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Europe skeptical of Iraq-ricin link

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Traces of ricin were found at a flat in North London

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- European intelligence officials questioned U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's contention Wednesday that the lethal poison involved in a terrorist plot broken up in Britain came from Iraq.

Powell cited the plot in testimony before the House International Relations Committee, arguing that part of the danger of not disarming Iraq lay in possible alliances with terrorists.

"The ricin that is bouncing around Europe now originated in Iraq -- not in the part of Iraq that is under Saddam Hussein's control, but his security forces know all about it," Powell said.

But investigators have said that arrests in Europe found suspected terrorists trained in biological and chemical weapons in the Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia and nearby Chechnya -- and the traces of the ricin found in a British raid were clearly "homemade."

A French intelligence source said he was "stunned" by Powell's comment.

"There is no, repeat, no suggestion that the ricin was anything but locally produced," he said. "It was bad quality, not technically sophisticated."

Further, the source said, British authorities "are clear" that the poison was "home-made."

"Don't forget, intelligence is like a supermarket, and at that level in government, you see everything, and can pick anything," the source said.

State Department officials said that Powell was likely referring to the "knowledge and capability" to produce ricin originating in Iraq -- perhaps a reference to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, said by European judicial sources to be one of the men who trained the arrested suspects in chemical and biological weaponry.

President Bush last October mentioned Zarqawi as a "very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks."

It is the second time in as many days that Powell's interpretation of purported Iraq-al Qaeda connections has been questioned. On Tuesday, Powell said that an audiotape said to be al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was indisputable proof of such a connection.

But translations of the tape show that bin Laden, while voicing support for the Iraqi people and urging them to resist any U.S.-led attack, called the Baath party of Saddam Hussein "infidels" and said he wouldn't be disappointed if Saddam Hussein and his supporters "disappear."

Other Bush administration officials defended Powell's comments. Asked about the distinction bin Laden appears to make between the Iraqi government and the Iraqi population, CIA director George Tenet told a Senate committee that such distinctions blur "very, very easily."

"It's a distinction that people have tried to make, particularly in the terrorism world, which I don't think very much of, to tell you the truth," Tenet said.


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