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Ricin roils Washington: How dangerous? (+video)

Preliminary tests indicate that letters sent to President Obama and to Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi were laced with the potentially deadly poison ricin. They were postmarked Memphis, Tenn.

By Staff writer / April 17, 2013

A Prince George's County firefighter dressed in a protective suit walks into a government mail screening facility in Hyattsville, Md., Wednesday. Police swept across the US Capitol complex to chase a flurry of reports of suspicious packages and envelopes after preliminary tests indicated poisonous ricin in two letters sent to President Obama and a Mississippi senator.

Alex Brandon/AP

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WASHINGTON

Suspicious packages and letters on Wednesday rattled an official Washington already tense from the deadly bombing of the Boston Marathon.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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Ricin was the particular worry of the day. Preliminary tests indicate that letters sent to President Obama and to Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi were both laced with the deadly poison. Postal screening facilities outside Washington had intercepted the mail before it reached federal office buildings.

“The investigation into these letters remains ongoing, and more letters may still be received. There is no indication of a connection to the attack in Boston,” said an FBI statement.

Both letters were postmarked in Memphis, Tenn., according to the Associated Press. Both said “to see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” Both were signed “I am KC and I approve this message”.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri said the Capitol Police have a particular suspect in mind in this case. It is someone who “writes a lot of letters to members” she said, according to the Associated Press.

Where ricin is involved, preliminary tests can be inaccurate. Full laboratory tests will be needed to confirm the poison’s presence.

Lawmakers were made even more nervous by reports from some states that district offices were also getting questionable mail. Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas both said that letters set aside as suspicious by staff members back home had been tested by law enforcement and found harmless. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said a letter sent to his Saginaw office was still being checked.

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