- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

LONDON British police found traces of the deadly poison ricin, a potential chemical warfare agent linked to al Qaeda, while arresting six North Africans in a house this week.

Authorities made the announcement yesterday after tests confirmed that the substance found early Sunday was in fact ricin, the chemical used to assassinate Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in 1978.

Ricin, which is believed to have been tested by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, can kill if ingested, inhaled or injected.

"We have previously said that London and indeed the rest of the UK continues to face a range of terrorist threats from a number of different groups," Scotland Yard and the Department of Health said in a joint statement.

"While our message is still alert not alarm, we would reiterate our earlier appeals for the public to remain vigilant and aware and report anything suspicious to police."

Officers arrested six men and a woman, ranging in age from late teens to 30s, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The woman has since been released. Police would only say they made their move based on "intelligence."

The ricin was found in a house in Wood Green, North London, where one of the men was taken into custody. Forensic analysis continues on the premises and "will take some time to complete."

This substance presents a significant terrorist threat given its simplicity to produce, high stability and worldwide availability.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said the arrests highlighted the danger posed by terrorists. "This danger is present and real and with us now, and its potential is huge," the Associated Press quoted him as telling a gathering of British ambassadors.

Ricin is a protein toxin that is derived from the beans of the castor oil plant. It is so powerful that one to three beans chewed by a child, and as few as eight seeds chewed by an adult, could be fatal. It is particularly dangerous if injected.

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