Yemen: Barack Obama warned that al-Qaeda planning ricin attack
Counter-terrorism officials are said to have warned President Barack Obama that an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen is trying to produce the deadly nerve agent ricin for use in bomb attacks on the US.
(TELEGRAPH) The New York Times, citing classified intelligence documents and unnamed officials, reports that terrorist operatives have been making efforts to buy large quantities of castor beans – which contain the toxic ricin protein – and shift them to a remote tribal area controlled by insurgents for processing.
Ricin is so poisonous that inhalation of a few minute grains is enough to kill an adult. It was used in deadly incidents including the 1978 assassination in London of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov and, in 2002, was the subject of a bioterrorism scare in the UK capital following a police raid on a facility said to be plotting its manufacture.
US officials are reported to have told Mr Obama that an attack is not imminent and that the terrorist arm has yet to formulate a means for dispersing it as a weapon.
They believe that the ultimate goal is to find an effective means of packing the white powder around explosives and detonating the devices in packed public areas such as shopping malls and airports, the New York Times revealed.
The president is said to have received regular briefings on the matter since first being alerted to it last year.
Al-Qaeda’s wing in Yemen has openly raised the subject of ricin use before, though only in speculative terms.
In a posting on its English-language web journal last year entitled “Tips for our brothers in the United States of America”, it stated: “Brothers with less experience in the fields of microbiology or chemistry, as long as they possess basic scientific knowledge, would be able to develop other poisons such as ricin or cyanide.”
Obama administration officials believe that the greatest terrorism threat to the US now comes from al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, due to a near-total collapse of the government there that has allowed the movement to expand and strengthen its presence.
The US government is working with what is left of Yemen’s intelligence agencies and those of neighbouring Saudi Arabia to try to root our terror plots early.
Concerns over ricin have highlighted the threat that al-Qaeda linked groups – chiefly al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – continue to pose to the US and its interests.
An unidentified senior American official told The New York Times: “That line of threat has never abated. That’s being taken seriously by this government. What we know about AQAP is that they do what they say.”