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Last Updated: Friday, 30 May, 2003, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Deadly Sarin 'easily available in UK'
Emergency workers after Tokyo sarin attack
Emergency workers in Tokyo helped 5,000 sarin victims
The chemicals needed to launch a deadly terrorist attack are easily available in Britain, a BBC investigation has discovered.

Using a credit card and fake headed note paper, a reporter for BBC Radio 4's Today programme was able to buy a cocktail of ingredients which could be used to make sarin gas.

In 1995 members of a religious cult used sarin on the Tokyo underground, in a terrorist attack which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.

One breath of the nerve agent is enough to kill, with death often coming in less than a minute.

Export controls

The BBC investigation found that buying the chemicals needed to make sarin is simple.

There are stringent and rigorous import and export controls on them imposed by the government, but there are no laws restricting their purchase inside the UK.

The Today programme's reporter Angus Stickler was able to buy enough of the chemicals to make twice the amount of sarin used in the Tokyo attack.

Then, an umbrella was used to pierce a container filled with sarin wrapped in newspaper.

Some of these chemicals are dangerous so we're keeping them under lock and key
Angus Stickler
BBC correspondent

It took Angus Stickler three weeks to buy the four chemicals needed by simply faxing an order to two British supply companies.

The chemicals arrived within days.

"There's all the ingredients to make sarin here," said the correspondent.

"Some of these chemicals are dangerous so we're keeping them under lock and key but there's no law to keep anyone buying these."

A recipe describing how to manufacture the nerve agent was found on the internet.

Economic risks

The Chemical Industry Association, which operates a voluntary code of practice, says the issue is difficult to legislate because many of the chemicals involved have legitimate industrial, commercial or household use.

Therefore "legislating for them would be a kneejerk reaction", spokesman Steve Elliot told Today.

"It would impact on economic activity and potentially assist terrorists in some of their activities."

Legislating for (these chemicals) would be a kneejerk reaction
Steve Elliot, Chemical Industry Association spokesman

He said it was up to chemical companies to remain vigilant, to monitor suspicious enquiries and control who they employed.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin agreed providing foolproof security in an open society was "intrinsically difficult".

But he said currently nine government departments had some responsibility over chemical usage and it should be coordinated under a "single, heavyweight minister".

The investigation's findings follow growing concerns about the possibility of a terrorist attack in the UK.

Concrete barriers have been installed around Parliament to deter would-be suicide bombers and security has been stepped up at London airports.

Police at Heathrow Airport
Security has been stepped up at airports
There have also been reports that undercover police squads watching suspected Islamic militants in London have been told they can shoot to kill if they think a suicide attack is being launched.

And the Sunday Times claimed that MI5 and Scotland Yard are hunting two men in Britain who have been trained as suicide bombers by al-Qaeda.

Detainees at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba reportedly told British and American authorities the men were members of a specially recruited squad of "martyrs".

Last weekend it emerged that 11,500 passports have gone missing over the last few years, prompting fears they may fall into the hands of terrorists.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Paul Burstow called for an immediate inquiry into the "scandalous" situation.

The BBC's Angus Stickler
"If you can find a British supplier you can order these chemicals over the phone"


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