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Iraq denies plot to smuggle anthrax into Britain

Inspectors
Inspectors checking for anthrax  
March 24, 1998
Web posted at: 11:26 p.m. EST (0426 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- The British government told citizens not to panic Tuesday after confirming an intelligence warning of a possible Iraqi anthrax attack, saying there was no imminent or specific threat toward the country.

"It is right to take sensible measures. But it is unnecessary to be alarmist," Home Secretary Jack Straw told Parliament.

A number of countries have received information about possible Iraqi threats to smuggle deadly anthrax, a poison Iraq is known to have produced, Straw said.

"But our information is there is no specific threat to the United Kingdom. There is no evidence to indicate that any attempt has actually been made to smuggle anthrax into this country," he said.

CNN's Margaret Lowrie reports
icon 1 minute, 59 second VXtreme video

Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking from Paris, agreed that the British people need not worry but added that the world must be constantly on guard against Iraq.

"We've got to be on guard full time with Saddam Hussein. That is one of the reasons we took the action that we did in ensuring that the inspectors go back in and inspect the weapons-making factories so we can be absolutely sure there is no question of developing these weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Reports called 'baseless'

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations called the reports of a plot to smuggle anthrax into Britain "baseless."

"It is absurd to think Iraq would resort to such stuff," said Nizar Hamdoon. "It's appalling and irresponsible for any government to horrify its own people and to horrify the international community on things that are baseless."

The British government confirmed late Monday it had placed its ports on alert for Iraqi chemical weapons after intelligence sources warned of a plot to smuggle anthrax in duty-free bottles of perfume or alcohol.

News of the alert was broken by The Sun, a tabloid newspaper which reported that one teaspoonful of anthrax could kill 100 million people.

The tabloid reported that Hussein planned to target "hostile countries," including the United States and other NATO members, as revenge for any military strikes.

The United States and Britain pulled back from threatened strikes against Iraq in January after an agreement was reached granting U.N. weapons inspectors unfettered access to sites in Iraq suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction.

All-ports bulletin issued last week

Security experts say British authorities have been aware of a possible danger for some time.

"These things don't happen overnight. Information comes in all the time from various sources and what you have to do is collate that information and decide when the time is right to act upon it," said Paul Slaughter, a terrorism expert.

Ports
All British ports and airports are on alert for possible anthrax smuggling  

The British government apparently decided that last week was the right time. An all-ports bulletin was issued last Wednesday, putting every point of entry into Britain on heightened security alert.

Analysts say all-ports bulletins are issued from time to time on various perceived or real dangers to Britain's security and well-being.

They also say that with Hussein cooperating with weapons inspectors, it appears to be an unlikely time for him to stage an anthrax attack.

"This is not a threat. We're not going to have anthrax in the water supply of London tomorrow. This is a risk. There is a risk that Saddam Hussein's agents may import, in the fullness of time, anthrax or some other substance," said Paul Beaver, of Jane's Defense Weekly.

A spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Information and Culture said Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and was cooperating fully with U.N. arms inspectors.

"Britain, which has admitted that it had used bombs with depleted uranium during the aggression led by the United States in 1991 against Iraq, tries today to mislead world public opinion by putting out lies and accusing Iraq of having chemical weapons," the spokesman said.

Correspondent Margaret Lowrie and Reuters contributed to this report.

 

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