Plotter's flat contained ricin ingredients 'for an attack on Jewish centre'

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A scruffy one-bedroom flat in a run-down neighbourhood of north London is an unlikely location for a terrorist "poison factory". But when police and government scientists raided 352B High Road, Wood Green, on 5 January 2003, that is precisely what they believed they had uncovered.

A scruffy one-bedroom flat in a run-down neighbourhood of north London is an unlikely location for a terrorist "poison factory". But when police and government scientists raided 352B High Road, Wood Green, on 5 January 2003, that is precisely what they believed they had uncovered.

The discovery of what police believed was an attempt by a group of Algerian terrorists, trained in al-Qa'ida camps in Afghanistan, to launch a poison campaign in the UK caused wide-spread alarm. The British security services thought the intended target was to be the Jewish community in north London, The Independent understands.

A nationwide alert went out to track down the man responsible for the poisons list - an illegal immigrant called Kamel Bourgass, 31. The hunt for Bourgass was to lead to the death of the detective, Stephen Oake, 40, as he attempted to arrest him at a flat in Manchester.

Following a massive security operation and lengthy series of court cases that cost an estimated £50m the case finally came to an end yesterday with the conviction of Bourgass for murder and for plotting to spread poison in the UK. But eight other alleged co-conspirators were cleared of the poison charges at the Old Bailey. The defendants' lawyers argue that the failure to bring a successful prosecution against the majority of defendants highlights the complaint that innocent people are becoming victims of the government's terror policies.

It also undermines the justification for the Iraq war. Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, used the plot to back his case for the conflict before the UN. Tony Blair also claimed the ricin "find" was evidence of the threat of weapons of mass destruction to Britain.

Anti-terrorist officers believe, however, that the case shows the extent of a suspected Algerian terror network operating in Britain and the ease with which deadly poisons can be made from simple ingredients.

The breakthrough in what was to become the biggest terrorist plot yet to reach court came about at the beginning of January 2003 when MI5 were contacted by the Algerian security services with some shocking information. They had arrested a suspected Algerian terrorist, Mohammed Meguerba, 36, who told them he had been working with al-Qa'ida supporters in Britain and had been helping them produce poisons at a flat in north London.

Meguerba claimed one of the main figures behind the poison plot was a man named "Nadir", which was one of the names used by Kamel Bourgass. Meguerba said that when he last saw "Nadir" in September 2002, the two of them had already succeeded in making "two pots" of ricin - which were not found when police raided the Wood Green flatr.

Bourgass had been living in London since being smuggled in the back of a lorry in January 2000. His asylum application under the name Nadir Habra had been refused but he stayed in the country illegally.

He is believed to have became involved in the GSPC who established a group in the UK which offered moral and logistical support. This changed as the group started to become more interested in al-Qa'ida aims.

When the police raided his flat in Wood Green - just days after the intelligence had been passed onto MI5 by the Algerian authorities - they discovered in a locked bag in Bourgass' bedroom an envelope containing a set of recipes in Arabic in his handwriting. On the front of the envelope was the address of the Finsbury Park mosque with the name of "Nadir", which Bourgass was also known. These recipes were later photocopied on a machine at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, the court heard.

There were details of five poisons. Scientists at the Porton Down chemical warfare laboratories in Wiltshire later followed the instructions in the recipes. Their experiments produced enough ricin and cyanide to kill hundreds of people.

Following the raid the police launched a nationwide manhunt for Bourgass.

Nine days after the raid in Wood Green officers from Greater Manchester's Special Branch went to a flat, in Crumpsall Lane, Manchester, to arrest a suspect.

To the surprise of the officers when they raided the premises they found not one but three men, including Bourgass. The three suspects were not handcuffed after police entered the flat and the special branch officers, including DC Stephen Oake, were not wearing protective vests.

Some of the officers then noticed a similarity between him and a man they knew as Nadir Habra, whose picture had been circulated following the ricin raid, and phoned the Anti-Terrorist Branch in London.

Bourgass punched Pc Fleming in the groin, rushed to the kitchen next door and grabbed a knife. Before being subdued he killed DC Oake by stabbing him eight times and wounded three other officers in the process.

Bourgass was tried for the attack and in June last year and found guilty of murdering DC Oake, attempting to murder two Special Branch officers. and wounding another officer.

Following that trial, Mr Justice Penry-Davey sentenced him to life and ruled that he had to serve a minimum of 22 years.

The ricin trial, which began in September last year, ended this week.

The jury found Bourgass guilty of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance by using poisons and explosives for which he was given a 17 year sentence. But the jury failed, after four weeks of deliberations.

Four other Algerians - Mouloud Sihali, 29, David Aissa Khalef, 33, Sidali Feddag, 20, and Mustapha Taleb, 35 - were also in the dock in Bourgass's second trial facing the same two charges. All four men were cleared by the jury.

Following the not guilty verdicts, prosecutors drop-ped plans for a third trial involving four other alleged conspirators - three Algerians and a Libyan.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch, said: "[Stephen Oake] died protecting the public from a vicious terrorist. It is clear that had Bourgass been allowed to continue his plot undetected, some people would have been made very ill and quite possibly have died.

"It would be hard to underestimate the fear and disruption this plot could have caused across the country.

"The public have been spared from a real and deadly threat."

Gareth Peirce, who acted as solicitor for Sihali, Khalef, and Feddag in the earlier trial - in which they were cleared - added: "There was a great deal that this country was led to believe that in part caused it to go to war on Iraq, erected on the basis of an alleged major conspiracy involving ricin.

What now for the terror laws?

Hours after anti-terrorist police officers broke up an alleged ricin terrorist plot, Tony Blair appeared on television describing the find as a stark illustration of the dangers that were posed by weapons of mass destruction.

The following month, Mr Blair went to the Commons to tell MPs that the alleged conspiracy was "powerful evidence" of a continuing terror threat to the nation. It is a theme to which he will no doubt return nearer the election.

The murder of DC Stephen Oake and the intelligence gathered by British and foreign security services shows there is a serious terror threat that must be properly met. But civil liberty lawyers last night were asking if the Government had got the approach right.

The failure to secure terrorist conspiracy convictions against eight of the nine men after an investigation lasting nearly two years must be regarded as a serious setback for the Government's anti-terror policy.

Gareth Peirce, the solicitor representing the men accused of the risin plot, said it was troubling that although none of them had any association with Kamel Bourgass, the man found guilty of murdering DC Oake, the prosecution was able to weave a "massive conspiracy tapestry".

The acquittals also cast doubt on the reliability of the evidence against the former Belmarsh detainees who were released under strict control orders last month.

The terms of the orders signed by the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, include fresh allegations that all had "links with North African groups involved in the use of toxic chemicals in the UK". But the only apparent evidence for that link was that the former Belmarsh detainee known as P, a double-amputee Algerian, was arrested in Manchester at the same house where DC Oake was murdered. P is now the subject of a control order.

Ms Peirce said: "The extension of these innocent links, to an agreement of the most serious of criminal conspiracies, depends on assertions by the prosecution rather than evidence against any alleged co-conspirators of relevant criminal activity."

The jury's unanimous rejection of an alleged ricin plot helps explain why the Government is so reluctant to put the former Belmarsh detainees on trial.

The evidence against them is not only weaker than that used to prosecute the alleged ricin plotters but is also largely inadmissible.

Since 11 September 2001, the police have made 702 arrests, mostly of Muslim men, under the Terrorism Act 2000. Only 17 have been convicted of any terrorist offence.

Robert Verkaik