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N. African Arraigned in British Slaying

January 18, 2003|Sebastian Rotella and Janet Stobart | Times Staff Writers

LONDON — British prosecutors filed murder charges Friday in the stabbing death of a detective by a suspect whom European investigators describe as a member of an Al Qaeda-linked Algerian terrorist network that has been active in Britain, France and Chechnya.

Nine police guards in body armor dwarfed a diminutive Kamel Bourgass, 27, as he was arraigned in the murder of Det. Stephen Oake, 40, and the attempted murders of four other officers who were injured during a fracas in a Manchester apartment this week. A judge at Belmarsh Magistrates Court ordered the handcuffed Bourgass, attired in a hooded white forensics suit that left only his face visible, held without bail.

Although British authorities had little more to say about Bourgass, other European law enforcement officials told The Times that Bourgass is allegedly a member of a dangerous Algerian network, which includes members recently returned from the separatist Russian republic of Chechnya intent on carrying out attacks. Bourgass is believed to be Algerian; British police said only that he is North African.

Through Bourgass, whose arrest resulted from an alleged plot to produce ricin poison in London, the detective's murder is linked to a cell that plotted attacks on Russian targets in Paris and a cell dismantled in November that allegedly scouted the London subway for a cyanide gas attack, investigators said. In addition, Russian investigators said they believe the ricin plot has ties to similar activity involving Al Qaeda and anti-Russian rebels in Chechnya and neighboring Georgia.

An Algerian arrested in the subway case, Rabah Kadre, was a leader of a network that included the remnants of a longtime London-based organization involved in a 1999 plot to bomb LAX and Algerian veterans of the conflict in Chechnya, a magnet for itinerant holy warriors. Chechnya and training camps in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge took on increasing importance after the loss of Al Qaeda's bases in Afghanistan in late 2001, police say.

"Bourgass is part of the Algerian movement of Rabah Kadre," a European police official said. "There was intelligence information on him in Europe. The stabbing happened after the officers ... realized that he was a relevant person in the network."

The killing set troubling precedents. It was the first slaying of a police officer in Western Europe by an Islamic extremist since Al Qaeda and its allied networks became a threat in the 1990s, officials said.

And it showed the increasingly violent, global and unpredictable nature of Islamic terrorism today. Al Qaeda drew first blood in Britain, where the North African foot soldiers of the network had carefully refrained from violence because the country was a hub for recruiting, ideological activity and directing attacks in France and elsewhere, police said.

Now, however, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has declared war on Britain, Germany and Italy as well as France, a perennial target of Algerian extremists who were absorbed into the Al Qaeda alliance in the 1990s. Although Al Qaeda's networks have been splintered and hounded by law enforcement, fighters are converging on Western Europe in an attempt to carry out Bin Laden's orders, officials said.

"You have the Chechnya group, you have people coming in by way of Syria, from Turkey and other routes as well," the European police official said. "You have more and more of these little uncontrollable groups trying to do whatever they can."

The threat is truly global. Russian investigators believe that four Algerians involved in a makeshift ricin lab discovered in London are tied to Chechen rebels who also tried to produce ricin. The poison's manufacture is described in Al Qaeda training manuals seized in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks and, according to Russian authorities, in a notebook found recently during a special operation at a rebel base in Chechnya.

"What we know about the preliminary results of the investigation in London and the information we already gathered in Chechnya and also received from our Georgian colleagues leads us to believe that several centers specializing in poisonous substances production existed in Chechnya, Pankisi Gorge and London," said Alexander Safronov, a spokesman for the presidential information directorate in Moscow. "These centers were obviously interconnected and were funded by some terrorist organizations, one of which was Al Qaeda."

Georgian officials confirm the presence of shooting ranges and Arab fighters in the Pankisi Gorge but say they cannot be sure about the alleged ricin production. Advocates of the Chechen rebels dismiss the Russian accusations as an attempt to lump them with Al Qaeda.

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