Skip to comments.Belgium Finds Nerve Gas Ingredient in Letters
Posted on 06/04/2003 8:14:39 AM PDT by Brian S
June 4 By Gilles Castonguay
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian investigators found a nerve gas ingredient in letters addressed to the Belgian prime minister's office, and the U.S., British and Saudi Arabian embassies, officials said on Wednesday.
Two postal workers were briefly hospitalized after being exposed to the chemicals.
The brownish-yellow powder contained phenarsazine chloride, an arsenic derivative used in nerve gas, as well as hydrazine, an agent used as a rocket propellant, said Health Ministry spokeswoman Anne-Francoise Gally said.
In the amounts contained in the letters, the two chemicals are not life threatening, but can cause irritation to the eyes and skin, she said.
A spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor's office said police suspected that the letters had one source.
"There are clear indications that the sender of the letters is one and the same person," Lieve Pellens told VRT. "There are clear similarities among the letters."
Pellens said some of them also contained a written message reading "International Islamic Society" and "Bastards."
"The first checks by police specialists show that this organization is unknown," she said.
The scare came as 23 suspected collaborators of al Qaeda stood trial in Belgium on charges of fraud, possession of firearms, recruiting for a foreign armed force and other crimes.
The letters were reminiscent of the anthrax mailings that killed five people in the United States following the September 11, 2001, attacks blamed on al Qaeda.
Belgium and other Western European countries have been on heightened alert for possible attacks following last month's suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, also blamed on al Qaeda or people affiliated with it.
In Belgium, at least 10 letters containing chemicals were mailed to addresses including the U.S., British and Saudi Arabian embassies in Brussels, and various Belgian ministries, including Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's office.
Also targeted by the letters were the Brussels court house, an airport in the coastal town of Oostende, and the port authority in Antwerp, Belgium's second city.
Police intercepted some of the letters but those sent to the British and Saudi Arabian embassies slipped through.
"It wasn't opened...the police have come this morning and removed the envelope," British embassy spokeswoman Lucy Joyce told VRT television. "It was a fairly ordinary white envelope."
Saudi and U.S. embassy officials declined comment.
The discovery prompted an emergency meeting of the health, justice and interior ministers to assess the incident and consider extra security measures, a government spokeswoman said.
Belgium had anthrax scares in 2001 but an investigation showed the letters contained an innocuous white powder. The latest discoveries were the first to involve dangerous substances.
As Okie01 knows, for one, Ive been trying to keep crop dusters in mind. I think it possible that Moussaoui was part of a second wave or alternative attack plan involving crop dusters. And I dont think it necessarily has to do with anthrax, but with something more suitable to cropdusters - liquid chem/bio agents. Moussaoui said he was not part of the 9/11 plot but a different one - which might be believable, for one, because its about the only coherent thing hes said. Recently he said the attack was to take place in France, which doesnt explain why he was in Minnesota and may be a lame attempt to argue no crime was to be committed in the US and he should be sent back to France.
An earlier post today mentioned the hydrazide. Because its anomalous it caught my attention. So I did some research and jotted some ideas down here....
Ive mentioned the 12/31/01 Wall Street Journal article before:
Computer in Kabul holds chilling memos: PC used by al-Qaida leaders reveals 4 years of terrorism
...Particularly encouraging, the letter in the computer files said, was a home- brew nerve gas made from insecticides and a chemical additive that would help speed up penetration into the skin. The writer said Khabab had supplied a computer disk that gave details of his product in a WinZip file, and my neighbor opened it by Gods will.
U.S. officials, citing satellite photos and intelligence gathered from local residents, say Abu Khabab experimented with nerve gas on dogs and rabbits at a camp near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. The camp, one of several in the area hit by U.S. bombs after Sept. 11, was known as Abu Khabab in honor of the scientist...
I have speculated that crop dusters might be used for its obvious purpose of spraying pesticides and AQ figured out a way to make it fatal to humans via the absorption agent...that is, the pesticide doesnt float away but sticks to the skin or such. At the time in October when the AMI anthrax attack became known, newspaper analysis of the cropdusters assumed that anthrax would be the agent spread thereby. Then experts were trotted out and said crop dusters arent rigged for spreading anthrax coverage about crop dusters died out.
