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Profile: Mohammed Meguerba
Mohammed Meguerba was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mohammed Meguerba, a radical Islamist who will later confess to being part of a ricin plot under torture in Algeria (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003), is arrested at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is stopped because police realize he is using a false passport, and is held for six months. He will make five asylum appeals, but they are all rejected. According to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, he is then “suddenly released” in February 2002, and travels to Paris, continuing to Italy and then Britain. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 243]
Mohammed Meguerba [Source: BBC]The first traces of the alleged ricin plot later uncovered in London in January 2003 (see January 7, 2003) are discovered in the wake of the arrest of an illegal Algerian immigrant. Mohammed Meguerba, later alleged to be the mastermind of the plot, is arrested in north London with various false IDs. An epileptic, Meguerba had entered Britain as an illegal immigrant. He had left his homeland in 1995 and traveled through Europe. He became a waiter in Ireland and married, divorced, remarried and, “by pure chance or cultural void,” said Algerian secret service, “allowed himself to be recruited by fundamentalists” at a Belfast mosque in 2000. Activists in London sent him to training camps in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden himself allegedly gave him a mission in Britain and supplied him with documentation and money. [Observer, 4/17/2005] After this training, Meguerba returned to London in March 2002. He went to the Finsbury Park mosque, where he began to work on crude poisons with fellow Algerian Kamal Bourgass. On September 18, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in London during an operation into suspected terrorist fundraising. But he is released on bail after suffering an epileptic fit, and then flees to Algeria. [London Times, 5/9/2005] On December 16, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in Algeria by security forces after allegedly being smuggled in by Islamist radicals. On December 28, police begin his interrogation. Within two days, he tells them that he had been working with an al-Qaeda cell in north London and had been helping them produce poisons at a flat. Authorities in Britain receive this information from the Algerian security forces on January 2 or 3. The Algerian intelligence report spurs British authorities into action. As well as information on the poison plot, it contains information on many individuals in Britain who are allegedly engaged in hard-line, violent Islamic radicalism. The report also suggests the existence of a number of terrorist cells in Britain. [Observer, 4/17/2005] Meguerba names Bourgass as ringleader and other Algerians as co-conspirators. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Meguerba had been held in a secret detention center for 17 months by the Algerian security service. His relatives are unaware he had been held from December 2002 until he was moved to a prison in Algiers. When they are finally permitted to visit him, Meguerba weighs 77 lbs and claims he has been badly tortured. These claims are backed up another Algerian man, residing in Britain, who was detained in Algiers in January 2003 and placed by his interrogators in a room with Meguerba, whom the man describes as “bruised, cut, and swollen.” Upon his appearance in an Algiers court, Meguerba appears frail and is missing teeth. The confession extracted from Meguerba during this time was the evidence that led to the Wood Green raid. However, during the later trial, the confession is not relied on by the prosecution as the allegations of torture could be raised by the defense. One source says “the Government has introduced the Human Rights Act but finds itself relying on regimes with appalling human rights records for information.” Algerian secret services deny the claims of torture. [London Times, 5/9/2005]
Kamal Bourgass’s flat in Wood Green, north London. [Source: BBC]Metropolitan Police raid a flat in Wood Green, north London, and discover a locked bag in a room occupied by an Islamist militant named Kamal Bourgass. An illegal immigrant from Algeria, Bourgass had arrived in Britain, hidden in a truck, in 2000. Using several false names, he remained in the country after failing to get asylum in December 2001, despite being fined for shoplifting in 2002 (see July 2002). [Independent, 4/17/2005] In addition, police had discovered a false passport for Bourgass in a raid on a storage depot in Wembley, north London, on June 22, 2002. [BBC, 4/13/2005]
'Kitchen Chemistry' - The bag contains an envelope with instructions in Arabic for manufacturing poisons and explosives, as well as lists of chemicals. These “poison recipes” are in Bourgass’s writing. The envelope has the address of the Finsbury Park mosque with the name of “Nadir,” a name which Bourgass also used. Other discoveries include a cup containing apple seeds, cherry stones, nail polish remover, and a bottle of acetone. The search also uncovers 20 castor beans and £14,000 in cash. [Observer, 4/17/2005] In addition, there are stolen bottles of mouthwash and several toothbrushes, which are still in their packaging. The packaging appears to have been tampered with, indicating the plan may have been to poison the toothbrushes and then replace them on shop shelves. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 245] Police announce that they have discovered a “poisons laboratory” that contains recipes for ricin, toxic nicotine, and cyanide gas weapons. [Observer, 4/17/2005] However, a senior policeman will later be dismissive of the level of the poisons, calling what is found “garden shed, kitchen chemistry.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 245]
Other Arrests - Other flats are raided and seven North Africans are arrested. Six men are arrested on January 5 in north and east London and another man is arrested on January 8 in central London. [Fox News, 1/8/2003] The arrests include a 17-year-old. Police uncover additional poison recipes, false papers, and computer discs with bomb-making instructions.
