The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Missing Ingredient


Ruairi O’Driscoll • 17 April 2005

When critics of the government’s anti-terror laws put it to them that out of the 701 people arrested under the Terrorism Act since September 11 2001 only 17 have been convicted, one of the responses of the government is to say that there are still prosecutions pending. They give the impression that they are certain that all the outstanding cases will end in convections so much so that it will leave no doubt in people’s minds that the terrorist threat is real and not imagined. ‘Prosecutions pending’ was the euphemism used when referring to the ricin trial which the government couldn’t mention by name for legal reason as it was subjected to reporting restrictions. But whilst the trial was subjected to reporting restrictions the arrests certainly weren’t.

In his now infamous discredited address to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003 Colin Powell, along with his false claims about the existence of WMD in Iraq, tried to use the arrests of the ricin suspects as evidence of a Saddam al-Qaeda axis in the rush to war. And while the trial of the suspects was in progress the then Home Secretary David Blunkett made the following comments: “Al-Qaeda is seen to be, and will be demonstrated through the courts over months to come, to be actually on our doorsteps and threatening our lives. I am talking about people who are and about to go through the court system.” In theory those remarks amount to contempt of court, the trial should have been stopped there and then and Blunkett should have been charged. Never has a court case in recent times been the subject of such prejudicial comments as the ricin trial. Yet in spite of the best efforts of the British and American governments eight of the suspects have been acquitted by the courts and only one of them, Kamel Bourgass has been convicted.

The conviction of Kamel Bourgass is the perfect election campaign present. For Labour he is proof of an al-Qaeda operative active in Britain and the reason why we need identity cards, to the Conservatives he is a failed asylum seeker. But let’s look at the case against him more closely and see if he really was part of an al-Qaeda plot to kill thousands.

During a raid on a flat in Wood Green north London police found a recipe for making ricin claiming that it was written by Bourgass. They maintained that the recipe had been copied straight out of a book called ‘Manual for Jihad’ which originates from Afghanistan, although what they failed to mention was that the manual was written during the Soviet period and was more than likely penned by the Americans, it certainly isn’t an al-Qaeda document like they say it is. The recipe they found in Wood Green however was taken from a different book entitled ‘The Poisoner’s Handbook’ by Maxwell Hutchkinson which is freely available on the internet and purchasable from and not taken from ‘Manual for Jihad’ and the two recipes differ considerably. The rest of the evidence against Bourgass consisted of some castor beans intact, apple pips, weighing scales and a bottle of shampoo.

Initial tests carried out by scientists from the government’s Porton Down laboratory at the Wood Green flat claimed to have found positive traces of ricin although only two days later they admitted that they had made a mistake and no traces of ricin had in fact been found, this however was not reported at the time. Even though the police and government knew that the tests for ricin had proven negative they continued to claim that it had been found and briefed the press accordingly. The conspiracy that the prosecution outlined against Bourgass and the other defendants came courtesy of a man named Mohammed Meguerba, an Algerian who was one time resident in Britain but when returning to Algeria several years ago was arrested. The systematic use of torture is practiced in Algeria so we need to bear that it mind when we consider what Meguerba is alleged to have said. It is a fanciful tale of a plan to smear nicotine poison, itself not lethal, on car door handles on the Holloway Road and to contaminate toothbrushes; one is reminded of the confessions that have come out of Guantánamo Bay when listening to this. Far from being part of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell that was going to carry out coordinated attacks with other cells in other countries Kamel Bourgass was a loner with a conviction for shoplifting. As we all know now Kamel Bourgass was also convicted for stabbing a police officer when he was arrested in Manchester. Different people respond in different ways when arrested, Kamel Bourgass may now be thinking that he should have acted differently. But when you consider that many of his fellow Algerians have found themselves interned indefinitely without charge or trial then that might help explain why somebody would react in the way he did when arrested, when the state acts irrationally others follow suit.

The Wood Green and Manchester raids were the culmination of a nation-wide operation against the Algerian community that resulted in the arrests of a hundred people, nine of whom were charged but none of which were convicted of any terrorist offence. When dealing with the Terrorism Act this is not a remarkable statistic, it is its distinguishing trait as I know from personnel experience.