Even if anthrax cant be well spread by crop dusters (allegedly, and assuming AQ wouldnt try anyway, Afghan science isnt exactly top notch) other deadly agents can be. Heres some Atta background:
This September 24, 2001 article from the Sun Sentinel
Terrorist made inquiries about crop-dusting planes in Belle Glade
...Hijacking suspect Mohamed Atta twice visited a Belle Glade airport to inquire about crop-dusting planes, and other Middle Eastern men asked how far the planes could travel and how much poison they could hold, crop-dusting company employees said on Sunday.
....Willie Lee, general manager of South Florida Crop Care, a single-plane crop-dusting business at the airport, told the The Washington Post that groups of two or three Middle Eastern men came by almost every weekend for six or eight weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks including the weekend just before the assaults.
...In addition to the visits by Atta and others to the Belle Glade airport, investigators discovered a manual on crop-dusters in the possession of Zacarias Moussouai, a man with alleged links to Osama bin Laden who was detained in August in Minnesota after he sought training at a flight school, The Washington Post reported.
...Lester said Atta stopped by the airport once in February and once in March with two other men who appeared to be Middle Eastern.
They came by and wanted to know about airplanes, how to crank them, and they wanted to sit in the airplanes, he said.
Lester said he told the three men in February that he didnt have the authority to let them sit in the cockpit. He said he suggested they come back the next morning when his boss would be at work.
They didnt return the next day but showed up again in late March asking similar questions, Lester said. Again, they wanted to sit inside the crop-duster. Lester said he tried to brush them off during the second visit.
...Lee, who works at the same airport, could not specifically identify any of the Middle Eastern men who stopped by repeatedly in the months before the terrorist attacks.
He said they described themselves as flight students, with several mentioning a South Florida flight school where investigators initially thought some of the hijackers might have trained.
They pull in the gate there and get out and ask you all about the airplane, Lee told The Washington Post. How much does it haul? How hard is it to fly? ... They would want to get up on the wing and look at it.
Lee said a small population of people from the Middle East lives in Belle Glade and the mens presence did not arouse his suspicion. He said he thinks the visits involved as many as 12 to 15 people who visited in groups of two or three. He said they stayed 45 minutes to an hour each visit.
(Sun Sentinel story Gallery -Gallery)
From ABC, Sept. 24, 2001 Poison Plot
W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 24 The man believed to have flown a hijacked passenger airliner into the North Tower of the World Trade Center also wanted to get behind the controls of a crop-dusting plane, raising fears that terrorists may have been planning a chemical or biological attack. ...
The guy kept trying to get in the airplane," Lee added, saying his ground crew chief had to order Atta away from one of the planes at one point because he kept trying to climb onto the wing and into the cockpit.
Lee said Atta and as many as 12 or 15 other men appearing to be of Middle Eastern descent visited the airfield in groups of two or three on several weekends prior to the attacks, often taking pictures of the aircraft. ...
From the Sept. 25 Guardian:
Suspected hijacker sought loan for crop duster
A bank president has said that one of the suspected hijackers in the terror attacks on the US tried to get a government loan to buy a crop dusting plane, it emerged today. Robert Epling, of the Community Bank of Florida, said suspect Mohamed Atta sought a loan from the US department of agriculture, which is a tenant in his bank, to buy a crop duster.
The attorney general, John Ashcroft, told Congress yesterday the FBI had intelligence that crop dusters could be used in a biological or chemical attack, and a national ban on flying them had been extended but ends today.
Atta, 33, who was reportedly one of the pilots in the World Trade Centre attack in New York, is alleged to have been monitored by intelligence officers last year after buying huge quantities of chemicals. He is widely believed to have been one of the organisers of the terror attacks on the US on September 11.
It has also been reported that Atta and several Middle Eastern associates made repeated visits to Florida's Belle Glade airport, enquiring about crop dusters, how much poison they could carry and how hard they are to fly....
