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1/25/2018 7:38:29 AM
Posted: 2/22/2002 12:07:12 AM EST
Italy Widens Scope of Cyanide Investigation Thu Feb 21, 2:22 PM ET By Luke Baker ROME (Reuters) - Italian police are investigating whether four Moroccans were planning terrorist attacks, two days after finding a potentially lethal cyanide compound in their apartment, justice sources said on Thursday. Scientists said the compound -- potassium ferrocyanide -- was harmless in itself, but could easily have been turned into a deadly gas capable of killing large numbers of people. The four men had been under investigation previously for receiving stolen goods. Italian police sources said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was working closely with them to track the suspects' recent movements. They hope to establish whether the men had links to Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al Qaeda network. Police swooped on the men's flat in a Rome suburb on Tuesday and found a map highlighting the U.S. embassy and charts of the city's water network. They also discovered traces of explosives used in fireworks and more than 100 false identity papers. Initial worries that a terror group was planning to use the chemicals to poison Rome's water supplies eased when analysis revealed that the compound was not suited to that purpose, but scientists said it could still be deadly in other forms. "If you put potassium ferrocyanide in contact with a strong acid it will release hydrogen cyanide," said Dr. Anthony Bellamy of the Royal Military College of Sciences at Cranfield University in England. "Hydrogen cyanide is extremely toxic and odorless, and lethal even in small doses. It can kill quickly." CHEMICAL WARFARE Hydrogen cyanide is usually listed as a chemical warfare agent, although there are no confirmed cases of it ever being used. Iraq is alleged to have used it in its war against Iran during the 1980s. There is no indication the suspects had any sulphuric acid, although it is available in everyday items such as car batteries. The suspects have denied any wrongdoing and are due to appear before an investigating magistrate on Friday. "We're very interested in these guys, in finding out exactly what they're part of and who they are linked to. We want to know how capable they were," said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Three other Moroccans seized last week in Rome are being questioned also in connection with the probe. None of the men have been identified. Italian security forces have been on high alert since the September 11 attacks on the United States, and Washington warned in October that Italy was especially vulnerable to a terror strike. Italy entered the spotlight in the fight against bin Laden after U.S. investigators said they believed Milan's Islamic cultural center was al Qaeda's main European logistics base. Muslim leaders in Italy have denied the charge. Seven Tunisians are on trial in Milan as part of a crackdown on groups suspected of ties to bin Laden. They are suspected of plotting to attack the U.S. embassy in January 2001. Verdicts against four of them are due on Friday. Justice sources last year released transcripts of telephone conversations in which one of the Tunisians on trial in Milan indicated that he was planning chemical attacks in Europe.
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