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Suspect in case that helped sell Iraq war cleared, again

No terrorist, no threat, no ricin - so where did Powell get the stuff?

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"An Algerian who was branded a terror suspect after being acquitted in the ricin plot trial, was yesterday cleared of being a threat to Britain's national security, reported the Guardian this week.

"Mr Justice Mitting, chairing the special immigration appeals commission (SIAC), ruled that there were no national security grounds to deport Mouloud Sihali back to Algeria as there was no 'evidence or intelligence that he has ever been a principled Islamist extremist.'"

"[In 2005 an] Old Bailey jury cleared Mr Sihali, 30, of taking part in an alleged terrorist conspiracy to spread the poison ricin in London. But at the end of the case he was re-arrested and has lived under virtual house arrest since."

Your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow consulted with an expert for the defense of the 'ricin ring' in the original trial. During the long case it became clear the alleged London ricin ring, said to be connected to al Qaeda, was a fantasy.

All the British anti-terror operation had done was round up a lot of people, some guilty of - at best - petty dishonesty, and one bad loner, Kamel Bourgass, who was sent away for life.

At the time of the ricin ring arrests, called Operation Springbourne, news was sensational. The US government, with the lamentable presentation of Colin Powell before the UN Security Council, implicated the fictitious ring in a web of al Qaeda operations it said stretched from Iraq to London.

However, a British jury found the UK government's case against the alleged conspirators to be preposterous and freed them, with the exception of lone bad man, Kamel Bourgass. (Bourgass an Algerian, was convicted of the murder of a British constable, a slaying that took place while he was being apprehended, in a separate trial.)

No ricin was ever found, just a handful of castor seeds in a jewelry tin, a paper laden with cherry stones - part of a cracked, impossible plan to make cyanide, and a couple of foolish recipes on poison making, copied to paper from servers on Yahoo.

Nevertheless, no one in the US government has ever answered the question: "Who put the bogus information on the London ricin ring into Powell's presentation?"

When it came time for the US newsmedia to report on the trial, it was caught napping and still largely in compliance with the Bush administration's story line on the war in Iraq. No US news sources had attended the trial. As a consequence, they simply went to London police sources, who repeated all the rumors and innuendo that hadn't been allowed. Like stenographers to power, instead of reporting what actually had happened, they reported only what British authorities wished them to pass on.

The result was an appearance, in the States,* that a rogue jury had allowed al Qaeda operatives to go free.

But they did not go free.

The British government immediately turned around and slapped them with control orders, an action that made them prisoners in their own homes, awaiting deportation.

The same preposterous evidence that a jury had rejected was used to justify these antics. The men were said to be threats to British national security, the reasons too sensitive to disclose.

"At the time of the ricin trial, [Mr. Sihali] admitted two counts of possessing false passports and received 15 months imprisonment in Belmarsh maximum security prison, continued the Guardian. "But he was cleared of charges connecting him with the ricin plot and was released soon after, as he had already served the time on remand."

"The SIAC judges ruled yesterday that he had used false names and documents, fraudulently opened several bank and credit card accounts and falsely claimed state benefits and lied about them at the Old Bailey trial. But they added there was nothing in the evidence to suggest he knew that those he helped were terrorists.

"The judges said they were satisfied that although he was unprincipled, he did not engage in anything beyond petty dishonesty. 'Whatever the risk to national security he may have posed in 2002, the risk now is insignificant,' they concluded."

"Mr Sihali's lawyer, Natalia Garcia, said he had had to endure years of imprisonment in Belmarsh and control order-style restrictions on the basis of faulty intelligence and political spin. 'Having cleared his name once in front of a jury... he had to face the sheer injustice of the same evidence being used against him by the government to try to deport him as a risk to national security..."

The result of the London ricin trial and the immediate effort by the UK government to overturn the results of it through subterfuge greatly damaged the reputation of the Blair government. And it created great suspicion with Britain's Muslim community toward British anti-terror efforts.

While not addressed in the United States, or even acknowledged in the US mainstream media, the London ricin trial came to be seen in the UK as part of an effort to fabricate evidence for invading Iraq. It also certainly contributed to the decided lack of enthusiasm for the Bush adminstration flavor of the so-called "global war against terror" among the polity. The net result of this, as well as the perceived lack of proper justice and fairness, was absolutely damaging to national security interests in both countries.

["Mr. Sihali's lawyer] said the deportation proceedings had been brought to 'save face' after the ricin plot acquittals, a plot that she claimed had been used to justify the invasion of Iraq," reported the Guardian. (original here). The first report of the trial, and still the only accurate material on it published in the United States, can be read here, while Botching it provides some explanation of how the US newsmedia ignored or misrepresented the results from the trial.

* Editor's note The UK media's adherence to the spun version did not differ visibly from US reporting. After the verdict The Sunday Telegraph produced ludicrous claims of a plan to poison the Heathrow Express, and quoted a "senior police officer" as saying: "This was going to be our September 11, our Madrid. There is no doubt about it, if this had come off this would have been one of al-Qaeda's biggest strikes." One former senior police officer, ex Met Commissioner Lord Stevens, wrote some months later that "we were amazed and dismayed when, in April, a jury at the Old Bailey cleared eight of the men charged with involvement in the ricin plot". His amazement was apparently undiminished by the jury's actually having only cleared four, following the discrediting of much of the Met's evidence against them. Charges against the others were dropped.

And it continues. In a widely-reported speech delivered two full years after the trial verdict, current Met terror head Peter Clarke described the ricin case as "the first real indication since 9/11 of operational terrorist activity here in the UK - recipes for ricin and other poisons... This was the first time, in my experience, that the police service had been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by terrorists", he says. Good heavens, we wonder why? ®

This column first appeared at Dick Destiny. George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighborhood hardware stores.

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