Published February 27, 2009
A man from President Obama's hometown of Chicago has been arrested for allegedly sending Obama and his staff envelopes containing HIV-infected blood, in the hopes of killing or harming them.
It's only the second time ever that HIV-infected blood has been sent with malicious intent through the U.S. mail system, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said.
In the weeks leading up to Obama's inauguration, Saad Hussein, an Ethiopian refugee in his late 20s, sent an envelope addressed to "Barack Obama" to offices of the Illinois government in Springfield, Ill., according to court documents.
The envelope contained a series of curious items, including a letter with reddish stains and an admission ticket for Obama's election-night celebration in Chicago's Grant Park. Court documents said Hussein, who takes drugs to treat a mental illness, later told FBI agents he is "very sick with HIV" and cut his fingers with a razor so he could bleed on the letter.
Hazmat teams were called in after the envelope was opened, and offices of the Illinois Department on Aging and the Department of Revenue were locked down for nearly two hours, locking 300 staffers in their offices, court documents said.
Hussein, with his brother acting as an interpreter, told FBI agents he was actually "an admirer" of Obama and was "seeking help from the government," according to court documents. He also told them he was hoping to obtain tickets to the Inaugural ceremonies in Washington, the documents said.
Days after sending the letter to Obama, Hussein allegedly placed two more letters in the mail, one addressed to "Emanuel," an apparent reference to Obama's current Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. The two letters contained what appeared to be dried blood, the court documents said.
Hussein, who has never held a job in the three years he's been in the United States, was arrested last month. He was charged with "knowingly" mailing letters "containing HIV-infected blood, with the intent to kill or injure another," in violation of federal law.
The charging documents do not address whether the letters could have actually killed or injured anyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV is spread only through sexual contact with an infected person, through sharing needles with an infected person, or through blood transfusions of infected blood.
The spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Peter Rendina, expressed confidence that the U.S. mail system is safe.
"To me the U.S. Postal Service is the most secure form of communication in the world," he said. "In no way are we seeing a trend."
Hussein is currently being detained in a Chicago correctional facility. A judge ordered he receive a mental examination to see if he's fit for trial, but as of two weeks ago the court couldn't locate a translator to conduct the examination, according to court documents.
A publicly-appointed attorney representing Hussein declined comment, saying he was "not at liberty to discuss pending criminal matters."
This is not the first time law enforcement officials have had to take Hussein into custody. He was arrested by police in 2006 after starting a fire in the middle of a crowded Chicago intersection. When officers arrived on the scene, he was waving the Koran in the air and yelling"Allah Akbar," or "God is Great" in Arabic. Court documents say he was transported to a hospital, where he called President Bush a terrorist and criticized American foreign policy. He was not formally charged, but he did spend time in the mental health unit of the hospital.
The latest case marks the second time HIV-infected blood has been sent through the U.S. mail. In 2006 a "disturbed individual" placed a plastic vial of HIV-infected blood in the mail, according to Rendina. The unidentified individual was arrested and charged, and is now receiving psychiatric treatment at a federal medical detention center, Rendina said.