Al-Qa'ida laboratory to make toxin found

War on Terrorism: Bioterror
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Plans to manufacture the biological poison ricin have been discovered in the debris left by members of al-Qa'ida before their hasty departure from a compound in Kabul.

They left behind a makeshift laboratory, with foul-smelling liquids in jars and papers covered in chemical formulas. Among them were discovered papers revealing plans for making the poison, according to a report in The Times today.

One page reads: "A certain amount, equal to a strong dose, will be able to kill an adult, and a dose equal to seven seeds will kill a child." Other pages list ricin's properties and how long it takes to die as painful symptoms set in. Ricin is one of the most toxic biological weapons and was discovered by UN inspectors in Iraq in the 1990s.

The United States says Mr bin Laden has tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It is impossible to tell how far such efforts might have gone but there were hints of the group's ambitions. One item was a booklet on how to survive a nuclear explosion.

In the US, Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security Director, confirmed that some documents about how to make a nuclear device were found in an al-Qa'ida building in Kabul. However, he said the information was "taken off the internet some years ago" and could have been widely available. "We have to be prepared for all eventualities, including a nuclear threat," said Mr Ridge, who claimed that the discovery of the documents was consistent with statements by Mr bin Laden that he would like to acquire a nuclear capacity.

Room after room in the Kabul compound was filled with papers, formulae and maps, some burnt, some with notes written in Arabic. There was a yellowed page from an old issue of Plane and Pilot magazine, with a story entitled, "A Flight to Remember". Written in Arabic, German, Urdu and English, some notes give "designs for missiles, bombs and nuclear weapons".

Last weekend, a Pakistani newspaper quoted Mr bin Laden as claiming that his organisation already had nuclear and chemical weapons. However, US officials said they have no reason to suggest he has been successful in his bid to acquire such weaponry.

The compound appeared to have taken a direct hit, from what Northern Alliance soldiers said was an American rocket.In another house, where al-Qa'ida men lived, four different types of landmines have been found.