Ricin: Is it the perfect way to kill?
Ricin is easy enough to find. It's a poison that is naturally found in castor beans, produced by the pervasive castor bean weed (shown at left). It can be formed into a powder, mist or pellet, or even added to water, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because it doesn't kill instantly, a perpetrator could use it to poison a victim in a crowded room and then make a casual getaway.
Indeed, even the symptoms of ricin poisoning might not raise an alarm until it's too late. They begin benignly enough -- respiratory distress, followed by nausea, coughing, fever and, ultimately perhaps, death.
And then there's this: No antidote exists for ricin poisoning.
Ricin was thrust into the spotlight this week when federal officials arrested four members of a Georgia militia group for allegedly planning to attack state and federal buildings with guns and explosives and to carry out attacks with ricin.
One suspect described a plan to blow ricin out of a moving car on U.S. freeways and interstates, a scenario that could give the culprits enough time to make their getaway while potentially poisoning hundreds if not hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting motorists and residents.
The men were being monitored by a government source and now face a variety of charges including attempting to use ricin as a biological weapon.
It wouldn't be the first time.
The U.S. military is said to have experimented with using ricin as a possible warfare agent, and ricin was possibly used in the 1980s in Iraq. Some terrorist organizations have also tried to harness its power, according to the CDC.
But the single most infamous ricin incident occurred in 1978 and has been dubbed "the umbrella murder."
Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident writer and journalist who was living in London at the time, was assassinated by a man who used a rigged umbrella to fire a poisonous ricin pellet into his leg. Markov became ill and died several days later.
Although Markov's death-by-ricin poisoning remains unsolved -- making it one of the most enduring mysteries of the Cold War -- it's speculated that the Bulgarian secret police and the Soviet KGB were behind Markov's death.
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Photo credit: Los Angeles Times