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Closer than you think - chemical attack thwarted in France


When speaking of the possibility of chemical or biologic attack, it is all too easy to dismiss it as improbable. This should be a marker of reality -- and worst of all -- it was decidedly low-tech.

While the recent arrests in the Pacific Northwest for ricin production have been more likely criminal foul play or derangement, the ricin sent to the White House, Transportation Department, and Senate Majority Leader Frist are leaning more along the lines of the thwarted terrorist attacks in France.

It is instructive to remember how relatively low tech its production is and how fatal it is. (This said, the current ricin recipe circulating on the web is a bit off the mark and we should let it stay that way.) While there are more dispersible vectors such as anthrax and smallpox, ricin remains one of the most poisonous naturally occurring compounds in nature. It is an attack agent for both foreign and domestic terrorists.

The French DST have been pursuing members associated with the ricin production and delivery for more than a year, detaining individuals here and there. Originally seen as an anti-Russian attack by Chechen separatists, it has assumed wider scope.

In January, 2004 the French press reported that an Islamist chemical attack had been thwarted by French DST internal security arrests in the Lyon area. Plans for the attack came to light during the arrest of six suspected Islamic extremists, including the Imam of a Lyon mosque. The suspects appeared before Paris anti-terrorist judges the following week. Evidence gained from the suspects made it clear that an attack with botulism or ricin toxins was being actively prepared. Chellali Benchellali, an imam in Venisseux in the Lyon suburbs, his wife Hafsa and his son Hafed were among those detained on 6 January in a series of dawn raids.

While it has not gained any traction in the US, the Guardian article is the best single English summary that I've seen. (And as the Guardian is seen as some as center left, I have Reuters articles on file that corroborate).

Al-Qaida terror plot foiled, say French police
Jon Henley in Paris
Monday January 12, 2004
The Guardian (UK)

Gordon Housworth

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