|Chechen Terrorists photo: syriafreepress|
In September 2004, a radical Chechen terrorist named Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for an attack many recall, as the worst hostage event in recent history. Basayev, an explosives expert, claimed responsibility for the siege which killed over 350 people, most of them children. As the world watched in horror, School Number One, in Beslan, North Ossetia, which had been nested with bombs, exploded killing almost everyone inside. ”See: http://www.pbs.
Whatever views one may hold with regard to Vladimir Putin, he has taken exceptional and commensurate action against Chechen terrorists organizations who, if in possession of BW pose a considerable threat to global health security. Putin has done more than can be said for others in similar positions who are probably guilty of dereliction of duty for not protecting us from known AQ BW threats. So Putin is the hero of the day on this one. The FSB, as perhaps only second to one other state in professionalism and experience, has done a remarkable job in containing and countering the threat posed by AQ terrorists in the Ciscaucasus and Transcaucus. While I note the threat from the Pankisi Gorge no longer exists and in fact evidence of BW research there is light, the risk of Chechen's associated with AQ acquiring this capability from a state lab or diverting highly pathogenic agents from other repositories remains a significant concern. Unlike nuclear isotopes, materials and say dirty bombs, biological warfare agents are weaponized to be highly infectious and often highly transmissible. An attack on Russia using BW will not be limited to Russia, not to spell out the obvious, so countering this threat is worthwhile.
Taking a closer look at Chechen ties to AQ and their quest for WMD, it is notable that several hundred, if not a higher number, of Chechen terrorists have trained in Afghanistan and a few of their high ranking leaders were known to have met with Osama bin Laden. While the preoccupation of Chechen terrorists in terms of WMD, appears to focus on acquiring nuclear materials in order to perhaps manufacture a dirty bomb (the PIR Center has produced a nice report on this see: http://www.pircenter.org/en/articles/1312-wmd-terrorism-originated-in-north-caucasus-again-on-the-agenda), it is still worth considering that BW in the hands of Chechen terrorists should be an international concern. In 2005, Middle East Quarterly produced an excellent article entitled: "How Chechnya Became a Breeding Ground for Terror", by Lorenzo Vidino. In this report he quite accurately contends:
"Over the last decade, Islamist terrorists have co-opted the Chechen cause as part of a global jihad. Umar Ibn al-Khattab, a Saudi native who became the leader of the foreign mujahideen in Chechnya, said "This case is not just a Chechen matter but an Islamic matter, like Afghanistan ."(4)"According to Georgian officials, in early 2002, some sixty Arab computer, communications and financial specialists, military trainers, chemists, and bomb-makers settled in the gorge. The group used sophisticated satellite and encrypted communications to support both Ibn al-Khattab's operations in Chechnya and terrorists planning attacks against Western targets. The 'Pankisi Arabs' later tried to buy explosives for what Georgian security officials believe was to have been a major attack on US or other Western installations in Russia."(54)
While reports of Al Qaeda Chechen cells BW efforts since around 2006 have leveled off, the fact that Western European targets were selected and toxins and BW were considered for use and in some instances developed, remains highly concerning.
It is worth considering that Russian SoF play a key role in the War on Terror and that they have successfully prevented thus far the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in a mass casualty attack.
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Jill Bellamy is an internationally recognized expert on biological warfare and defence. She has formerly advised NATO and for the past seventeen years has represented a number of bio-pharmaceutical and government clients working on procurement strategy between NATO MS and Washington DC. Her articles have appeared in the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times of London, Le Temps, Le Monde and the Jerusalem Post among other publications. She is a CBRN SME with the U.S. Department of Defence, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Information Analysis Center and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, a private consultancy based in the Netherlands. She currently serves as Associate Fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, UK.