Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has for more than a year tried to procure materials such as castor beans to produce the highly dangerous poison ricin, American counterterrorism officials have told New York Times.
The powdery substance is so deadly that a dose as small as a few grains of salt can kill an adult if it is inhaled or reaches the bloodstream.
Intelligence gathered has concluded that AQAP operatives are trying to procure castor beans, which are used for ricin production, and processing agents and bring them to the tribal province of Shabwa in southern Yemen, an area where Yemeni forces have reportedly been battling AQAP.
The intelligence points to AQAP secretly trying to produce the white powdery ricin, which it is planning to pack around explosives to detonate in contained spaces such as shopping malls, an airport or a subway station.
According to the New York Times, President Barak Obama and top national security aides were briefed on the threat last year and have received periodic updates since then.
A senior Defense Ministry official in Sanaa told GlobalPost the security crisis in Yemen stemming from its political paralysis is helping AQAP expand and experiment with new tactics.
“Al-Qaeda does not want to show weakness after the death of Bin Laden and is planning for a massive attack to show strength," he said.
"We do not have proof that al-Qaeda is capable of developing ricin, but we will work to defeat them. The Yemeni people will help us defeat al-Qaeda and its evil plans.”
While Senior American officials say there is no indication that a ricin attack is imminent, they say they are tracking developments closely.
AQAP has proven it has both the will and capability to carry out large-scale terror attacks, which were foiled only at the last minute, as with the attempted suicide bombing of a US airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 and a parcel bomb packed with explosives intercepted on its way to Chicago ten months later.
"The Yemeni government has not stayed quiet,” the Defense Ministry official said. “We are attacking their hideouts in a number of Yemeni provinces.”