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Man with HIV charged with mailing blood to Obama

An Ethiopian refugee from Chicago's North Side is in federal custody for allegedly mailing an envelope containing his own HIV-infected blood to then-President-elect Barack Obama, authorities said today.

Saad Hussein, 27, of the Edgewater area, faces two counts of sending "nonmailable articles" containing HIV-infected blood, according to a criminal complaint.

Two similar envelopes were sent with Hussein's name on them, including one to then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who now serves as Obama's chief of staff, according to federal court records. Hussein has denied sending the letters, the records stated.

The envelope to Obama was the second time the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has investigated a mailing containing HIV-infected blood, but the "two were isolated incidents," said Postal Inspector Pete Rendina. He said the previous case occurred in 2006 and did not involve a high-profile person.

On Dec. 29, a letter postmarked for Dec. 27 and addressed to Obama was received by an office in the Illinois Department of Revenue building in Springfield, according to federal documents, and was found to contain unknown substances. The letter, which contained Hussein's return address, prompted a hazardous materials response to the building, which was also put on lockdown for almost two hours.

That same day, Chicago police went to Hussein's residence on the North Side. After taking Hussein and his brother into custody, they were interviewed by FBI and U.S. Secret Service agents.

During the interview, in which his brother served as his interpreter, Hussein said "he had mailed the letter to [Barack] Obama, and he had placed inside the envelope a powder substance, his [HIV positive] blood, a photograph of himself taken in Bali, Ethiopia, an admission ticket to the election night celebration in Grant Park and other articles," according to court records.

Hussein confirmed to the agents that the photos they obtained from the envelope were the same ones he mailed, the records show.

Although Hussein claimed to be an admirer of Obama's and tried to obtain tickets to his Jan. 20 inauguration, he said he "purposely cut one of his fingers with a razor so he could bleed on the letter," the records show. They also show Hussein stated he has HIV-positive and "it was his way of seeking help from the government."

The records state the envelope contained a letter written in Ethiopian, but there were no references in the letter that Hussein requested tickets to the inauguration.

On New Year's Eve, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service was notified by Illinois Department of Revenue officials about two more envelopes almost identical to Hussein's. One of the envelopes was addressed to Emanuel and the other was addressed to the Illinois Department on Aging.

"These [envelopes] were found to contain an orange powder substance, what appeared to be dried blood and writings similar to the mailing of December 27, 2008," court records show. During the interview, according to the records, Hussein denied mailing any additional letters.

In early January, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported that all the letters tested negative for biological agents.

Sharon Paul, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Springfield, said Hussein, who was being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after his arrest. MCC officials have to submit a report on his evaluation to the U.S. District Court in Springfield by Mar. 29, she said.


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