FBI Warns of Ricin Threat

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FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives at the White House for security briefings with President

Intelligence from the war front appears to be having an impact on security measures at home. The FBI has sent a classified intelligence bulletin to the nation's state and local law enforcement agencies advising them to be on the lookout for terrorists making toxins such as ricin and botulism. The alert, entitled "Improvised Chemical and Biological Agents," and dispatched this morning (April 2) to 18,000 law enforcement agencies via a secure electronic network, was prompted in part by the discovery of homemade biological toxins in a radical Islamist compound in northeastern Iraq that was raided by the U.S. and Kurdish troops late last week.

"Recent events including the January, 2003, arrests in the United Kingdom of Algerian extremists apparently attempting to produce ricin toxin in their residences, indicate an ongoing interest among terrorists in developing improvised weapons of mass destruction," the bulletin says. It warns that ricin and other lethal agents can be easily concocted using recipes that can be found on the Internet and ingredients and equipment that can be bought from nurseries, hardware stores and mail order chemical supply houses. The bulletin cites several cases from the 1990s in which U.S. home-grown extremists and crackpots were arrested for making ricin, a quick-acting poison, and Sarin, a deadly nerve agent.

The bulletin also tells local law officials and other first responders to be aware of telltale signs of toxin production: for instance, large caches of yeast or infant formula, which can be used to grow or dilute biological toxins, and sacks of castor beans, from which ricin is extracted.

On Sunday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN that a compound established by the Jihadist group Ansar Al Islam and captured by American and Kurdish forces last week was probably the source of the ricin seized from Algerian extremists in London earlier this year. U.S. intelligence had earlier identified the Ansar group as being especially active in attempting to develop ricin and other chemical and biological agents for use as terror weapons.

Documents and computer disks found in the Ansar camp are now being analyzed for names and locations of Ansar associates living in the U.S. and Europe. FBI officials say they have not yet received any data from the document exploitation process but they hope to do so soon. The bureau is concerned not only about Ansar followers but also other radical Jihadists and "lone wolves" moved to violent action by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Whatever their affiliation, Bureau officials say, U.S. lawmen should be aware that malefactors based in the U.S. could create enough toxins to contaminate a local food source or stage assassinations without elaborate lab equipment and without a risky smuggling operation.