Home Office says sorry to suspects for ricin blunder
US and UK government terror lies exposed in official apology
The Home Office has been forced to apologise to 10 men placed under controversial anti-terrorist control orders after it linked them to the ricin plot in London, the Guardian has discovered.
In an embarrassing letter to the men, the government claims that it made a "clerical error" when it said the grounds for emergency restriction imposed on each of the alleged international terrorists was that they "belonged to and have provided support for a network of north African extremists directly involved in terrorist planning in the UK, including the use of toxic chemicals".
Last Wednesday, Kamel Bourgass, an Algerian who stabbed a policeman to death and planned poison attacks across Britain, was jailed for 17 years. But in a blow to the police and security services, four co-defendants were acquitted and a second trial was abandoned. Defence lawyers said the case was a massive conspiracy tapestry woven by the prosecution and that it had been used by the government to justify the war in Iraq and detention without trial in the UK.
The fact that the control orders attempted to connect the 10 men - who were detained without charge and trial for more than two years before being released under stringent conditions - to the ricin plot, will cast further doubt on the validity of the secret evidence the government claims it has on them.
Last night a Home Office spokesman said: "Basically there was a clerical error in the initial order in that the same basis for issue was given in all of the orders. This was noticed shortly afterwards and acted on immediately. It did not affect the validity of the order.
"The home secretary made the decision to issue the control orders on the basis of information given to him by the security services. The clerical error did not change the validity of the order in any way."
Control orders were rushed through parliament last month amid stormy debates during which the home secretary, Charles Clarke, promised that they would be scrutinised by a judge before they were issued. But the existing 10 orders against the former Belmarsh detainees were issued under an emergency clause which allowed him to impose them before detention without trial powers expired.
Last night the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: "If ever there was a case for making sure defendants can hear the allegations against them then this must be it. While this may have been a clerical error, it raises the appalling possibility that ministers are wielding these powers without paying full attention to the detail."
Mark Neale, the director general of the Home Office's security, international and organised crime unit, wrote to each of the men to change the terms of the control order through which they are held under partial house arrest.
The Guardian has seen the letter sent to Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian refugee who was released last month from Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital and is subject to a control order. The other detainees include the Islamist preacher Abu Qatada and eight who can not be named.
The letter to Mr Abu Rideh tells him that "the basis for the decision to make the control order" is that he is an active supporter of international terrorist groups with links to Osama bin Laden, including two Algerian groups, the Armed Islamic Group and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, as well as Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Mr Abu Rideh is a stateless Palestinian who, his lawyer says, has never been to Algeria.
The letter continues: "Your activities on their behalf include the raising and distribution of funds, the procurement of false documents and helping to facilitate the movement of jihad volunteers to training camps in Afghanistan. You are closely involved with senior extremists and associates of Bin Laden both in the UK and overseas."
In the original control order, he was accused of being involved in the ricin plot as well as being "a key UK-based contact and provider of financial and logistical support to extreme Islamists in the UK and overseas, belonging to networks linked to al-Qaida. Your contacts are senior figures and cross a range in international terrorist networks. The type of support which you offered significantly increases the capabilities of these networks, without which they would be unable to function as effectively. These networks pose a direct threat to the UK." This has also been removed from his order.
Mr Abu Rideh's solicitor, Nicky Shiner, said: "I couldn't believe an organisation such as the Home Office could make that mistake. It's obviously someone sitting there doing a cut and paste job."
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, which campaigns against the orders, said: "Clerical error or false accusation - how are we ever to know in this world where fair trials are now replaced with secret intelligence and endless suspicion?"
The credibility of the Algerian supergrass at the centre of claims that al-Qaida was linked to the plot to attack Britain with ricin was last night undermined.
Details of the testimony given by Mohammed Meguerba first to Algerian, then British police and intelligence, have been learned by the Guardian. They show him lying to British police about his involvement in the plot, and other inconsistencies in his account.
He claimed that he and Bourgass had learned to make poisons in an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in 2002, after the US had invaded and similar camps had been bombed.
Meguerba is the only source for the continuing police belief that the London-based terror gang produced ricin, despite scientific tests showing it did not.
The Independent, "Home Office says sorry to suspects for ricin blunder", 16 April 2005.
The Guardian, "Exaggerated threats", 14 April 2005.
