Georgia Confirms Arab Terrorist Grouping's Presence in Pankisi

Georgia's State Security Ministry has confirmed that the Pankisi Gorge was sheltering an Arab terrorist grouping led by Abu Harsi, bin Laden's associate. The day before, Tbilisi's Rustavi 2 television channel showed a video tape, which the channel said had been shot by Ministry officers in the Gorge. The tape is convincing evidence of the grouping having operated in that area.

Valery Khaburdzania, Georgian State Security Minister, appeared on Rustavi 2 on Thursday confirming that the Abu Harsi-led grouping had been in the Gorge before Georgian security agencies held an operation there.

State Security Ministry officers found components of ricin, a most poisonous substance, which had been produced in the Pankisi-based underground laboratories.

Backyard facilities of the Pankisi Gorge were only fit to produce unpurified low activity ricin, according to Otar Kvesitadze, Director of the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Institute. Ricin was most likely taken outside Georgia for purification, said the expert.

Nika Laliashvili, in charge of the State Security Ministry's press service, had earlier reported on the lab.

He then did not rule out that those arrested in London on suspicion of links to the ricin production case had undergone training in Pankisi Gorge camps.

The Ministry's intelligence reports said the Al-Qaeda network had faultlessly funded the terrorists dealing in Pankisi throughout 2002. The money went to build a hospital there and train terrorists.

Mr Khaburdzania is expected to visit the US shortly to brief the FBI on the special operation his Ministry carried out in the Gorge in the summer-autumn 2002, including on production of poisonous chemicals there.

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