Ministers in 'Doomsday' exercise after anthrax alert

MINISTERS donned gas masks and nylon suits for a full-scale "Doomsday" exercise in Downing Street to test out the Government's defences against biological and chemical weapons attacks, it emerged yesterday.

There were unsubstantiated reports that the Queen and the Prime Minister may have been involved in the exercise in a Downing Street bunker.

The disclosure by Whitehall officials underlined the seriousness with which the Government is reacting to risks of a terrorist attack from the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, following the all-ports alert about a possible attempt to smuggle anthrax into Britain by using duty free spirits, or scent.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, also disclosed that a warning that President Saddam could be planning to flood the West with anthrax hidden in bottles disguised as duty-free goods was received 13 days before the Government alerted the ports.

In a further development, an Iraqi scientist who may have tipped off Western intelligence agencies about the anthrax threat and who was planning to defect is reported to have been arrested and thrown into prison.

MI5 alerted Customs and Excise officers and Special Branch police at British ports on a number of occasions this year following intelligence suggesting Iraq may be planning biological or chemical attacks.

While the most recent report told ports to be on the look-out for anthrax, information about other named substances has been released.

Iraq is known to have reserves of Agent VX, a highly toxic nerve agent used against the Kurds, mustard gas, which cause terrible skin damage, and sarin, the nerve agent used in Nazi gas chambers, aflatoxin, which destroys the immune system, and botulinum toxin.

A security source said the anthrax alert was "one of a number of warnings about the possible threat from Iraqi biological and chemical weapons" that had been issued to the authorities guarding ports and airports, including the Channel tunnel and Eurostar.

The source stressed that there was no intelligence to suggest that Britain was to be specifically targeted. The anthrax alert said the threat was against "the enemies of Iraq".

Meanwhile, an official with Unscom, the United Nations body charged with rooting out Iraq's clandestine weapons programmes, confirmed yesterday that it was informed of the arrest of Nassir al-Hindawi by the Iraqi government earlier this month.

According to Baghdad, Mr Hindawi was found to be preparing his own flight from Iraq and had important documents about the biological weapons programme, which he intended handing over to Western investigators.

Mr Hindawi is considered to have been one of the key pioneers of Iraq's biological campaign. Anthrax would have been one of the agents Mr Hindawi would have been trying to put into production for Baghdad.

Ewen Buchanan, the Unscom spokesman, confirmed that Mr Hindawi has been interviewed repeatedly by Unscom investigators, though not recently.

Underplaying the importance of Mr Hindawi, Mr Buchanan said he "was not involved in the production phase" and added that Unscom has interviewed "hundreds of other people", besides Mr Hindawi.

Other experts, however, suggested that had he successfully defected, Mr Hindawi could have been crucial to Unscom's efforts to reveal the truth about Iraq's biological ambitions.

Confirmation yesterday by Mr Straw to the Commons that a number of "all- ports" alerts had been made since the tension in the Gulf, fuelled suspicions among Labour MPs opposed to war against Iraq that the latest reports are part of a conspiracy to wreck the peace deal brokered with Iraq by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

"I am extremely suspicious that this is an attempt to destabilise the agreement over the ceasefire when it seems to be working rather well.

"It seems to be the action of somebody who wants to fight," said Tam Dalyell, the veteran Labour campaigner.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test