Huge quantities of chemicals? I forgot that one. True or just a rumor?
Crop dusters seeped back into the media consciousness just this week. From the June 3, 2003 Washington Times, the CIA tells us:
CIA says al Qaeda ready to use nukes
...The report identifies several deadly toxins and chemicals that al Qaeda could use to conduct the attacks, including nerve gases, germ and toxin weapons anthrax and ricin, and radiological dispersal devices, also known as "dirty bombs."
...Several groups of al Qaeda tried to conduct "poison plot" attacks in Europe using chemicals and toxins in assassinations and small-scale attacks, the CIA said. "These agents could cause hundreds of casualties and widespread panic if used in multiple, simultaneous attacks," the report said.
...The report also states that Mohamed Atta, ringleader of the September 11 attacks, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is on trial in Virginia on charges related to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, studied methods of delivering biological weapons. Both men "expressed interest in crop dusters, raising our concern that al Qaeda has considered using aircraft to disseminate [biological warfare] agents," the report said. ...[The reporter presumes agents would be biological.]
So what does all this have to do with letters in Belgium? The hydrozine rocket fuel mention seemed anomalous to me. Why rocket fuel? And the mixture of substances indicates some intention that the two chemicals together would have a specific effect.
Web searches about hydrazine show it is not only a fuel or explosive. It is also used in insecticides, plastics, and other products and processes. I cant find a site that says exactly why its in insecticides, for example, whether it is to complement absorption of a poison, but it is dangerous in itself. Sites talking about hydrazine often caution that it is readily absorbable into human skin - something not often mentioned about other chemicals. Also mentioned often is that contact can cause redness.
Heres some warnings about hydrazine from inchem.org:
Inhalation - Corrosive. Burning sensation. Cough. Headache. Nausea. Shortness of breath. Sore throat. Convulsions.
Skin - Corrosive. MAY BE ABSORBED! Redness. Skin burns. Pain.
Hydrazine is rapidly absorbed through the skin or via other routes of exposure
Web search is interesting. There are European stories about hydrazine just after 9/11. Some assume that the hydrazine would be used as an explosive, but maybe it was for a bio-chem use. Heres an undated article in Dutch (posted for Knighthawk - worth translating?)
...AMSTERDAM - In Nederland, Belgiëë, Frankrijk en Spanje heeft de politie de laatste dagen tal van mensen opgepakt die contacten zouden onderhouden met het netwerk van Osama bin Laden.
In Spanje arresteerde de politie gisteren op verschillende plaatsen zes Algerijnen.
In Belgiëë stapelt het bewijsmateriaal zich op tegen de kort na de aanslagen in de VS aangehouden Nazir Trabalsi. In diens woning werden aantekeningen aangetroffen met chemische formules voor het vervaardigen van het uiterst explosieve hydrazine....
Heres a 9/27/01 article babelfished from the French:
Television news of TF1 of the 27/09/2001: (03:00) The chemical formulas found here in Brussels at Nisar Trabelsi, one of the supposed pillars of the project of attack against the American embassy in Paris are deciphered, among them, those of hydrazine, a fuel of highly toxic rocket by inhalation or contact. It is an indication of more than interest of the networks of Oussama Ben Laden for the chemical and bacteriological weapons. Mohamed Atta, one of the kamikazes of September 11 had been interested of close with the techniques of air spreading, visiting airports of countryside in particular. A technical handbook would even have been found in Boston at French Zacharias Moussaoui, decree in August. ...
And heres a Hydrozine mention from the November 17, 2001 Guardian:
Inside Bin Ladens Chemical Bunker
...Mr Khabab has obtained other equipment from abroad. Lying on top of a rucksack in the corner are a pair of extra large, blue mountaineering trousers made in Britain. One of the containers of chemicals came from China, another, a jar of hydrazine hydrate solution was made by a company called Riedel-de Haen.
On a wooden shelf in the corner are several smaller plastic containers. One is marked "cyanide", the label written in Arabic. Next to it is a packet marked "glycerine pure"....
Lots to think about.
