Ricin discovery may have link to al-Qaida

March 22, 2003|By Sebastian Rotella | Sebastian Rotella,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PARIS - Police suspect that the traces of the poison ricin discovered in a train station locker here are connected to recent alleged plots by al-Qaida, authorities said yesterday.

The discovery this week of the toxin, which can be used as a biological weapon, was unprecedented in France. It caused concern in a capital that, as a result of the war in Iraq, has gone on heightened alert for possible terrorist attacks.

Anti-terrorist police have focused on an alleged Algerian-dominated network whose operatives are believed to have received specialized training with biological and chemical weapons at al-Qaida camps in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

In January, British police arrested suspected members of the so-called Chechen network during a raid on a makeshift ricin lab in London. That group was linked to cells previously dismantled in the Paris suburbs of Romainville and La Courneuve.

French police are investigating possible connections to the London case - in particular whether the ricin found in Paris came from the clandestine lab discovered by British investigators, law enforcement officials said. The authorities are also trying to determine if a ricin lab has been operating in France, one official said.

Sebastian Rotella is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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