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THE WORLD

Paris Sweep Yields Poison

French police on high alert for terrorist activity find traces of ricin stored in flasks in a locker at the city's Gare de Lyon train station.

March 21, 2003|Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — French police on heightened anti-terrorist alert have discovered traces of the poison ricin in two flasks stored in a train station locker here, law enforcement officials said Thursday.

The discovery took place Monday at the Gare de Lyon station, according to a statement by the French Interior Ministry.

Police and railroad security officers found the poison in a locker in the left-luggage area of the station during intensified sweeps prompted by the impending war in Iraq, officials said. In addition, the locker contained two more flasks filled with a powder and another filled with a liquid, the ministry said.

The announcement was made late Thursday after scientific analysis of the flasks confirmed the presence of the deadly poison, which has no antidote. Police provided few other details.

In January, British police found a suspected ricin laboratory in a dingy London apartment during the investigation of an Islamic terrorist network active in France and Britain.

The British raid marked the first time ricin was found in the hands of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. It was part of a crackdown driven by French investigators that generated several dozen arrests in France, Britain and Spain. The police action was aimed at averting attacks by a network of Algerians who allegedly trained with ricin and other chemical and biological weapons at terrorist camps in Russia's breakaway Chechen republic and in neighboring Georgia.

Monday's ricin find in Paris came a day before counter-terrorism agents arrested two more alleged members of the so-called Chechen network, one a French Algerian, in the town of Beauvais, north of Paris.

Law enforcement officials declined to comment on whether those two suspects had any links to the ricin at the Gare de Lyon. Police are investigating whether there are connections between the ricin found in Paris, the suspected lab in London and the larger network.

The Algerian suspects arrested in past months had moved between France and Britain, and allegedly planned chemical, biological and bomb strikes against targets including the Russian Embassy in Paris. An alleged leader of the network faces murder charges in the stabbing death of a Manchester police detective during a raid related to the ricin investigation.

In response to the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq, the French government deployed 500 soldiers to augment already high numbers of riot police and military personnel at train stations, airports and other likely targets, including the U.S. Embassy.

Even though France has led the opposition to U.S. military action in Iraq, the North African-dominated Islamic networks in Europe have concentrated on targets in France. Law enforcement officials across Europe have warned that a war in Iraq is very likely to provoke terrorist acts by Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations, as well as by freelance extremists.

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