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February 19, 2002: Alleged Cyanide Bomb Plot against US Embassy Uncovered in Rome

Tunnels under the US embassy in Rome.Tunnels under the US embassy in Rome. [Source: BBC]Four Moroccans are arrested in Rome in possession of several pounds of a cyanide compound. In addition, police find a map marked with the location of a water main in central Rome. When news of the arrest is leaked to the Italian media on the following day, there are widespread fears of a plot to poison Rome’s water supply. The press speculates that the men may be linked to al-Qaeda. The US embassy in Rome may also have been a target, says an embassy spokesman. In the following days, five more men, also from Morocco, are arrested. However, within days the cyanide compound is identified as potassium ferro-cyanide, which has many agricultural and industrial uses. An official says it could not have been used to poison the water supply. Following the initial arrest, Italian authorities inspect public utility tunnels in central Rome and find a hole in one of them near the US embassy. Police say that they suspect the plotters had planned a bomb attack against the embassy. The potassium ferro-cyanide, although harmless in itself, may have been used to produce a toxic gas if heated, investigators say. According to a police expert, “A toxic cloud would have formed and spread through the tunnels under the center of Rome.” The nine suspects are held without bail pending trial, but will be later acquitted (see April 28, 2004). [BBC News, 2/20/2002; BBC News, 2/21/2002; BBC News, 2/24/2002; New York Times, 2/25/2002; Time, 2/25/2002; New York Times, 2/26/2002; New York Times, 2/27/2002]

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