Skip to comments.Qaeda bioterror threat seen down, but still real
Posted on 06/18/2005 12:33:50 PM PDT by FairOpinion
WASHINGTON, June 7 (Reuters) - The threat of biochemical attacks by al Qaeda has declined, but the availability of agents and the group's professed interest in using them make the danger very real, a top German counterterrorism official said on Tuesday.
"Why are we focusing on biological terrorism? We do so because it fits very well into the strategy, into the thinking of modern terrorists," Georg Witschel, counterterrorism coordinator at Germany's Foreign Ministry, told a biosecurity conference in Washington.
"Looking at al Qaeda, since they have lost their territorial base, and since state sponsoring is in general declining, the probability of such an attack might be slightly lower than it was a few years ago, but the risk is still pretty high," he said at the event, hosted by the European Institute public policy forum.
Witschel said while the incidence of nonconventional attacks had been rare, al Qaeda files and laboratories discovered after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks proved the militant network had sought to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Rep. John Linder, a Georgia Republican on the House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee, expressed concern too much effort was being spent on "fighting yesterday's war," for example by beefing up air travel security, at the expense of other threats such as possible biochemical attacks.
John Dinger, a deputy counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department, called the dangers of a biological attack "one of the most challenging and frightening aspects of terrorism."
He said pathogens were particularly dangerous because they could spread silently and quickly before authorities realized there had been an attack. Dinger said the time lag between the contamination and the emergence of symptoms also meant it would be difficult to identify, let alone catch the perpetrators.
Because of their potency and availability, Witschel said the most probable agents terrorists might use were bacteria such as anthrax or the plague, viruses such as smallpox, or toxins such as ricin.
"Among them, anthrax and smallpox have the greatest potential for mass casualties and civil disruption, not least due to their high lethality. So I think these two ... should be in the focus of endeavors to protect our societies against a biological attack," he said.
Witschel said there was "some level of cooperation" in the international community to avert attacks and mitigate the possible fallout but that greater collaboration was needed. That included a fast and efficient worldwide reporting system to allow rapid response to attacks.
I agree completely. If we vaccinated people, the danger would go way down.