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Archive for Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Briefly

March 30, 2004

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Washington, D.C.

Judge delays lawsuit to help anthrax probe

A federal judge said Monday that confidential information recently provided to him by the Justice Department showed the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks was at a "critical" and "sensitive" stage and could unearth significant leads by early July.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said the FBI investigation should be allowed to proceed "in an unfettered way," and he granted the government's request to postpone for six months the defamation lawsuit that former Army scientist Steven J. Hatfill filed last summer against the department and Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.

In his lawsuit, Hatfill, 50, a former researcher at the Army's infectious disease research laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., contends that Ashcroft and his subordinates conducted a "coordinated smear campaign" dating to August 2002 and that they labeled him the likely culprit to avoid criticism that the investigation had stalled. Hatfill has denied any role in the mailings.

Spain

Two more suspects charged in train bombing

A Spanish judge charged two more suspects in the Madrid bombings early today.

Judge Juan del Olmo charged Basel Ghayoun, a Syrian, with mass killings in the March 11 bombings that left at least 190 people dead. The judge also charged Moroccan Hamed Ahmidam with collaborating with a terrorist organization.

At the same time, the judge released three suspects after questioning. Of the 21 people arrested, 14 have been charged, six have been released, and one has not been publicly identified or appeared in court.

The charges stop short of a formal indictment but suggest that the court has strong evidence against them. They can be jailed up to two years while investigators gather more evidence.

Spanish news agencies reported Monday that another bombing victim, a 49-year-old woman, had died in a Madrid hospital, bringing the death toll to 191.

United Nations

Security chief fired for Iraq failures

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan fired one senior U.N. official and demoted another Monday for failing to properly protect U.N. staff ahead of the Aug. 19 bombing of United Nations headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people.

Annan's highly critical announcement singled out Tun Myat, the official in charge of overall staff security, who was asked to step down. It said he and others "appeared to be blinded by the conviction that U.N. personnel and installations wound not become a target of attack, despite the clear warnings to the contrary."

The secretary-general also wrote a critical letter to Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, who chaired the Steering Group on Iraq, which gave policy advice to Annan.

Annan's most critical comments were reserved for two U.N. officials who oversaw the headquarters at Baghdad's Canal Hotel. The announcement said they never made any effort to heed a request to buy and install blast-resistant protective film for the hotel windows.

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