Monday, April 18, 2005

Ricin terror gang 'planned to unleash terror on the Heathrow Express'

Daily Telegraph
By David Bamber

A poison attack planned by al-Qa'eda-trained operatives was aimed at the busy Heathrow Express rail link and would have been "our September 11", the Metropolitan Police has revealed.

A plot to bring death and terror to the country was disclosed last week after Kamel Bourgass, 32, an Islamic extremist from Algeria, was convicted at the Old Bailey and jailed for 17 years.

Senior Whitehall officials have told The Telegraph that Bourgass and some of his associates intended to target the busy rail link between central London and Heathrow Airport. The plan was to place ricin, a fast-acting and potentially lethal home-made poison, on hand rails and in lavatories on the trains.

Bourgass entered Britain in 2000 using forged documents. He made an asylum claim, which was rejected in 2001 but no attempt was made to force him to leave the country. Whitehall officials say that the authorities found maps of the Heathrow Express route from Paddington Station, west London, to the airport, in the home of an associate of Bourgass. They were subsequently told by a second informant that the rail link was the target.

Until today, the public has not known the full extent of the ricin plot. Senior Home Office and police officials were deliberately vague last week about the target because they did not want to cause panic or encourage copycat attacks.

One conspirator, who was arrested in Algeria, had earlier claimed that there was a plot to smear ricin on car doors in the Holloway Road, north London. Whitehall officials, however, dismissed this suggestion, and told The Telegraph that the Heathrow Express was in fact the intended target.

"It would have caused chaos and panic in London's public transport system. Even if it did not kill anyone - which it could well have done - it would have achieved its purpose," one official said. "It was not possible to be specific in court about the target because we do not want to encourage imitators in any way. There were ridiculous stories about attempts to spread poison on the London Underground, but they were not true."

A senior officer at Scotland Yard said: "This was going to be our September 11, our Madrid. There is no doubt about it, if this had come off this would have been one of al-Qa'eda's biggest strikes." Bourgass's conviction at the Old Bailey came at the conclusion of one of the longest trials in legal history. But there was also confusion and accusations of political manipulation after eight co-defendants were cleared and a second conspiracy trial was abandoned.

Bourgass was found guilty of conspiring to cause a public nuisance through the use of poisons and explosives. He was convicted last year of the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake, who was stabbed to death in Manchester in 2003 as Bourgass tried to escape.

Last week, Mr Justice Penry-Davey, the judge sentencing Bourgass, said he used so many different names that even now it was still unclear which was his real one. He said: "You were the prime mover in a terrorist operation involving the use of poisons and explosives, and intended to destabilise the community in this country by causing destruction, fear and injury."
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