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US Police on Alert for Deadly Toxin - 2003-01-10

The FBI has alerted police departments across the United States to be on the lookout for the deadly toxin ricin. A special bulletin was sent out just days after British authorities discovered traces of the substance in a London apartment.

The FBI is telling 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the country to be on the lookout for a substance which it warns could fall into the hands of terrorists.

It's that very possibility that is now under investigation by British authorities after Scotland Yard detectives discovered traces of ricin in a London apartment Sunday. Seven people reported to be of North African origin are being questioned in connection with the find. So far none of the suspects has been charged but the investigation continues into exactly what they might have been doing with a deadly substance for which there is no known antidote.

Doctor Richard Bradley, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas, said ricin is not a substance that could easily be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

"It wouldn't be a weapon of mass destruction because it requires contact," he said. "Generally, the concern, especially for law enforcement, is that a criminal would put ricin on the outside of a container that a police officer might search so if a police officer goes an opens the container he would get his hand on the ricin and that would cause fatal poisoning."

Probably the most famous incident involving Ricin was its use to poison Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov in London in 1978.

His assassins actually used an umbrella that was modified to fire some pellets out of the end of it. And they walked up to him while he was on the street and put the umbrella against him and fired the ricin into his skin and he died about a week later.

The FBI says it has no credible information suggesting terrorists might be trying to release ricin here in the United States. However, this latest intelligence bulletin sent out to law enforcement around the country is designed to let police know how to recognize and handle a deadly toxin, so strong that a single milligram laced in a food or beverage can kill an adult.