Al-Qa'ida plotted Ashes gas attack

Andrew Ramsey and Simon Kearney

The Australian

October 09, 2006

Australian players raise their arms against England during the Ashes in 2005 to try and persuade the umpire to award them a wicket. England went on to win the tournament. Al Qaeda planned to spray sarin gas in their changing rooms at the Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham.

AL-QA'IDA plotted to murder the entire Australian cricket team in their change rooms during last year's Ashes tour of Britain using sarin nerve gas sprayed by the men who bombed the London Underground.

A friend of one of the four bombers who killed 52 people when they bombed trains and buses in the British capital on July 7 last year told The Sunday Times newspaper that the al-Qa'ida cell was initially ordered to kill the England and Australian cricket teams during the Edgbaston Test in Birmingham.

The claim was made by a family friend of bus bomber Hasib Hussain, who killed 13 people in London's Tavistock Square. According to the 32-year-old friend, whose family has links to a terrorist training camp in Kotli in northern Kashmir, the bombers were instructed to get jobs as stewards at the Edgbaston cricket ground and to spray sarin gas inside the changing rooms.

The second Test between England and Australia began in Edgbaston on August 4 last year.

The friend - whose real name was not published - said the attack may have been called off and the Tube bombings planned instead because one of the bombers, Shehzad Tanweer, was a cricket fan (like most Pakistanis).

British and Australian authorities were unable to confirm the claims last night, but The Australian understands agencies in both countries were launching investigations to check the information. The man said he would pass his information to police.

A Cricket Australia spokesman said team management had worked closely with security chiefs and the London Metropolitan police in the aftermath of the London bombings and had not heard any reports that the teams were targeted.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting said in New Delhi last night the players had total faith in CA's approach to security and had no safety concerns during last year's Ashes series. "With regards to this report, we were very comfortable with the security arrangements that were in place during the recent Ashes tour and we continue to trust the security information provided to us by Cricket Australia and the (Australian Cricketers Association)."

Terror expert Rohan Gunaratna said some of the information supplied by the newspaper's source was incorrect. The source said Mohammed Sidique Kahn and Tanweer were told of the plan at the camp near Kotli in northern Kashmir, but Dr Gunaratna said the men visited only one camp, in Malakand.

However, Dr Gunaratna said al-Qa'ida had considered attacking sporting venues in Europe and had tried to develop the skills to use nerve agents such as sarin gas, but had been unable to achieve that capability.

Former ASIO protective security boss Michael Roach said such an attack was feasible and prominent sporting teams should be careful about enclosed spaces.

He said that because sarin gas had been used successfully in the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people, al-Qa'ida would consider it a potential weapon. "The fact is it has been used before with success," he said.

The management of prominent sporting teams should search and guard areas where the players gather, Mr Roach said.

Sarin is an odourless nerve agent that kills swiftly. It was first produced in 1938 in Germany as a pesticide and was believed to have been used in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Australia's and England's limited-overs cricket squads are India for the Champions Trophy.

Officials briefed players about the story last night.

The Australian team was playing a one-day international against England in Leeds on the day the terrorists struck London.

At the time, team management and the Australian Cricketers Association liaised closely with CA and security officials over safety concerns for the rest of the three-month tour.

A bomb scare was triggered at the Australians' London hotel later that week when a bus was abandoned outside the hotel's foyer in Kensington High Street.

And the team received an email threat sent to CA during the fourth Test of that series in Trent Bridge, Nottingham.

Details of the threat were passed to Scotland Yard and a 32-year-old man from Stoke-on-Trent was charged with "making allegations with threats to kill".

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Last edited by Blackleaf; Oct 8th, 2006 at 12:26 PM..