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Ricin suspect 'in al Qaeda camp'

A policeman guards the north London flat above a pharmacy where traces of deadly ricin were found.
A policeman guards the north London flat above a pharmacy where traces of deadly ricin were found.

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Police move in on London flat. CNN's Nic Robertson reports (January 7)
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- One of seven men arrested in London in a ricin poison investigation had trained in an al Qaeda terrorist camp in Afghanistan, a source told CNN.

Acting on a tip from French intelligence sources, British anti-terror investigators arrested six Algerian men on Sunday in a flat in the Wood Green section of north London.

The flat was found to contain traces of the highly potent poison ricin and crude facilities to make it.

A seventh man, said to be 33 years old, was arrested on Tuesday in north London.

The men have been in Britain no more than three months, sources have told CNN. They said the men -- who ranged in age from the teens to the 30s -- may have been connected to others involved in earlier reconnaissance missions.

In addition, European intelligence sources said at least two of the six arrested Sunday had traveled through Paris. They are believed to be linked to a group of four people arrested in Paris in December.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that during a December raid in the northern Paris suburb of La Courneuve, anti-espionage agents seized two vials of unidentified chemicals, as well as a protective suit for use against chemical or biological arms.

British authorities said they are concerned more ricin could have been produced in the flat where the Algerians were arrested and that the poison might be in the hands of other people.

Police also fear there could be others at large who were working with the men.

Numerous references to making ricin were in documents produced by the al Qaeda terrorist network. References to ricin were part of the group's training course and in a manual that was spread worldwide.

Iraq is also known to have included ricin in its biological weapons program.

After the initial arrests the British government urged citizens to be "alert but not alarmed."

Doctors around Britain were warned to look for symptoms of exposure to ricin, one of the most powerful poisons and one for which there is no antidote.

If inhaled, ricin can cause death in 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.

Medical experts point out that although ricin is powerful, it cannot easily be used to affect a large number of people, as anthrax can.

To equal one kilogram of anthrax, four metric tons of ricin would be needed. On the other hand, anthrax can be treated if caught early enough.

Ricin can be made from the castor bean plant. One milligram of it can kill an adult.

-- CNN Senior International Correspondent Sheila MacVicar contributed to this report

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