Ex-Syrian doctor’s bomb sentence delayed

Faris al-Khori will have to wait longer to discover his fate. Picture: Police Scotland
Faris al-Khori will have to wait longer to discover his fate. Picture: Police Scotland
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A former Syrian doctor who was discovered with a massive hoard of explosive ingredients and recipes for bombs after a chance find at an Edinburgh flat will have to wait to learn his fate.

Faris al-Khori was due to be sentenced today after he was found to have chemicals, large amounts of nails, ball bearings, bolts and nuts and even a bag of toxic beans which can be used to produce the poison Ricin.

But a judge agreed to continue the case for a week after his defence counsel sought a further adjournment in the proceedings.

Brian McConnachie QC told Lady Wolffe that he had hoped to research in greater detail similar cases which had been decided elsewhere.

Mr McConnachie told the High Court in Edinburgh that he had found a couple of English cases but suspected there might be more from other jurisdictions.

The judge agreed to continue the case until April 2.

Al-Khori earlier admitted a breach of the 1883 Explosives Substances Act. He pled guilty to possessing or having control of explosive substances under circumstances giving rise to reasonable suspicion that he did not have them for a lawful objective.

Benefit claimant Al-Khori, 62, also had a small quantity of a highly-volatile explosive which the Forensic Explosives Laboratory refused to take delivery of it and it was destroyed in a controlled explosion to protect the public.

The haul was only unearthed after firefighters attended a 999 call over a fire at a rubbish chute on the 11th floor of an Edinburgh tower block in the Muirhouse area.

After the blaze was extinguished they forced entry to flats to check no one was inside but when they entered a property where Al-Khori was a tenant found items that gave them “cause for concern”.

Firefighters discovered mustard jars containing white powder and one marked “weed killer”.

The court heard that a bomb scene manager was requested along with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear advisors.

A search was carried out at a further block where al-Khori lived with his wife in Leith and a further haul of materiel was recovered.

Both blocks of flats were evacuated and the areas around them sealed off.

Al-Khori admitted the items belonged to him and said acetone that was recovered was used to clean carpets and peroxide found was for clearing up after pigeons.

He said that a quantity of fertiliser was used for plants on the balcony, although there were none there when police searched the premises.

His wife said he carried out “wee tests” and bought items from the internet retail giant Amazon. He was described in court as “some kind of Walter Mitty”.

Al-Khori, who trained in Iraq as a doctor, earlier admitted a breach of the 19th Century legislation.

Between December 27 in 2007 and April 27 last year he possessed or had under his control explosives substances under circumstances such as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that they were not for a lawful purpose at flats at Fidra Court and Persevere Court. The maximum sentence is 14 years imprisonment.

Al-Khori, who at one stage faced Terrorism Act charges during the proceedings against him, has had British citizenship since 1998 and holds a UK passport.

Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC told the court: “The plea is tendered on the basis that the accused was in possession of various items which, whilst not explosive in themselves, apart from 1g of lead picrate, could in combination be made into explosive substances.”

“He accepts that the circumstances give rise to a reasonable suspicion that he did not have them for a lawful purpose,” he said.

The prosecutor added: “The Crown accepts that the accused never made or attempted to make any explosive substance, explosive device or improvised explosive device.”

Mr Prentice said that al-Khori had also been questioned about bolts, ball bearings and a large amount of nails that were found during searches.

“The only explanation that he provided was that the nails were used to carry out DIY job around the home,” he said.

Mr Prentice said the most significant find at Fidra Court following the fire on April 18 last year was five litres of acetone and five litres of hydrogen peroxide.

The two chemicals could be combined to form the ingredient for a volatile high explosive known as TATP.

The most significant seizure at Persevere Court was a mustard jar marked “lead picrate”. The jar was destroyed in a controlled explosion by the bomb squad.

“A large amount of notations and documents were also seized from both properties. To give some idea of the scale there were cabinet drawers filled with recipes and documentations with recipes as well as two large holdalls full of materiel,” said the prosecutor.

He said: “Several of these notations are hand written and appear to be instructions on how to prepare explosives and bombs.”

Searches revealed a large number of chemicals including high-purity citric acid which can be used to produce a primary high explosive HMTD.

Potassium permangnate was also found which can be burnt inside a pipe to increase damage. Many pipes were also found along with a hand written recipe.

Mr Prentice said: “Documentation found included a recipe for Thermite which is an explosive pyrotechnic requiring aluminium powder.” A package containing aluminium powder was recovered.

Bottled mercury was also recovered which can be used to make tilt switches for IEDs where a bead of the chemical completes the circuit. Circuit boards were also found.

Among the finds was an envelope containing ball bearings. Mr Prentice said: “Ball bearings may be incorporated into IEDs and there was documentation contained for ‘palm size bombs’ which require ball bearings.”

During the search at Persevere Court two books containing handwritten explosives recipes were found, along with firearms books and detonator notations.

The prosecutor said initial inquiries were made over whether there were psychiatric issues with the accused, but none were found.

Mr McConnachie earlier told the court that al-Khori, a former Syrian national, had qualified as a doctor in Iraq before moving to Austria where he obtained a diploma in neurosurgery.

He came to Britain in 1984 but failed the second part of surgeon’ tests and had acted as a full-time carer for his wife.

Mr McConnachie said: “There is no information to suggest he has any extremist ideology or motivation.”

He said al-Khori had purchased materiel through easily traceable internet firms and used an address registered to him and his own bank accounts.

He said: “There was never any indication he made any attempt to conceal his online activity.”

“This is not a situation where the police have come across some type of terrorist cell in preparation for carrying out some criminal activity and simply have got there in time to stop something that would have been catastrophic,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is nothing was used to do anything,” he told the court.

Mr McConnachie said it appeared that they were dealing with “some kind of Walter Mitty”.

Al-Khori had faced terrorism legislation charges at an earlier stage in proceedings, but the Crown later considered there was no basis for any such charges.