March 20, 2003 -- Vials of the deadly poisons ricin and cyanide were found in a Paris train station locker, French authorities said today. Officials told ABCNEWS they believe the material was apparently to be used in attacks on U.S. targets in Europe.
Two vials of the toxin ricin were found in a self-check storage locker at the Gare de Lyon railway station on Monday. The locker also contained two bottles of a black powder, believed to be iron perchloride, used for explosives, and a small bottle of cyanide, French intelligence sources said.
Officials believe terrorists intended to attack U.S. targets in France or Italy, sources told ABCNEWS. The discovery may have disrupted a major attack, they said.
A ‘Match’ to Poisons Linked to Al Qaeda
Chemical analysis showed the ricin found in Paris "matched" traces of ricin that British anti-terrorist police found during a raid on a London apartment in January, sources said.
One of the seven suspects arrested during the London raid was found to have attended an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
The London ricin was linked to a Kurdish extremist group in northern Iraq called Ansar al-Islam, known to have ties to al Qaeda.
French authorities had been watching the locker where the ricin was found, as part of a long-term anti-terror investigation, sources told ABCNEWS. They had hoped to arrest an agent when he or she came to retrieve the toxins. When no one arrived, they finally opened the locker.
Ricin is extremely dangerous, but not considered an effective tool for mass killing. It is classified as a Class B bioterrorism agent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The poison, which is made from castor beans, is deadlier than cyanide and is most deadly when injected directly into a victim.
If inhaled, it can cause acute lung injury and progressive respiratory failure; if ingested, it can lead rapidly to gastrointestinal hemorrhage, severe dehydration and death within three days.
The other materials found in the Paris locker may indicate a plan to spread the poisons into the air by setting off an explosive charge.