- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

LONDON, Jan. 20 (UPI) — Scores of police wielding guns and battering rams launched an anti-terrorism raid on one of London's largest mosques Monday as part of the investigation triggered by the discovery of ricin, a poison for which there is no known antidote, at an apartment in the capital.

The 150-strong police force stormed into the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park before dawn and arrested six North Africans and an Eastern European under terrorism laws.

The raid was part of a crackdown ordered by Home Secretary David Blunkett, who said he had "authorized the security and intelligence service and our anti-terrorism branch to take whatever steps are necessary, controversial or otherwise … to take action to protect us."

One Home Office official said that this means "there will be no race relations considerations in terms of authorizing or agreeing operations to tackle people."

Scotland Yard said the Finsbury Park raid, which also encompassed a pair of three-story apartments nearby, was linked to arrests of four North Africans when a trace quantity of ricin was found in a London apartment earlier this month.

Ricin is a toxin derived from castor beans, which are readily available around the world. When inhaled, ricin produces severe respiratory problems, including failure, with in three days. There is no known treatment.

Ten hours after police struck Monday, a half-mile area around the mosque remained sealed off as officers searched the buildings on the basis of what Scotland Yard said was "evidence gathered during recent counter-terrorist investigations in London and elsewhere (that) has uncovered links between the premises and suspected terrorist activity."

The operation at the mosque was described by a police spokesman as "pre-planned and intelligence-led." However, police said they had found "nothing to suggest that chemical substances are on the premises, and there is no suggestion at this stage that there is any risk to the public."

The mosque has become a target of police suspicion because of Egyptian-born Abu Hamza, a 45-year-old radical cleric who has turned it into a center for Islamic fundamentalism and who police believe has ties with al Qaida, a group linked to many terrorist assaults, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Abu Hamza was not among those arrested in Monday's raid, although he has been accused by Britain's Charity Commission, which controls the mosque's charity status, of delivering "inflammatory and highly political" sermons.

Monday's action was seen as part of a nationwide police operation to try to shut down a network of suspected Algerian militants operating in Britain, one of whom is charged with murder in the fatal stabbing of a police officer during an anti-terrorism raid in Manchester, England, last week.

An Algerian refugee leader said he believes as many as 100 known terrorists, many of them from his homeland, have entered Britain as asylum seekers during the past two years, and that "I know the names of many of these people."

"These people were killers in Algeria," said Mohammed Sekkoum, chairman of the Algerian Refugee Council, "and now they are here."

Government officials said more than 9,000 Algerians are in Britain, some of them for years after claims for political asylum were refused. "It is a nightmare at the moment," said one police source, "as we can't find most of these people we want to talk to."

Blunkett said police have "my complete support" and that "they will be demonstrating (the intensified crackdown) in the weeks ahead very clearly indeed … We must take firm action to investigate and, if necessary deal with any potential threat to public safety without fear or favor."

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