A South African businessman accused of threatening to unleash biological weapons on Britain and the US may have been driven by concern over the plight of white farmers in neighbouring Zimbabwe, a prosecution spokesman said.
Brian Roach did not have the means to carry out his threats to spread foot and mouth disease, Mthunzi Mhaga, from the National Prosecuting Authority, said.
Father-of-four Roach, 64, who owns an engineering firm outside Johannesburg, appeared in court in the city on Monday, two days after his arrest on terror charges.
He threatened in letters and emails sent to the British government to spread the disease in Britain and the US unless he was given £2.5 million.
"We have the expertise and resources to do this very effectively and will be able to devastate the industry in the UK which will cost billions to the economy," Roach said in an email to the Government. "We will devastate your farms and then we will then take the problem to your co-conspirator the USA."
Roach appeared to believe the US and Britain should do more to help white Zimbabwean farmers, Mr Mhaga said. About 4,000 white farmers have been forced from their farms since 2000 in what Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe calls a campaign to put more land in the hands of impoverished blacks. Many of the beneficiaries, though, have been top politicians who are close to Mugabe.
Roach said he wanted compensation for losses incurred by Zimbabweans because of the US, which he said influenced the situation in Zimbabwe with only its "own interest at heart". On October 6, Roach wrote in an email: "We are not habitual criminals but have been victim of a situation which was entirely out of our control and attributed to corrupt and incompetent politicians."
South African police said a six-month terror investigation by South African, British and US officials culminated in Roach's arrest. US and British officials confirmed they had worked closely with the South Africans.
"This biological agent, if deployed, would have caused the destruction of property and resulted in major economic loss," a South African police statement said. "This was therefore regarded as a very serious threat."
Police charged Roach with terrorist activity and money laundering. He appeared briefly in court wearing glasses and a black fleece jacket.