Thursday, April 14, 2005

The al-Qaeda plot to poison Britain

London Times
By Stewart Tendler and Sean O’Neill

Murderer who planned to contaminate toothbrushes and face cream was allowed to slip through immigration net

AN AL-QAEDA terrorist who planned to create mass panic with a chemical attack could have been deported as an illegal immigrant six months before he stabbed a police officer to death.

Kamel Bourgass, a failed asylum-seeker who plotted to smear car door handles and contaminate toiletries, including Nivea face cream, and toothbrushes in shops with ricin, had been arrested in East London for shoplifting in 2002.

He was reported to the immigration authorities but no enforcement officer was available to interview him or take him into custody. Sources have told The Times that a shortage of officers means that none are on duty overnight in London.

Magistrates could have deported or detained him but fined him £70 and freed him. In January 2003, while on the run after the discovery of a safe house where he was trying to make ricin and cyanide, Bourgass murdered Detective Constable Stephen Oake and wounded three other officers.

The full story of the plot can be told after a year-long series of interlinked trials at the Old Bailey. Bourgass, 32, an Algerian Islamist, was jailed for life for murder and given further jail terms for attempted murder and wounding in June last year.

He was sentenced to 17 years’ jail yesterday for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance “by the use of poisons or explosives to cause disruption, fear or injury”. Mr Justice Penry-Davey told Bourgass: “The courts take a very serious view of those who, for misguided ideological reasons or political motives, seek to destabilise society by terrorism.”

But in a blow to the police and intelligence services, who arrested more than 100 people and visited 26 countries, his four co-defendants were cleared of involvement.

After deliberating for more than 74 hours, the jury decided that there was not enough evidence. A third trial involving four other men was abandoned and the men formally cleared.

The police inquiry began as an investigation into terrorist fundraising before detectives stumbled upon a plan to make crude poisons. It was thwarted after the arrest in Algeria of Mohammed Meguerba, an al-Qaeda terrorist who confessed his part and directed officers to a flat in Wood Green, North London, in January 2003.

In the flat were copies of poison recipes taken from al-Qaeda manuals, with the raw materials and equipment to make small quantities.

Meguerba and Bourgass had not been planning mass murder but a campaign which could have created hysteria. Bourgass was traced to a Manchester bedsit but, using combat techniques learnt in Afghanistan, he snatched a knife and caused a bloodbath in which Mr Oake died. An officer from Greater Manchester Police has been disciplined for the poor organisation of the arrest.

One element of the police operation was the closure of Finsbury Park mosque, where Bourgass sometimes slept. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch, said that the public had been “spared from a real and deadly threat”. Mr Clarke added: “This is an important conviction that has removed a very dangerous man from our streets. In his attempts to evade capture he murdered DC Stephen Oake, an appalling tragedy that must not be forgotten.”

The case will fuel the election debate over immigration. David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that Bourgass “should have been deported when his asylum application failed”.
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