Roger Whittaker

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Wild conspiracy theories: the ricin case

Thursday 14th April 2005

If you had gone by what passes for "news" on the British television and most of the papers today, you would have concluded that we have all had had a very narrow escape from being poisoned as a result of a plot by an al-Qaeda terrorist cell in London.

The media in general were continuing to allow themselves to be spun wildly by the policemen and the politicians, in spite of the facts of the case.

Headlines like "The al-Qaeda plot to poison Britain" (The Times) or this Evening Standard story give the impression that the court case had proved the existence of a conspiracy by a group of people to kill us with dealy biological weapons.

In fact of course, with the exception of Kamel Bourgass, who had already been tried and convicted of the murder of the policeman Stephen Oake, all the other accused in the "ricin case" were acquitted, and no ricin was found. So it may have been a "ricin plot" in the sense that one person possibly plotted to make ricin, but it certainly wasn't a "ricin conspiracy".

The deadly poisons were actually something more like the kind of thing a nerdy teenager might have tried out: recipes for making cyanide from fruit pips, for instance. Not weapons of mass destruction by a long way.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, this case was used by Tony Blair and even Colin Powell in justification for the war, with a totally spurious Iraq connection thrown in:

"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.

If your knowledge of this case comes mainly from television news, follow the links below.

National Security Notes and The Register have good summaries of the case.

In Bill Durodié's interesting article in spiked, he writes:

But then the real story ought to be about the sheer naivety and incompetence of all the so-called al-Qaeda operatives sentenced to date. In the UK there have been only three: Richard Reid, the dim-witted shoe bomber who had trouble with matches; Sajid Badat, the Gloucester loner who bottled out of emulating Reid; and now Bourgass, a man who purportedly hoped to cause mayhem by painting car handles with a poison that has to be injected to be effective.

Both Reid and now Bourgass look like "useful idiots" or fall guys who have somehow been manipulated into acting in a certain way. In the case of Bourgass, with very tragic consequences.

See also Duncan Campbell's Guardian article.

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