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Ricin suspects linked to al Qaeda


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence has evidence of connections between four people charged with possessing chemical weapons in London and a senior al Qaeda leader, officials tells CNN.

The four men were arrested during a January 5 raid by British police on two addresses in north and east London where traces of ricin, one of the world's deadliest poisons, were discovered.

Now U.S. officials say they believe the suspects can be tied to al Qaeda, specifically "associates" of senior al Qaeda figure Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, a senior official tells CNN.

Zarqawi has also been connected, officials say, by intelligence in U.S. hands, to those involved in the October assassination in Amman, Jordan of American diplomat Lawrence Foley.

However, the official says there is no evidence to date of a link between the ricin suspects and the Ansar al Islam group which holds a tiny piece of northern Iraq and is fighting with the Kurds who control the rest of the north. The only, "very indirect" connection, officials say, is the evidence Zarqawi may have travelled to Ansar's enclave in the past.

As for suggestions there could be some connection with Baghdad, the official says there is no evidence "whatsoever" tying the ricin suspects to the Iraqi regime, directly or indirectly.

U.S. officials note that evidence was found in al Qaeda safe houses in Afghanistan showing interest in ricin, and point out that while it is an effective weapon for assassination of a person, it would not make an effective weapon of mass destruction, but as one official put it: "not all of these guys are too bright."

The four suspected terrorists were remanded in custody in London Monday charged in connection with an alleged plot to use the deadly poison.

Mouloud Feddag, Samir Feddag, Mustapha Taleb and a 17-year-old who can not be named for legal reasons -- were remanded when they appeared at Bow Street magistrates court in central London. They are due to appear in London's Central Criminal Court January 17.

The four were charged Saturday under the UK's Terrorism Act 2000 with "possessing articles of value to a terrorist" and involvement in developing or producing "chemical weapons" under the Chemical Weapons Act of 1996.

Meanwhile in a separate case, a man of north African origin has been charged with the murder of a police officer during a ricin raid on an apartment in northern England on Tuesday night.

Detective Constable Stephen Oake was killed in the raid by Manchester police. Three men were arrested in that raid, including the man suspected of stabbing Oake. (Man charged over police murder)

Ricin is made from the castor bean plant. One milligram of it can kill an adult. 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 bleeding of the stomach and intestines, followed by failure of the liver, spleen and kidneys, and death by collapse of the circulatory system.

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


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