FBI investigates e-mail threat to Illinois pilots

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

CHICAGO -- The FBI and Canadian authorities are investigating an e-mail threat from Canada against two Illinois pilots involved in a mistaken bombing that killed four Canadian soldiers.

Charles W. Gittins, the attorney for one of the pilots, confirmed the FBI investigation on Tuesday, as did the office of Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

The two pilots, Maj. Harry Schmidt of Sherman and Maj. William Umbach of Petersburg, are both members of the Illinois Air National Guard. They face military prosecution in the U.S. for the "friendly fire" incident that took place in Afghanistan on April 17.

The threatening e-mail was sent Oct. 23 from Canada to Gov. Ryan's office, said Gittins.

Ryan hosted a $50-a-plate fund raising dinner for the pilots' legal defense fund that same day.

The signed e-mail message said in part, "If the pilots are not convicted and court marshalled funeral homes will have two more customers," according to Gittins, a civilian attorney specializing in military justice.

"Both Major Sherman and Major Umbach are taking the threat seriously until they are told by law enforcement to do otherwise," Gittins said.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is also investigating, according to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.

"That's what we expected would happen, because the FBI doesn't have jurisdiction in Canada," said Gittins.

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