What about Atta? His pal that had a possible cutanous anthrax infection gets most attention. But what about Attas red hands?
Heres a Mach 24, 2004 Scott Shane article:
Hijacker's lesion deepens mystery
...But Henderson, director of the office of public health preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services, noted other evidence that the hijackers might have been preparing for a biological or chemical attack. Another hijacker, Mohamed Atta, explored the availability of crop-dusting aircraft and visited a Florida pharmacy seeking help for his red, irritated hands, conceivably caused by use of disinfectants....
...Chatterton asked Atta whether he worked with concrete or harsh cleansers or did gardening, but Atta's answers seemed arrogant and evasive. Chatterton suggested a cream, Acid Mantle, which Atta bought, along with a cough medication for al-Shehhi. ...
Others earlier guessed at disinfectants. I suppose this follows from the anthrax presumption that Atta was playing with germs and he used some kind of disinfectant, and that caused the redness. But if anthrax, why didnt Atta treat his whole body?
Perhaps the redness was from playing with chemicals used for a chemical weapon - perhaps hydrazine. As stated, hydrazine to skin contact causes redness. Also, al-Shehhi needed to be simultaneously treated for a cough, another hydrazine symptom.
Heres another source for the red hands story.
...Atta, dressed informally and speaking English competently, and Shehhi, whose English was poor, visited the pharmacy together. Atta's hands were "abnormally red," the report cited Chatterton as saying.
"I asked, Do you work with some sort of chemical? 'No.' Do you work in a garden? 'No.' Finally he said, 'computers.' He changed the subject. He was evasive," Chatterton told the newspaper...
"The hands weren't burned, just abnormally red," said Chatterton, who recommended that Atta purchase a cream to treat his hands.
Shehhi, meanwhile, sought medicine to treat a cough....
So perhaps Atta was playing with hydrazine. Perhaps it was the chemical additive ingredient mentioned in the Kabul computer that would help speed up penetration into the skin. Perhaps this weapon wasnt used because Atta screwed up. Or perhaps it was deployed and didnt work out. For example, Aum Shirikyo tried to release anthrax about eight times before their sarin subway attack. How many times could Atta, his comrades, or others have tried, and with what agents?
As for the Belgian letters, maybe the sender thought the hydrazine powder would help the arsenic powder be absorbed. I certainly would like to see the letters - and compare them to the anthrax letters in the USA. Weve been told that terrorists wouldnt announce themselves or ideals in letters with poisons. Doesnt sound like that with the Belgium letters...
Finally, I end with an undated story from the Sun Sentinel, but published about a week after 9/11:
Suspe cts trained at S. Florida gyms before terror attacks
....Part of a larger plan
All of the suspects were described by antiterrorist experts as classic sleepers agents who stay out of trouble until they are activated, making them that much harder to identify.
Only after they perished in the attacks did federal prosecutors, acting on a tip from the FBI, pinpoint the Hamburg cell.
Similar details gathered in the massive investigation by law enforcement networks have led the FBI to consider there may have been more attacks planned beyond the four successful hijackings. And authorities have grown increasingly certain that a second wave of violence was planned. They said Sept. 22 has emerged as an important date in the evidence, but declined to be more specific.
Last Tuesdays attacks were part of a larger plan with other terrorism acts, not necessarily hijacking of airplanes. Those acts were going to occur in the United States and elsewhere in the world, said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Most of the evidence remains sealed by court orders. A federal grand jury in White Plains, N.Y., was convened to weigh evidence and issue subpoenas.
Glad to hear your comments and corrections.
According to this Sept. 25, 2001 Guardian article, if accurate, Atta's purchase of chemicals was in Germany...why wasn't he watched the same way in the USA???
"....German newspapers have reported that Mohammed Atta, who was probably piloting one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre, had been under surveillance by US intelligence agents last year. Atta, 33, who studied in Hamburg for eight years, is reported to have come to the attention of intelligence officers after he bought huge quantities of chemicals.
According to Focus magazine, he was suspected of buying them in order to make explosives. It said the US agents who are believed to have watched Atta between January and May 2000 did not inform the German authorities about their investigation.
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