Ultra-right-wing organizations - including a particular West Coast group - have become a key focus of the massive federal investigation into the murderous Anthrax attacks, The Post has learned.
Investigators have been zeroing in on members of several anti-government hate groups that they believe have obtained or attempted to get the deadly bacteria from several U.S.-based laboratories before it surfaced in Florida, Washington and New York this month.
Several sources told The Post that, while they have not entirely discounted state-sponsored terrorism, Osama bin Laden sympathizers or sleeper cells, a number of developments in the far-flung probe have them eyeing domestic terrorists:
* The FBI is analyzing about a dozen other letters - including several that predate the World Trade Center attacks and the anthrax scare - that were sent to various media outlets. These letters did not contain anthrax, but had similar messages and handwriting as the germ-tainted notes.
* Probers also see similarities between the anthrax letters and some of the so-called hoax letters that contained talcum powder and were initially brushed aside as not being linked to the bioterror scare.
Some investigators believe the same person may have written both sets of letter.
"Our feeling is the anthrax does not point to an international terrorist group," a well-placed source said. "The only way it could be is if they are purposely writing letters that point away from them as a ruse and using anthrax that we believe was manufactured here."
"The anthrax letter writer did not fall off a turnip truck after the World Trade Center destruction," another source said. "He has been thinking these thoughts long before this, and may have had anthrax for a while."
"There are a number of strong leads and some people we've known of for some time who are being looked at," another highly placed source said.
From the start, FBI profilers cautioned about channeling investigative efforts toward Mideast terror groups because the anthrax-tainted letters to the New York Post, NBC-TV and Sen. Thomas Daschle contained the date "09-11-01," but were in envelopes postmarked Sept. 18.
Sources said international terrorists would unlikely feel the need to spell out an obvious link to their earlier horrific handiwork.
"That's real overkill," agreed Clint Van Zandt, a former top FBI profiler. "It is someone other than a bin Laden trying too hard to link up to Sept. 11. It is a gratuitous reference."
The tone of the letter to Daschle, the Senate majority leader, is far more threatening - "You Die Now" - than the missives to the media, which advised the recipients to "Take Penacilin [sic]."
"Daschle represents the government, and the government is what the right-wing groups hate," a source said. "By contrast, the media is something they use to get publicity and spread fear."
The sources declined to name the hate groups being eyed in the investigation or the laboratories where the anthrax may have been obtained or milled.
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