Al Qaeda trying to produce lethal poison ricin: report

Al Qaeda trying to produce lethal poison ricin: report

The white, powdery toxin ricin that is "so deadly that just a speck can kill if it is inhaled or reaches the bloodstream," the New York Times said in a report.

Citing classified intelligence reports, it said al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen has been trying for more than a year to procure large quantities of castor beans, which are required to produce the toxin.

"Intelligence officials say they have collected evidence that Qaeda operatives are trying to move castor beans and processing agents to a hideaway in Shabwa Province, in one of Yemen's rugged tribal areas controlled by insurgents.

"Evidence points to efforts to secretly concoct batches of the poison, pack them around small explosives, and then try to explode them in contained spaces, like a shopping mall, an airport or a subway station," the Times report added.

However, senior officials have said there is "no indication that a ricin attack is imminent," and experts have pointed out that the Qaeda affiliate is still figuring out how ricin can be used as an explosive since it loses its potency in dry, sunny conditions.

President Barack Obama, who was first briefed on the threat last year, has been receiving regular updates on the matter, the report added.

Senior officials said they are "tracking the possibility of a threat very closely," given the Yemeni affiliate's ability to devise plots that have been thwarted earlier including an attempt by the Nigerian underwear bomber. The December 2009 Christmas bomber had a bomb sewn into his underwear aboard a commercial plane to Detroit. Ten months later printer cartridges packed with powerful explosives in cargo bound for Chicago were found.

"The potential threat of weapons of mass destruction, likely in a simpler form than what people might imagine but still a form that would have a significant psychological impact, from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, is very, very real," the report quoted Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center as saying.
"It is not hard to develop ricin".

A ricin-dispersing bomb detonated in a major subway, mall or at a major airport would not result in mass destruction on the scale of the September 11 attacks, counterterrorism specialists said.

But it could inflict "disproportionate psychological terror" on big-city transportation systems.

Leiter said a ricin attack may not kill many people but it will be a "big news story" and it will scare people.

With al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's death in May, threat of a major attack from the group's main leadership in Pakistan has "waned," the report said.

However, the continuing concern over a plot to use ricin "underscores the menace that regional Qaeda affiliates, especially al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, US' fastest- learning enemy", now pose to US and its interests overseas.

"That line of threat has never abated," a senior official said, adding that AQAP does what it says.

The report said al Qaeda's arm in Yemen has openly discussed deploying ricin and other deadly poisons against the United States.

"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," the organisation had posted in its online English-language journal, Inspire, last year.

Al Qaeda's "most direct threat" to the US comes from the Yemeni affiliate, according to officials who expressed alarm at the way the affiliate is taking advantage of the collapse of Yemen's government to widen its area of control inside the country, the report added.

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