Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Inside Al Qaeda's Biological Weapon Directorate Part II

"The defeat of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan led Al Qaeda to recognize that WMD should take a more prominent role in its plans." ---Combating Jihadism: American Hegemony and Interstate Cooperation in the War on Terrorism, Barak Mendelsohn

photo: scottnelson.photoshelter.coms 
Author's Note: While Al Qaeda has never been a particular past time of mine and since my BTWC days I've focused on state BW laboratories and Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization with direct access to military grade WMD via Iran and Syria to a lesser extent, it is interesting to consider the efforts and expertise which AQ did posses and which could  still pose a threat to global public health today. Given that AQ has re-emerged as a very strong terrorist network, not only across North Africa (AQLIM), in Sudan in particular, but Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, their persistent statements regarding BW acquisition remain a concern. Moreover, their associated networks fighting in Syria are extremely concerning, given Syria's more advanced research into biological warfare agents and rumors that some of these facilities are staffed with Quds forces. I will follow this up with a detailed analysis of AQ in Syria with particular reference to the looting of Syrian laboratories in Homs and Aleppo.

We should maintain vigilance with regard to their acquisition efforts to procure BW and perhaps it would be advised to consider that they have shifted from their early attempts to acquire 'in-house' knowledge to procuring fully weaponized agents from clandestine military labs i.e. inside Syria via one of their many affiliates fighting there. I am not a strong proponent of 'bio-terrorism' as I believe and have previously written that the technical thresholds throughout the chain of procurement, research, development, weaponization and deployment are still insurmountable to a non-state supported terrorist organization. Specifically, AQ may acquire a BW capability but if it has not come from a state military lab, then it is highly unlikely to be a mass casualty weapon. It may still cause terror but, as history has shown attempts by non state backed 'terrorists' have not resulted in mass casualty which is the underpinning of a true weapon of mass destruction.  That said, it is certainly worthwhile in considering where AQ's BW knowledge base is now. While several have been killed by Predator drones or in battle, others are most likely doing research, possibly in state warfare labs and I would consider that some have returned to academia or perhaps never left. Recalling that in the Kabul labs several scientists where more or less conducting research which the Taliban oversaw and retained. While the scientists themselves were perhaps unwitting contributors to AQ's limited attempts at BW, where are they now? 

I would caution, while its tempting to consider the general lack of success Al Qaeda has thus far demonstrated in its procurement, research, development and deployment of any kind of weaponized biological warfare agent in a mass casualty attack, might equate to a lack of interest and or intent, this is not the case. So to continue, where are AQ's former BW experts today many of who were directly associated with the al Wafa Humanitarian Organization?

"Ayman Al Zawahiri, the man “who lead the biological program,” has replaced Osama as the head of Al Qaeda. Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda wait patiently for the withdrawal of American troops in 2014. As stated in a recent editorial of The Friday Times: “They are readying themselves for a forceful attack on Kabul after US forces depart and the Karzai regime becomes vulnerable." ( 

Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi, an orthopedic surgeon associated with Al Qaeda's WMD programs was interned at Guantanamo Bay. He was the chief medical adviser for the al Wafa NGO. He provided assistance to personnel working on Al Qaeda's anthrax program.  He was transferred to Yemen December 19, 2009.

Jamil Qasim, was a microbiology student working with Al Wafa, who was to arrange for funding transfer to Yazid Sufaat to purchase laboratory equipment for Al Qaeda's anthrax program. He was also wanted in connection with the attack on the USS Cole. He appears to have been transferred from Pakistan to Jordan. 

Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, is believed to have worked closely with al- Khabab in Afghanistan. He was captured in Pakistan in 2005. Abu Bakr al-Filistini and al Hud al Sudani who were trained by Yazid Sufaat, were captured under a US program. 

Abdur Rauf, a Pakistani microbiologist was recruited by Zawahiri, Rauf worked at the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in Lahore. "Using his membership in a prestigious scientific organization to gain access, Rauf traveled through Europe on a quest, officials say, to obtain both anthrax spores and the equipment needed to turn them into highly lethal biological weapons. He reported directly to al-Qaeda's No. 2 commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri." He was investigated but no arrest warrant was issued. he is currently free. (See:

I will shortly continue to update this with a future focus on Syria and AQ's continued acquisition efforts in country.

For further reading see: "Inside Bin Laden's Chemical Bunker"

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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 is an Associate Fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, UK. 

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