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FBI issues advisory about dangers of ricin

From Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI advised law enforcement agencies nationwide Friday about the dangers associated with ricin, just days after British anti-terrorism investigators found small amounts of the deadly toxin in an apartment in London.

The FBI notice said ricin "could be used in a terrorist operation to contaminate closed ventilation systems (e.g. heaters or air conditioners), drinking water, lakes, rivers and food supplies."

It also says, however, that "U.S. experts have deemed ricin an ineffective aerosol-based weapon" and that extremely large quantities of castor beans, from which ricin is made, would be needed to contaminate water supplies.

According to the FBI notice, the most effective use of ricin is "in an assassination by injection or as a food contaminant."

If inhaled, ricin can cause death within 36 to 48 hours from failure of the respiratory and circulatory systems. If ingested, it causes nausea, vomiting and internal bleeding of the stomach and intestines, followed by failure of the liver, spleen and kidneys, and death by collapse of the circulatory system.

If injected, ricin immediately kills the muscles and lymph nodes near the site of the injection. Failure of the major organs and death usually follows.

In the past, ricin has been used as a biological weapon for assassination purposes. In 1978, for example, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was killed by poison dart filled with ricin and fired from an umbrella in London.

The FBI alert follows the arrest in London of six Algerian men and one Moroccan man by British anti-terrorism police. In addition to traces of ricin, equipment that could be used to produce the poison was seized. A source told CNN Friday that one of the men had trained in an al Qaeda terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.

Numerous references to making ricin have been found in Kabul in documents produced by the terrorist network. References to ricin were part of the group's training course and in a manual that was spread worldwide, but police have not said if there is any link between those arrested and al Qaeda.

Iraq is also known to have included ricin in its biological weapons program. However, experts point out that ricin has never been deployed as a weapon for mass destruction.

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