Ishtiak Saaem: Bangladeshi Biotech Researcher in FBI Net Trying to Make Deadly Toxin Ricin

Ishtiak Ali Saeem, director of research at a biotech firm in Massachusetts, purchased 800 castor bean seeds to extract deadly ricin.

FBI has arrested Ishtiaq Ali Saaem, 37-year-old director of research at a biotech firm, on charges of obstruction of justice. Federal officers say that he had brought 800 castor bean seeds to extract deadly toxin ricin.

When FBI agents asked him if he was trying to acquire the deadly toxin, he lied to them saying that he wanted to plant the beans for decoration in his apartment. He also said that he wanted to purchase only one packet but accidentally ordered for 100 packets [each packet containing eight seeds]. He had paid $321 for the beans, state court documents.

Growing a castor oil plant is not against the law, but extracting ricin is considered illegal in the US. Ricin is extracted from the seeds or beans of a castor plant. The FBI also said that further probe showed that Saeem had researched about tasteless poisons that could be made at home.

Who is Ishtiaq Ali Saeem?

Saeem is the director of research department at a biotech firm situated in Massachusetts. Saeem hails from Bangladesh and has a PhD in biomedical engineering. He is the resident of Allentown in Pennsylvania.

Reports [] claim that Saeem had brought a couple of woodland plants and several hundred beans online in 2015. According to records filed in the US District Court of Massachusetts, Saeem gave an online order for six lily of the valleys, a New England garden. It is said that poison convallatoxin can be extracted from the plant.

His online search history also showed that he searched for articles titled, "What is the most lethal poison?" and "The five deadly poisons that can be cooked up in a kitchen." He had also searched for information on the ways to derive poison from tomatoes.

Castor beans Dr Saeem
Dr Ishtiaq Ali Saeem purchases 800 castor beans, charged with obstruction of justice. Wikimedia Commons/LinkedIn

Court Documents on Saeem

Four years later, on July 29, 2019 again law enforcement agents had visited him in Pennsylvania after he had purchased castor beans in bulk. Even then, he had told the agents that he had liked the color of the plant's leaves and intended to purchase only one packet of it.

He was summoned to appear before a federal grand jury in Boston in July 2019. Even then he had argued that he had brought the beans only for decoration purpose. But the prosecutors had argued that he had intentionally purchased castor beans to extract ricin.

If proved of charges, Saeem can be sentenced up to 20 years in jail and will also be awarded with three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Currently, Assistant US Attorney Kriss Basil is prosecuting the case.