London, Nov. 17 (Reuters): The British government today played down reports of a planned cyanide gas attack on London’s underground rail system after three men were arrested under anti-terror legislation.
Scotland Yard, London’s police headquarters, said the men had been charged under the Terrorism Act with “possession of articles for the preparation, instigation and commission of terrorism acts”.
It named them as Rabah Chekat-Bais, 21, Karim Kadouri, 33, and Rabah Kadris, in his mid-30s. All were unemployed and living in Britain. They are believed to come from North Africa and will appear in court tomorrow.
The Sunday Times newspaper said the three had planned to launch a cyanide attack on the underground system, known as the Tube. It is the world’s oldest and carries more than three million passengers around London every day.
But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said there was no evidence that bombs or poison gas were involved. “It’s excited the press. I’ll leave them to sell their newspapers,” he told BBC Television. “It doesn’t appear that there’s any evidence whatsoever there was going to be a gas attack or indeed use of bombs regarding the three people who’ve been arrested.”
The paper said the men were members of a group allegedly linked to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network and had planned to import chemicals into Britain to make a gas bomb.
Police sources said the men had not been charged with plotting a specific attack and no noxious substance had been found during the course of the inquiry. “The plan I believe was to bring the ingredients of a gas bomb into the country. As far as I know, as far as I understand, the materials never arrived,” Sunday Times assistant editor Nicholas Rufford said.
The paper said six men were held by Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch but only three were charged. They were snatched in raids on addresses in North London on November 9.
Britain on alert
Britain is on a heightened state of alert after Prime Minister Tony Blair warned last week that he was bombarded almost daily with intelligence about threats to UK interests. Days later, ports were put on red alert after intelligence warnings about a bomb on a ferry.
Officials say Britain could be a target because of its strong support for US action against al Qaida. Last week, an audio tape believed to be by Laden, praising recent terror attacks, was broadcast on the Arabic-language television channel al-Jazeera. It hailed last month’s Bali bombings and the Chechen hostage-taking in a Moscow theatre, among others, and warned US allies against siding with Washington, specifically mentioning Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Australia.
The latest allegations will revive a debate about what warnings government should pass on as it seeks to balance the public’s right to know with the need to avoid panic.
The London underground has never been subjected to a major terror attack. However, the alleged plot will rekindle memories of an assault seven years ago on the Tokyo metro. Then, 12 people died and around 5,000 were hurt when a religious cult released a nerve agent, sarin, on the underground during rush hour.