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Ricin plot triggers UK asylum row


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Kamel Bourgass
Bioterrorism

LONDON, England -- The UK government has denied that its asylum system is in chaos after an Algerian man was found guilty of plotting to spread the deadly poison ricin and the murder of a policeman.

Kamel Bourgass, 31, was jailed for 17 years on Wednesday after his plan to smear ricin on the door handles of cars and buildings in north London was uncovered.

The Algerian was already serving a life sentence for murdering Special Branch detective Stephen Oake who he stabbed to death when he was cornered in a flat in Manchester in January, 2003.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis accused the government for allowing the plot to unfold.

"This officer was killed by someone who should have been deported when his asylum application failed," Davis said.

"Unfortunately this failure was a direct consequence of the government's chaotic asylum policy and its porous borders."

But Home Secretary Charles Clarke defended how the case was handled.

"I think that firstly this is an illustration of the fact that terrorist organizations exist and are seeking to damage our lives," he said.

"Secondly it has to urge us on to find better ways of dealing with the threat that they have."

Police believe Bourgass, also known as Nadir Habra, had been handpicked for training in poison making in one of Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, and that he was part of a network of hundreds of mainly Algerian terrorists which stretched across Europe and North America.

The network has been linked to numerous other plots including in the United States, France and Spain.

Bourgass faced two lengthy trials amid high security at the Old Bailey but they were only reportable on Wednesday.

In the first, last year, he was convicted of murdering Detective Constable Oake in Manchester and jailed for life. The judge, Mr. Justice Penry-Davey, said he would serve a minimum of 22 years.

He also received sentences of 15 years for attempting to murder two other Special Branch officers and eight years for wounding another officer with intent.

The judge said it was only the bravery of Detective Constable Oake and his colleagues that stopped Bourgass escaping. Oake's family said on Wednesday they had forgiven his killer and would pray for him.

Bourgass was arrested following a raid in Crumpsall Lane, Manchester, on January 14, 2003, nine days after police raided a flat in Wood Green, north London, where he had been attempting to make the poisons.

Bourgass was not at the Wood Green flat when it was raided, having moved out to stay in the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, where he also spend time selling clothes he had stolen.

He also used the mosque as a postal address and had used a photocopier there to make copies of poison recipes.

In the Wood Green raid, police found accurate recipes and ingredients for poisons including ricin, cyanide and botulinum -- one of the most toxic substances known to man -- and the blueprint for a bomb.

A pestle and mortar hidden under a chest of drawers contained a substance which initially tested positive as ricin -- although later tests by experts at the chemical warfare laboratories at Porton Down were negative.

In fact there was no ricin, but a liaison officer at Porton Down admitted not telling police that for some time, because the scientists could not be sure.

Bourgass also collected cherry stones and apple seeds -- the raw ingredients for cyanide -- and had more than 20 castor beans which can be used to make ricin.

The Porton Down scientists followed the instructions in detailed recipes Bourgass had written out by hand and produced enough ricin and cyanide to kill hundreds of people.

At the end of the second trial, he was jailed for 17 years for conspiring to cause a public nuisance.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on a more serious charge of conspiracy to murder and were discharged. But they had not been told that Bourgass was already serving life for murdering a policeman.

The judge told Bourgass: "You in my judgement, on the evidence, were the prime mover in a terrorist operation involving the use of poisons and explosives and intended to destabilize the community in this country by causing disruption, fear and injury.

"In the light of events worldwide over recent years there is a good reason for heightened concern about terrorism.

"Had the operation come to fruition the resulting fear and disruption with the potential for injury and widespread panic would have been substantial."

Four other Algerians -- Mouloud Sihali, 29, David Aissa Khalef, 33, Sidali Feddag, 20, and Mustapha Taleb, 35 -- were also in the dock in Bourgass's second trial facing the same two charges.

They were alleged to have played support roles in the plot. Evidence against them consisted mainly of fingerprints linking them to items found in Wood Green. All four were cleared by the jury on both counts.

Following the not guilty verdicts, prosecutors dropped plans for a third trial involving four other alleged conspirators -- three Algerians and a Libyan.

Gareth Peirce, solicitor for three of the cleared men, told the BBC: "There were no poisons made. There seemed to be a pathetic, clumsy, amateurish attempt to make some by a man who was conceded by all to be a difficult, anti-social loner."

She said the case had been wrongly used to boost the argument for war in Iraq.

"There was a great deal that this country was led to believe that in part caused it to go to war on Iraq, erected on the basis of an alleged major conspiracy involving ricin. It is appropriate that that now is revisited."

Bourgass has been given leave to appeal his murder conviction on the basis that evidence about the chemical find at Wood Green had been allowed to go before the jury in the murder trial, his lawyer said.


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