Arrest tied to letter addressed to Obama

February 27, 2009 3:47:07 PM PST
A man with a history of mental illness has been arrested in connection with a letter containing what he said was HIV-tainted blood. It was addressed to then President-elect Barack Obama. The incident triggered the evacuation of a state government building in Springfield last December.

Investigators say Saad Hussein told them he admired the president and the letter was his way of seeking help from the government.

It appears this is the case of a disturbed refugee from Ethiopia reaching out for help from a person he thought might be able to offer powerful assistance -- the president of the United States. But Saad Hussein's letter -- and subsequent mailings to Obama staff and government workers -- have landed him in custody, facing charges of knowingly mailing dangers substances with intent to injure or kill.

Saad Hussein posted a picture of himself as well as rambling notes splattered, according to his brother, in Saad's HIV-infected blood. They were mailed to the state's Office on Aging in December, 2008, and they contained an orange powdery substance, according to information contained in the federal complaint filed in Springfield by the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Receipt of the December 27 letter two days later led to the evacuation of the building. Three-hundred employees were affected. The powder was later determined to be Crystal soft drink mix.

"What we were told by Springfield police, Chicago police do have the individual in custody and are questioning him," said Bob Reside, Springfield Fire Department.

The letter also contained a Christmas card, a return address and a ticket to the president's election night rally in Grant Park.

With concern for Obama's safety a national priority, the FBI and Secret Service, along with postal inspectors, quickly came to Hussein's apartment in Edgewater. He was placed there by a refugee resettlement agency.

With his brother acting as interpreter in his apartment, Hussein said the letters asked for tickets to the president's inauguration and that no more letters had been sent. But, two days later, nearly identical mailings were received at the same office in Springfield, one of which was addressed to Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff. That's when Hussein was taken in.

"The two years he was living here, very quiet, always smiling, never violent, never even a sign of violence. He walked around, didn't talk a lot of English, but he kept his apartment clean and there was no indication that he would do something like that," said David Zuger, property manager.

Hussein is in federal custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Complex. A spokesperson for U.S. attorney in Springfield says his mental state is being assessed and a report on that is due March 29.

After that assessment is made, presumably the complaint would go to a grand jury to determine the laying of charges. But Hussein has the right to challenge the findings of the mental health assessment.

If found guilty of the mailing crimes, Hussein could go to jail for 20 years.