from exposure to an amount as small as a pinhead. No known antidote exists.

(Reuters/NAN)

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