MIAMI - The suspicions airport security officials had when they saw the metal canister grew when they learned about the man who brought it in from the Middle East: a scientist who sparked a bioterrorism scare after he reported missing vials of plague samples seven years ago.
Officials shut down most of Miami International Airport overnight, roused nearby hotel guests from their beds and detained Dr. Thomas Butler until Friday morning, when he was released without charges, a senior law enforcement official said.
Tests on the canister found nothing dangerous, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information. Homeland Security spokesman Nicholas Kimball said the item resembled a pipe bomb.
Butler's former lawyer said the incident appeared to be a "fantastic overreaction."
Butler, 70, is a world-renowned plague researcher who became the focus of a federal investigation in 2003 when he reported that 30 vials of plague samples had been stolen from his Texas Tech University lab.
He was later acquitted of smuggling and illegally transporting the potentially deadly germ, and of lying to federal agents about the missing vials. Jurors found Butler guilty of the mislabeling and unauthorized export of a FedEx package that contained plague samples he sent to Tanzania.