After an interrogation in Algeria of a Muslim militant, Mohammed Mugrabi, the Algerian Intelligence passed to France the information that a group of Algerians in Europe is planning to scatter highly affective poison – Ricin. That information led to the arrest of Merouane Benhamed on 12/17/2002 and to the exposure of the Lyon Cell.
Lyon Cell operated from southern France town of Lyon from early 2000, as a reaction to the second Russian invasion to Chechnya, up to the arrest on 12/17/2002 of its senior activists: Menad Benchelalli and Merouane Benhamed, described later by the French court as the cell’s leader, in connection with the Ricin Plot and on suspicion of manufacturing Ricin. Nouredine Merabet, was arrested on the Spanish-French border in 12/2002 and Said Arif was later extradited from Syria to France.
Most of the senior members of the Lyon Cell were under security surveillance of the French and Spanish Authority, after they came back on 03/2002 from Pankisi Gorge, in Northeastern Georgia, where they joined other ethnic Arabs from Europe and the Middle East in helping the Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev rebuild his guerilla force (see - Eiffel-Plot).
The cell was guided and motivated by the Algerian Imam of Lyon - Chellali Benchelalli and was manned by his family and relatives. The chemical expert of the Lyon Cell was his son Menad Benchelalli. The main objective of the Lyon Cell were Russian interests in France, especially the Russian embassy. Another son of Chelalli Benchelalli – Mourad Benchelalli, was captured by American forces in Afghanistan in operation “Absolute Justice”, was held in Guantanamo and extradited back to France on 07/27/2004.
The Lyon Cell planned to poison the Russian staff of the embassy with Ricin. Ricin is produced from castor oil beans and can be manufactured in a home made laboratory.
Indeed Menad Benchelalli managed to produce samples of Ricin. The toxins had been stored in 70 centiliter flasks and in Nivea face cream jars. There is some evidence that two of the Nivea jars were sent, probably through Algerian mediators, to Kamel Bourgass in Manchester, UK.
On 01/06/2004, after further investigations, more members of the group were arrested including the Imam Chelalli Benchelalli, his wife Hafsa, another son Hafed Benchelall, Fatna Merabet and her husband Mourad Merabet, the parents of Nouredine Merabet, and others. A total of 27 people stood trial in the Lyon Cell case.
The suspects were convicted, on 06/12/2006, for preparing chemical weapons attacks on Russian targets in France. The senior offenders: Menad Benchelalli, Merouane Benhamed, Said Arif and Nouredine Merabet that was described as the financier of the Lyon Cell, were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
Their trial was a part of a larger trial against 25 defendants accused of being members of the Algerian Al Qaeda affiliated Armed Islamic Group, known in its French acronym – GIA.
Chellali Benchelalli was deported from France back to Algeria on 09/07/2006.
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