Iowa Capitol opened after powder prompts lock down

April 3, 2012 - 10:05 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Authorities locked down the Iowa Statehouse for several hours Tuesday after a legislator opened an envelope containing a suspicious white powder and a threatening letter.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, opened the envelope that had been mailed to him about 3:45 p.m. CST on the House floor, and lawmakers quickly sought the advice of the Iowa State Patrol. Officers ordered that the Statehouse be closed while postal inspectors and a Des Moines hazardous materials crew rushed to the building.

About four hours later, officers announced the powder had been deemed harmless and that people could leave the building. Authorities wouldn't give details about the powder or the letter.

After Abdul-Samad opened the letter, he was taken to a vestibule room off the House chamber.

"By direction of the postal inspectors, we are directed to stay in the chamber," House Speaker Kraig Paulsen announced.

As lawmakers milled around the House, two hazardous materials workers wearing yellow protective suits and oxygen bottles walked into the House chamber at about 5:30 p.m. and went to Abdul-Samad's desk. They appeared to collect samples.

"We just want to be extra cautious," said Iowa State Patrol Capt. M.A. Logsdon. "It's challenging in a building like this, but we'll do the best we can."

In mid-November 2001, authorities closed two U.S. Senate office buildings in Washington after letters containing anthrax were sent to Congress. Letters containing anthrax spores sent that year killed five people and sickened 17. The FBI suspects the attacker was a federal scientist who committed suicide in 2008.