The acquittal of four suspects this week - and the dropping of charges against another four - in the "ricin" terrorist plot raises wider issues than just the effectiveness of our current terrorist investigating processes. Two years ago the arrests of the suspects were used by Tony Blair and Colin Powell - just weeks before the Iraq invasion - to suggest that al-Qaida had established a cell in London. The prime minister said the ricin arrests showed "this danger is present and real and with us now and its potential is huge". Colin Powell included the January 2003 arrests as evidence in his presentation to the UN in February 2003 that Iraq and Osama bin Laden were supporting and directing terrorist poison cells throughout Europe. Geoff Hoon, defence secretary, congratulated the police and MI5 and suggested that if the defendants were convicted, the officers should indeed be given as much beer as they could drink.
The Independent, "Ricin: The plot that never was", 17 April 2005.
A deadly poison said to be at the heart of a terrorist conspiracy against Britain led to a dire warning of another al-Qa'ida attack in the West. The Government was swift to act on the fear that such a find generated. But, as Severin Carrell and Raymond Whitaker report, far from being a major threat, the real danger existed only in the mind of a misguided individual living in a dingy north London bedsit
It was a weapon of mass destruction, a warning that we all needed to be "vigilant and alert". Weeks before the invasion of Iraq, it was presented as the final proof that Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qa'ida. Anyone wanting to exploit the politics of fear could scarcely conjure up anything more potent than the news that a suspected terrorist cell had been making ricin, one of the deadliest poisons known to man, in a north London flat.
But there was no ricin - a fact suppressed for more than two years. There was no terrorist cell, just one deluded and dangerous man who killed a police officer during a bungled immigration raid. Kamel Bourgass (probably not his real name; he used several aliases) is serving life for the murder of Special Branch detective Stephen Oake, but despite more than 100 arrests and months of investigation which took detectives to 16 countries, no al-Qa'ida plot ever materialised.
The Guardian, "Ricin: The plot that never was", .
N.B. THIS ARTICLE WAS REMOVED WITH NO EXPLANATION:
Colin Powell does not need more humiliation over the manifold errors in his February 2003 presentation to the UN. But yesterday a London jury brought down another section of the case he made for war - that Iraq and Osama bin Laden were supporting and directing terrorist poison cells throughout Europe, including a London ricin ring.
Yesterday's verdicts on five defendants and the dropping of charges against four others make clear there was no ricin ring. Nor did the "ricin ring" make or have ricin. Not that the government shared that news with us. Until today, the public record for the past three fear-inducing years has been that ricin was found in the Wood Green flat occupied by some of yesterday's acquitted defendants. It wasn't.
The third plank of the al-Qaida-Iraq poison theory was the link between what Powell labelled the "UK poison cell" and training camps in Afghanistan. The evidence the government wanted to use to connect the defendants to Afghanistan and al-Qaida was never put to the jury. That was because last autumn a trial within a trial was secretly taking place. This was a private contest between a group of scientists from the Porton Down military research centre and myself. ...
Update: The Insider asked The Guardian why they removed the above article from their website but they provided no explanation until we offered to publicise the fact. On 20 April 2005 we received a vague statement from The Guardian by email stating that the article was removed for "legal reasons":-
"I can tell you that the article The Ricin Ring That Never Was was removed from the archive for legal reasons."
This was the response from the newspaper when The Insider asked for further clarification:-
"The article was not removed because of any inaccuracy. It was to do with a PII certicate [sic] protecting the identity of Porton Down [government weapons laboratory] experts who appeared as witnesses in the trial."
Source: Emails from Ian Mayes (Ian.Mayes@guardian.co.uk) on behalf of Barbara Harper/Readers' Editor's office (20 April 2005).
N.B. A PII certificate is a gagging device sometimes used by the government to silence the media in the name of "national security". It is a form of censorship that the public does not usually hear about. With libraries banned from archiving censored material, this is how Western governments rewrite history.
The official excuse for censorship in this case, that it was necessary to protect the identity of witnesses, is a demonstrable fabrication since their identities are readily available from other sources in the public domain which are not subjected to censorship.
"The Insider" mailing list article, 19 April 2005.
Tags: terrorism, ricin, terrorists, apology, al-Qaida, terror, suspects, Muslims, arrested, held, anti-terror, law, mistake, government, ricin, fake, PII, censorship, media, gagging, censor, , conspiracy theories.