Exactly a year ago I was acquitted of charges under the Terrorism Act along with five other people. We had been charged with membership of a proscribed organisation and raising funds for terrorism. My front door was kicked in at five in the morning back in December 2002 by Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch I was then taken to the high security Paddington Green police station and held for a week. After several days I was taken to Bow Street magistrates where the police were making an application to the judge to allow them more time to question me. Whilst I was in the cells I could hear several men speaking in what I presumed was Arabic. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I could tell from their voices that they were gripped with panic. Those men in the cells next to me, although never charged with any offence under the Terrorism Act, were supposed to be part of a plot to gas the London underground. The press went public with that false allegation after a press briefing from John Prescott, he later admitted that he had made a mistake and withdrew the claim except that part was never reported. Two weeks later the Wood Green raid took place followed closely by another raid in Manchester where Bourgass was arrested. Arrests were happening all over the country from Bournemouth to Edinburgh, it seemed that a week didn’t go by without there being either an arrest or talk of an imminent attack having been foiled in the press. I found myself sandwiched between arrests of the most exotic and incredulous sounding plots ever reported.

After a lot of good work by my solicitors I was granted bail. I spent the next six months trying to find out when and where my trial would take place. Due to all the arrests I was told that the courts were clogged up and as if I was waiting for treatment on the NHS I was told there was a waiting list. The prosecution wanted me to stand trial at the Old Bailey but in the end I was sent to a crown court in the London suburb of Kingston-upon-Thames. The trial eventually began 18 months on from my arrest but following just one week of legal arguments the case against all six of us was thrown out by the judge who said: "Were this prosecution to continue, it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute amongst right-thinking people and offend this court's sense of propriety and justice."

The case against us consisted of the importing and selling of a left wing Turkish language magazine. This magazine is entirely legal in Turkey, is registered with the state as is the law and pays taxes to it. All of that though was lost on the prosecution who instead portrayed the six of us as part of a terrorist cell who were acting under the instructions of people who they could not name. A legal magazine became ‘terrorist property’, selling the magazine became ‘raising funds for terrorism’, sending the money back to the magazine’s bureau in Istanbul became ‘money laundering’, the keeping of the magazine in a house became ‘facilitating the retention and control of terrorist property’ and refusing to answer questions during police interrogation, as is your right, became ‘evidence of organisational behaviour’. The organisation they said we belonged to wasn’t even proscribed and the certificate of consent from the Attorney General for the prosecution to proceed had never been issued and yet if convicted we would have faced up to ten years in prison.

There was no plot to gas the London underground or bomb the Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh. The rocket attacks against passenger planes on the Heathrow flight path never materialised and a boat sailing up the Thames estuary had nothing more on board than a consignment of sugar and not a dirty bomb as we were told. The suicide bomb plot at Old Trafford was made up by the police and my friends and I were never terrorists. We can now add to this list that there was also no ricin in Wood Green. But whilst this phoney war was going on a more real one has been taking place in which the British government has been busy murdering tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. Facts speak for themselves or at least they should.

In the war on terror the government has everything they could want; more and more new laws, a press that doesn’t ask too many questions and, unfortunately, support from some sections of the population. But the one missing ingredient, like the ricin in Wood Green, is the actual terrorism. Political activists and members of ethnic communities have been made the scapegoats by an increasingly authoritarian government that seeks to take away what little rights we may have. The fake emergency needs to be kept in the public eye so expect more arrests and talk of ridiculous plots. If some are convicted be prepared to question it and when others are acquitted don’t believe that it was just a technicality and that new laws and secret courts are needed to get convictions.

When asked what his reaction was to the acquittal of the eight other men in the ricin trial the Home Secretary Charles Clarke replied that he intends to,“keep a very close eye on them”. In the war on terror innocence is irrelevant and as I know from my own experience don’t expect an apology. The only letter you are likely to receive from them in the not too distant future is a control order.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

19 April 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Another Historic Statement, Again
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Two Heads Better Than One?
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Hope for A Democractic Avenue, Not a Dead End Street
Mick Hall

Irish American Support
Niall Fennessy

Street Fighting Man
Fred A Wilcox

Revolutionaries Have Set Up Dictatorship
Margaret Quinn

The Murder of Robert McCartney
Conor Horan

The Missing Ingredient
Ruairi O’Driscoll

Re-orienting perspectives: Bob Quinn's The Atlantean Irish
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Politics of Peace at an Impasse
David Adams

* Election Coverage *

Independent Irish Republicans Standing in All 6 Counties
Sean Mc Aughey

John Coulter

Gary Donnelly, Cityside Ward, Derry City Council

Aine Gribbon, Antrim Town Council

Patricia (Trish) Murray, Antrim Town Council

The Letters page has been updated.

6 April 2005

Criminality and Public Relations
Eamon Sweeney

Truth Better than Spin
Mick Hall

The Central Issue is Justice
Catherine McCartney

Not Out of Nationalist Woods Yet
David Adams

South Down Election Play
John Coulter

Are We on the Verge of a New Political Ice Age?
Anthony McIntyre



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