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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 17:53 GMT
Sleeper cells terror threat to the UK
Aftermath of the Paris Metro bombing in 1995
Algerian terrorists bombed the Paris Metro and are now active in the UK
Frank Gardner

In London - there is a new fear for the public.

It is not just the recent discovery of ricin poison. Security officials talk of several North African terrorist sleeper cells at large.

And their inspiration - a recent speech attributed to Osama Bin Laden.

He singles out Britain and other western countries for revenge attacks because of their policies towards Muslims.

Dr John Gearson, from King's College, London, studies international terrorism: "Britain is the closest ally to America at the moment - it is perceived to be standing closest to America - so it is not particularly surprising that Britain is on his list."

Britain is clearly now a target for Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

Since the September 11 attacks, more than 100 people have been detained here on terrorism charges, but the Home Office will not confirm the exact number.

Map showing movement of Algerian terrorists through Europe
Algerian terror cells have spread to France, Germany and the UK
Western intelligence believes there is an elaborate network of Muslim extremists in Europe, with many of them coming from North Africa.

From there they have set up a logistics base in Italy.

North African extremists have also been active in Germany, where they are accused of helping the September 11 plotters.

But their real strength is in France where they hide amongst a large, law-abiding Muslim population.

They operate in small cells so that the organisation itself does not get exposed. You will have the instructions coming, sometimes, via the internet.

Salameh Nematt, Al Hayat
In 1995, Algerians bombed the Paris Metro, killing eight, and wounding hundreds.

The French authorities then cracked down and made large scale arrests.

One of the effects of that, was to drive a number of North African militants across the channel - to the UK.

Now these cells appear to be going active, as Salameh Nematt, managing editor Al Hayat newspaper, explains:

"They obviously operate in small cells so that the organisation itself does not get exposed.

"And so you would have financing done by one side, by one particular donor, and you will have the instructions coming, sometimes, via the internet."

The discovery of ricin poison in Britain is a frightening development.

Whatever the plans for its use, the police are now desperate to find out who else has it and where it might be hidden.

See also:

08 Jan 03 | UK
30 Nov 98 | World
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