A 29-year old Tunisian man has been arrested Cologne, Germany after he successfully produced Ricin which authorities say he intended to weaponize as a bio-chemical terror agent. Ricin is considered by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as among the most toxic biological agents known — classified as a Category B bioterrorism agent and a Schedule number 1 chemical warfare agent.
According to German media reports, police believe they thwarted a potential jihadist terror attack in the planning stages, which intended to utilize Ricin that the suspect made from castor bean seeds.
The AP reports the plans were inspired by an online instruction manual for a "ricin bomb" on an ISIS website, citing the German newspaper Bild:
Bild also reported that the suspect bought bomb-making materials and chemicals used in the production of ricin. It said the suspect lived in the Chorweiler neighborhood of Cologne with his wife, a convert to Islam, and four children. He supposedly used instructions to make a ricin bomb that had been posted online by the extremist Islamic State group.
American intelligence reportedly tipped off German authorities after the suspect was monitored ordering unusual quantities of castor bean seeds online, which are naturally toxic and can be used to create the poison.
"We don't know how, or how widely, the ricin was to have been distributed," the German prosecutor was quoted by the AP as saying. It is as yet unknown if the man, identified only as Sief Allah H., has links to terror organizations, nor have police disclosed how much ricin had been produced — only that "He had contacts with people in the jihadist spectrum," according to the prosecutor.
"Deeply concerning development in Germany. Never before to my knowledge has a jihadi in the West successfully produced ricin," notes the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point's Paul Cruickshank, who further warns, "A new threshold has been crossed in the chemical terror threat."
"Ricin is deadlier than then the venom of a cobra. A tiny amount is enough to kill an adult," one terrorism expert, quoted by NBC, says of the substance which was famously used by Walter White to kill off an an enemy in the final episode of the hit series Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad, "Rice'n Beans" scene:
In fine powder form, Ricin can kill rapidly if inhaled, as National Geographic explains:
If ricin is inhaled, initial symptoms may occur as early as 4-6 hours after exposure, but serious symptoms could also occur as late as 24 hours after exposure. The initial symptoms are likely to affect the respiratory system and can include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and cough. Death from ricin poisoning can take place within 36-72 hours of exposure, depending on the route of exposure and the dose.
Ricin is, according to the chemical arms watchdog group OPCW, a "Schedule 1 chemical agent" due to to the following: chemicals include those that have been or can be easily used as chemical weapons and which have very limited, if any, uses for peaceful purposes.
So perhaps most worrisome for investigators currently probing the Cologne case is whether or not it is connected with a broader terror plot by an organized jihadist group.
Given ricin's relative accessibility of production and the fact that ISIS propaganda sites have been exploring its potential for causing mass deaths, the Cologne case is deeply disturbing as this could potentially be but the tip of the iceberg in a larger terror trend.