WASHINGTON (AP) – A vial containing the deadly poison ricin was found inside an envelope at a South Carolina postal facility, federal officials said Wednesday. The FBI was investigating but terrorism was not suspected.

“Based on the evidence obtained so far, we do not believe this is linked to terrorism but is related to threats criminal in nature,” said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Homeland Security Department.

A letter inside the envelope referenced legislation in Congress involving truckers and included an extortion threat against the government, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The envelope carried the typewritten message “caution-Ricin-poison” on the outside, according to a statement issued by the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. It arrived at a Greenville postal facility between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Oct. 15. A postal worker noticed the wording and law enforcement officials were summoned. The letter was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which determined Tuesday that the vial contained ricin.

A federal law enforcement official did say the letter was not addressed to a government official.

Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan said tests showed that none of the toxin escaped.

Ricin is derived from the castor bean plant, is relatively easy to make and can be deadly in very small doses.

When inhaled or ingested, fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest tightness and low blood pressure can occur within eight hours. Death can come between 36 and 72 hours after exposure. There is no antidote.

The FBI repeatedly has warned local police about the possibility that terrorists might use ricin in an attempt to poison people through ventilation systems, through drinking supplies or in food.

British police earlier this year arrested seven members of an Algerian extremist group on charges of plotting use ricin to kill a small number of people and terrify the London population. Instructions for making ricin also were found in an al-Qaida safehouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to the FBI.

Ricin has also been used in crimes in the United States that have no connection to terrorism. Last summer a Washington state man was convicted of making and possessing about 3 grams of ricin, enough to kill 900 people.

On the Net:

FBI: http://www.fbi.gov

AP-ES-10-22-03 1927EDT

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