Bourgass Murders Police Officer - Bourgass had been named as ringleader and other Algerians as co-conspirators in the alleged plot in an intelligence report passed to British officials from Algerian security forces. This report was the result of the interrogation of alleged al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Meguerba (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). Bourgass is not present during the Wood Green raid. However, on January 14, a raid on a flat in Crumpsall Lane, Manchester, seeking another terror suspect, uncovers Bourgass and alleged conspirator Khalid Alwerfeli. After a violent struggle, Bourgass stabs and murders policeman Stephen Oake and wounds several other police officers. [Independent, 4/17/2005]
After one of Britain’s longest criminal trials and 74 hours of deliberation, the jury acquits Mouloud Sihali, David Khalef, Sidali Feddag, and Mustapha Taleb of conspiracy to carry out a chemical attack. The jury decides that the prosecution has failed to prove any existence of an al-Qaeda plot or any ability to produce weapons of mass destruction (see January 7, 2003). On April 12, the jury acquits Kamal Bourgass of the most serious charge—conspiracy to carry out the attack—but finds him guilty of “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance by the use of poisons or explosives to cause disruption, fear or injury.” The judge sentences him to 17 years in prison. [Independent, 4/17/2005] He has previously been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a policeman, as well as receiving jail terms for the attempted murder of other policemen during a fight when he was arrested. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 248] The government admits that no ricin was found in the invesigation, only 20 castor beans, some cherry stones, apple pips, and botched “nicotine poison” in a Nivea jar (see January 5, 2003). Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald drops the charges against four other alleged conspirators the day before their trial starts. Khalid Alwerfeli, Samir Asli, Mouloud Bouhrama, and Kamal Merzoug are formally declared innocent. Mohammed Meguerba has yet to stand trial in Algeria and remains in custody. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Five of the acquitted make fresh asylum applications. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been in talks with Algeria about returning the men, but lawyers point to Meguerba’s alleged torture at the hands of the Algerian security forces as evidence that it will be impossible to deport any of the ricin defendants despite them being cleared (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). [London Times, 5/9/2005] The cost of this trial and another related one exceeds £20 million. At one point, 800 police officers worked on the investigation, which included more than 100 arrests and operations in 16 countries. [Guardian, 4/14/2005]
Entity Tags: Mouloud Sihali, Samir Asli, Mouloud Bouhrama, Sidali Feddag, Mohammed Meguerba, Mustapha Taleb, Khalid Alwerfeli, Kamal Bourgass, David Khalef, Michel Massih, Ken Macdonald, Kamal Merzoug
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
On September 13, after two months of legal argument in court, the British trial begins against Kamal Bourgass and his alleged co-conspirators Mouloud Sihali, David Khalef, Sidali Feddag and Mustapha Taleb. The trial reveals the true extent of the capabilities of the so-called “ricin ring.” The same day of the raid, January 5, 2003, chemical weapons experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire had discovered in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat (see January 5, 2003). This finding was not released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] The trial also reveals that the results of the Porton Down test were not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, the day after the war in Iraq begins (see January 7, 2003). [BBC, 9/15/2005] George Smith, a scientist and senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, serves as an expert for some defendants in the trial and confirms that the discovery that the initial ricin finding was a “false positive” was made “well before the outbreak of the war in Iraq.” The alleged ricin plot was used by authorities, including Colin Powell, as evidence against Saddam Hussein’s regime in the build-up to war with Iraq. [Washington Post, 4/14/2005] The “poison recipes” discovered in the raid are found to have come from a website in Palo Alto, California, and are the invention of right-wing survivalist Kurt Saxon. His website sells books and CDs with bomb and poison manufacturing instructions. Journalist Duncan Campbell of the Guardian, called as an expert witness, further demonstrates that the instructions could have come from the Mujahedeen Poisons Handbook, which was written by veterans of the Afghan war and had been on the Internet since 1998. In fact, these recipes were useless in the production of weapons of mass destruction. [Guardian, 4/15/2005] The hysteria over the capabilities of ricin is also laid to rest during the trial. It is made clear that ricin is not a weapon of mass destruction and has only ever been used for one-on-one killings and attempted assassinations. Ricin was used by the Bulgarian secret service to kill dissident Georgi Markov on the streets of London in 1978. Professor Alistair Hay, a prominent authority on toxins, says Bourgass’s attempts to manufacture chemical weapons were “incredibly amateurish and unlikely to succeed.” He dismisses the allegations of suspected Algerian al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Meguerba that ricin would be smeared on door handles. To reliably kill, ricin has to be directly injected; swallowing ricin could kill, but is a thousand times less effective, while touching ricin is even less likely to kill. Hay’s testimony leads to the prosecution dropping Meguerba’s claims. They then suggest that Bourgass planned to smear ricin on toothbrushes, and put them back on a shop’s shelves. Professor Hay tells The Independent that this was a highly ineffective method. “The claims made before the trial about this major ricin plot were very, very questionable,” he says. [Independent, 4/17/2005]
Entity Tags: Duncan Campbell, Sidali Feddag, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Alistair Hay, David Khalef, Mouloud Sihali, Mustapha Taleb, Maxwell Hutchkinson, Globalsecurity.org, Kamal Bourgass, Mohammed Meguerba, Kurt Saxon, George Smith
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
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