Cyanide fears led to London raid and arrest of Muslim brothers
June 5, 2006
Cyanide fears led to raid in London
FEARS that Islamic terror suspects were preparing a bomb laced with cyanide prompted the counter-terrorist operation in east London in which an unarmed man was shot by police.
Scotland Yard sources said that the "specific intelligence" that had led to Friday's raid suggested that a single bomb overlaid with cyanide was being prepared at the address in Forest Gate, east London.
MI5 had been told last month by an informant that two Islamic men who were already known to them were preparing a single device.
The informant, an acquaintance of the suspects, is said to have told MI5 that he had overheard them talking about how they were going to fill a pouch or pouches made of cloth with explosives.
A later assessment concluded that the device would be laced with the chemical cyanide which would be sprayed in a toxic cloud over a wide area after exploding.
The threat was regarded as so serious that Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of MI5, personally informed Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary John Reid in advance of the raid.
Sources said an emergency meeting of Cobra - Britain's top-level government committee that deals with terrorist emergencies - was immediately convened to monitor the threat.
The intelligence on cyanide explains the presence during the raid of officials from the health protection agency.
At normal temperatures, cyanide is a colourless gas or a brown yellow liquid. Exposure to high concentrations is usually fatal.
According to guidelines issued in 2004 by Britain's Health Department to deal with a release by terrorists, cyanide "produces hyperventilation within seconds, followed by loss of consciousness, convulsions, fixed and dilated pupils. Death from respiratory and/or cardiac arrest may occur within minutes."
Scotland Yard said on Saturday that despite intensive searches of the terraced house in Forest Gate, nothing of substance had been found, raising the suspicion that at least some of the intelligence that led to the raid was inaccurate.
A 23-year-old man, named locally as Abdul Kahar Kalam, was shot in the shoulder when a Scotland Yard marksman fired a single shot during the pre-dawn operation.
He was yesterday recovering under armed guard in the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, east London.
The man's brother, named as Abdul Koyair Kalam, 20, was being questioned at Paddington Green high security police station.
Friends of both men have said they do not believe either would become involved in any terrorist activity.
A solicitor for one of the brothers claimed that police gave no warning to Kahar before they shot him as he came down the stairs in the house.
A family that was caught up in the raid also issued a statement saying that some of its members were "physically assaulted" and held "without arrest for 12 hours".
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman denied any of them had been illegally detained or seriously injured in the raid.
At the same time, government officials said both suspects had "extensive criminal records".
According to a well-placed source, Kahar has convictions for theft, robbery, burglary and possession of a prohibited weapon, namely involving a "noxious, liquid gas", said to be CS spray.
Koyair was said to have convictions for burglary, two thefts and possession of a Stanley knife. Both men had spent time in youth offender institutes.
Before Friday's raid, both men were already the subject of a low-level MI5 monitoring operation, which did not involve bugging. But the surveillance was stepped up dramatically following the tip-off from their acquaintance.
Security sources said MI5 had decided to act as soon as possible because of wider concerns that terrorists might be planning attacks to mark the first anniversary of last year's July 7 suicide bomb attacks on London's transport system, which killed 52 commuters.
Scotland Yard said at the weekend that search teams had found nothing of significance at the house, adding that both men remained under arrest.
The Sunday Times