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Suspect in fake anthrax mailings to abortion clinics apprehended

WASHINGTON (BP)–Law-enforcement authorities arrested Clayton Lee Waagner, the prime suspect in the mailing of fake anthrax letters to hundreds of abortion clinics, a week after U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked for help in his apprehension.

Waagner, a self-acclaimed anti-abortion “warrior,” was arrested Dec. 5 in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. He was apprehended at a Kinko’s photocopying store after an employee recognized Waagner and called the U.S. Marshals Service.

Ashcroft had named Waagner, who had escaped from jail in February after being convicted of weapons and auto theft charges, as the chief suspect in the mailing of about 550 letters to abortion clinics on the East Coast this fall. The letters allegedly contained anthrax, but the threats proved false.

Federal authorities received information during the Thanksgiving weekend that Waagner had contended he was responsible for the hoax, Ashcroft said Nov. 29. That information apparently came from Neal Horsley, an anti-abortion activist who reported Waagner’s armed visit Nov. 23 to his Georgia home on his Internet website.

Waagner also had targeted 42 abortion-clinic employees for assassination, according to Horsley’s website entries. Waagner said he would not kill them if they e-mailed information to Horsley’s website making their identity known to Waagner and informed him they were leaving their jobs, Horsley said.

Southern Baptist pro-life leader Richard Land had decried Waagner’s tactics before he was arrested.

“Threatening to kill people in defense of the pro-life cause does more to discredit that cause than almost anything imaginable,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “To be pro-life is to be pro-life not just for the unborn but for the doctors, nurses and other workers in abortion clinics as well. People who threaten to take lives or take lives through shooting abortion doctors or bombing abortion clinics have done more damage to the pro-life cause than anyone else.”

Flip Benham, national director of Operation Rescue, expressed gratitude for Waagner’s capture and said no one “in the pro-life movement had ever heard of Mr. Waagner” before his escape from jail. In a written statement, Benham charged abortion-rights advocates had used Waagner as “a whipping boy to keep our eyes off of the real crime being committed … the brutal slaughter of [America’s] children.”

Leaders of abortion advocacy organizations also applauded the arrest. In addition, Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called on Ashcroft to direct federal authorities in “hunting down the network of domestic terrorists who have aided and abetted this criminal.”

The FBI and Marshals Service, however, think Waagner probably acted without assistance, sending the threats from four cities in Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio, according to The Washington Post.

More than 280 letters falsely claiming to contain anthrax were mailed to abortion clinics in eastern states during the second week of October. A second round of fake letters also was sent in early November to 270 clinics.

Waagner was on the most-wanted lists of both the FBI and the Marshals Service. His escape early this year was from an Illinois jail, where he was awaiting a sentence of 15 years to life. Waagner had been convicted of gun possession by a felon and interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle.

The Marshals Service had issued wanted posters of Waagner to Kinko’s stores because they suspected he frequently used computers at the branches. The strategy succeeded when an employee at the Springdale, Ohio, store recognized the fugitive and called the Marshals Service.

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