WASHINGTON — Authorities yesterday intercepted a letter sent to Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker that preliminary tests showed contained the deadly poison ricin, and the Capitol police, FBI and other agencies have launched an investigation.
The letter has been sent for further analysis to an accredited laboratory, Capitol police said last night.
It was postmarked from Memphis, Tennessee, and had no return address, Terrance Gainer, the Senate sergeant at arms, said earlier in a warning to members of the Senate.
Gainer first said in a statement that the substance had tested positive for ricin, which is found naturally in castor beans and can cause death from exposure to as little as a pinhead amount, usually within the first 72 hours.
Police later issued a statement saying the test was “preliminary” and “indicated” that ricin had been found in the letter.
It was intercepted in a mail handling facility and quarantined, the statement said.
“Senate employees should be vigilant in their mail handling processes for all mailings,” Gainer said in his written statement.
Members of the Senate were briefed on the incident by Gainer during a meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, on Tuesday on the bombings in Boston.
Several senators told reporters after the briefing that the incident reminded them of the anthrax attacks in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre.
The ricin test came one day after the explosions at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured 176.
“I don’t know if it’s a coincidence. It’s too early to tell. We don’t know enough about Boston,” said Senator Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had been told the letter was addressed to Wicker, a Republican senator from Mississippi. (Reuters)