Police made 100 arrests to smash al-Qa'ida network

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A British-based network of Algerian terrorists with links to al-Qa'ida are suspected of being behind the plot to cause mass panic in the UK with the release of lethal poisons.

A British-based network of Algerian terrorists with links to al-Qa'ida are suspected of being behind the plot to cause mass panic in the UK with the release of lethal poisons.

The Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch began investigating an Algerian network throughout summer 2002, but at first they thought it was only involved in logistical support, such as illegal fundraising.

The attempt to break the network led to more than 100 arrests, with investigations stretching from Bournemouth to Scotland.

The most active of the Islamist group, and the organisation believed to be at the centre of the ricin plot, is the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which had sent thousands of members for training in camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Its fighters have been also been involved in Chechnya, Kashmir and the Balkans, as well the nucleus of the urban terror cells in Europe.

The bloody and largely unreported civil war in Algeria, with its horrific massacres of civilians, has resulted in 160,000 deaths. It has also become an exporter of violence, providing one of the largest pools of recruits for al-Qa'ida.

Kamel Bourgass, who was convicted of murdering a police officer and plotting to spread poison in the UK, is a follower of a GSPC faction led by Nabil Sahrawi, also known as Abu Ibrahim Mustafa, and Abu Doha, also known as Amar Makhlulif. Abu Doha, 39, an Algerian cleric, has been in Belmarsh jail in London since he was stopped from boarding a plane to Saudi Arabia in February 2001.

He is awaiting extradition to the US, where the FBI accuses him of involvement in the so-called "millennium plot" to blow up Los Angeles International airport in late December 1999.

The GSPC was created after it split from another Algerian Islamist group, the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) in dispute over civilian killings. The GSPC's main European base is France. Much of the information about the ricin plot came from there, and from an Algerian anti-insurgency unit led by General Ali Maiza.

The GSPC established a group of about 100 supporters in UK. This changed as it started to become more interested in al-Qa'ida's wider international aims.

A police source said: "The tentacles of this network stretch across Europe and across the world. The GSPC changed from being just concerned with Algeria and are now part of the wider al Qaida-inspired ideology."