Laden could be behind anthrax scare: Cheney
WASHINGTON: US Vice President Dick Cheney indicated on Friday that suspected terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden could behind an anthrax scare in the United States that has already claimed one life, and said he assumed new terrorist strikes would occur.

Bin Laden is the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist strikes on the United States that left more the 5,500 people dead and missing and US officials say he has developed expertise in and sought to acquire chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

Anthrax, the bioterrorist's weapon of choice according to many experts, has been detected in several locations in the United States in recent days, killing one man and infecting at least one other person.

In the latest case on Friday a woman at NBC television network's New York headquarters was found to be infected by the killer bacteria on her skin.

Cheney, speaking on public television's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, said that "nobody's made a direct link yet" with Bin Laden, but added: "I think the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked."

"Are they related? We don't know. We don't have enough evidence to be able to pin down that kind of connection. But ... we have to be suspicious."

Recounting US knowledge about Bin Laden's operations and activities in the past, the vice president said the Saudi multimillionaire "has over the years tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical weapons.

"We know that he's trained people in his camps in Afghanistan. For example, we have copies of the manuals that they've actually used to train people with respect to how to deploy and use these kinds of substances.

"So, you start to piece it altogether. Again, we have not completed the investigation and maybe it's coincidence, but I must say I'm a skeptic."

Cheney called on Americans to maintain vigilance, and to report suspicious letters and packages to law enforcement officials.

US authorities have declared a full alert across the country with the FBI saying another terrorist strike could occur within days, possibly over the weekend, in reprisal for the US-led attacks on Afghanistan, whose Taliban rulers have refused to hand over Bin Laden.

"We know that there are threats out there. We know that there's is an organisation with a lot of well-trained people in it, a lot of financing of cells all over the world," Cheney said.

He added that the United States could not work on the assumption that the September 11 terrorist onslaught was isolated.

"In fact, we have to assume it will happen again, and that's the only safe way for us to proceed."

He said that it was also safe to assume that members of Bin Laden's network of militants, al-Qaeda, remained at large in the United States.

"I think the only safe assumption is that there may well be others here," he said.

He said these militants "have planned or trained to carry out various kinds of operations, and we need to do everything we can to wrap them up."
( AFP )