Sunday, April 6, 2014

Terrorist Acquisition of a Biological Weapon Capability

Several nations conduct or are suspected of conducting offensive biological weapon research prohibited under the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention (BTWC). While the dual use equipment for many of these labs was purchased legally from Western distributors and manufacturers, others were not. An example of how Western nations helped build an illicit BW program is that of Iraq. "In the 1980s, Iraq's State Establishment for Pesticide Production ordered and received incubators and culture media from West Germany (23).Many of the dual-use materials that Iraq ordered from foreign sources, under civilian cover, ended up in biological weapons research." (see:

photomicrograph b.anthracis

In the case of Al-Qaeda's acquisition, there are concerning issues. Taking a closer look at Taliban efforts to acquire a BW capability and revisiting 'Project al Zabadi, it is interesting to note in the case of both the Taliban and State warfare programs like those run by Iran and Syria, Western nations at the time, contributed greatly to these efforts. Two nations stand out: The Netherlands (CW) and Germany. It should be noted, that prior to 911, exporting dual use equipment was in many instances, not a criminal offensive and was generally not prohibited by export control regimes.( Current export regulation is much tighter.  However, there are specific cases with regard to both Germany and the Netherlands, where illegal export seemingly culminated in dual use materials and chemical pre-cursors being sent directly to labs where BW and CW would be manufactured with the intent to kill civilians. 

To revisit the topic of Taliban labs and how they were stocked, let's recall that in 2001 the Northern Alliance discovered six to seven state of the art labs in Afghanistan. Other labs were discovered as well, but they were not up to par with the seven which Osama bin Laden ultimately oversaw. One of the primary labs which conducted work on anthrax for vaccine development was the Institute of Veterinary Vaccine Production. The lab was first built in Charikar, in the northern province of Parwar, in 1993-4 with equipment from India then moved to Kabul, where the Taliban oversaw work on anthrax and possibly other highly pathogenic agents. The Taliban officer in charge of the lab network was Mullah Qari Abdullah. Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, headed AQ's WMD program 'Project al Zabadi,  Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, known as Abu Khabab oversaw chemical experiments.Khabab was a noted former chemical weapon scientist in the Egyptian Army. According to an excellent report from 2005, by Dan Darling entitled "Abu Khabab and Project Al Zabadi (see:

"While little personal information concerning Khabab exists, former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer gives us a pretty good open-source overview of al-Zabadi on pages 124-125 and 186-193 of Through Our Enemies' Eyes that, if nothing else, gives us some idea of their intentions.
According to the evidence assembled by Scheuer:
* Captured EIJ leaders Mohammed Mabruk and Ibrahim al-Sayyid al-Najjar that bin Laden and his International Islamic Front were already in possession of chemical and biological weapons.. Al-Najjar, who provided the most detailed testimony, stated that factories in Europe provided the group with E. coli, salmonella, and butulinum, while factories in Southeast Asia conducted work on anthrax and more sophisticated weapons

* From 1991-1996 in Sudan, bin Laden is believed to have worked on chemical weapons alongside the government-owned Military Industrial Corporation. Abu Hajir al-Iraqi (Mahmdouh Mahmud Salim) served as al Qaeda's chief procurement officer in these efforts, obtaining dual-use chemicals for bin Laden's Sudanese tannery that could be used to produce weapons as well as leather. Sudanese military officer Colonel Abd al-Basit Hamza, who formerly worked with bin Laden's al-Hijra construction company, was said to have managed a group of corporations devoted to the production of chemical weapons based in Khartoum and staffed by a team of 60 Iraqi scientists and technicians headed up by Dr. Khalil Ibrahim Muharuhah.
* Corriere della Sera reported that bin Laden had recruited 7 Saudis and 1 Egyptian educated in pharmacy, medicine, and microbiology to be trained in Afghanistan by a team of Ukrainian chemists and biologists on the subject of poisons and toxins.
Corriere della Sera reported in May 1998 that bin Laden had purchased 3 chemical and biological agent production laboratories from the former Yugoslavia that were then moved to Kandahar, Khost, and Jalalabad.
Esquire and al-Watan al-Arabi both reported that by late 1998 a team of 12 Iraqi experts arrived in Afghanistan to assist bin Laden in his chemical and biological weapons efforts.
* Another al Qaeda chemical and biological weapons facility was said to be located in Zenica, Bosnia, a town that had formerly served as a base for jihadis in the 1990s during their war against the Serbs. The facility was located on a farm that had been purchased by an al Qaeda front NGO and converted into a research and development lab. 
All of these are extremely controversial statements, but we can evaluate them based on what we know of closed-source information from the 911 Commission, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report on pre-war Iraq intelligence, the WMD Commission, and the UK Butler Report to "check" the open-source information Scheuer has provided us with. It should be noted that the mere absence of mention in these closed-source reports should not be taken as a definitive rejection of these issues.
Here's what we find:
* pages 57-58 note Abu Hajir al-Iraqi's pronouncement missions as well as the existence of al Qaeda NGO front offices in Vienna, Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Budapest during the early 1990s for support to the Bosnian jihad, but no mention is made of any unconventional weapons research and development being conducted out of them. Page 151 also notes the existence of a working anthrax lab established by al Qaeda near Kandahar airport that was set up in early 2001 by US-educated JI member Yazid Sufaat.
* On the extremely controversial issue of Iraqi involvement in Project al-Zabadi, the SSIC report deals with the issue of Iraqi training on pages 329 to 332 and states that the sources of this reporting came from 3 sources: a detainee (captured al Qaeda leader Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, though he is not identified as such), 12 reports from varying sources, and unidentified reporting concerning Salman Pak. Leaving the issues of Salman Pak and Ibn Sheikh al-Libi aside, the remaining 12 reports are distinguished into three groups: 4 declarative accusations, 2 that were based on hearsay, and 6 other reports that involve discussions or offers of training but do not state whether or not such training had occurred. The SSIC's final conclusion on the substance of the reporting is classified save for a note that the possible training of al Qaeda operatives in the area of chemical and biological weapons was the "most problematic" area of the intelligence reporting.
* As a brief addendum, the Butler report notes that Ansar al-Islam (who will come up later) was working with al Qaeda to produce chemical and biological agents in northern Iraq and leaves open the possibility both that Iraq trained al Qaeda operatives post-1998 as well as that Iraqi chemical experts traveled to Afghanistan to assist al Qaeda.
* The WMD commission notes that US intelligence seriously under-estimated al Qaeda WMD capabilities, in particular the fact that its biological weapons program was far more extensive, better-organized, and in operation 2 years before 9/11 (circa 1999) involving several sites in Afghanistan, 2 of which obtained dual-use commercial equipment and were operated by individuals with special training. According to the commission, al Qaeda had acquired several biological agents as early as 1999 and had the necessary equipment to handle the limited, basic production of what the report terms Agent X (anthrax?) in addition to more basic poisons and toxins such as those obtained from venomous animals.
* The WMD commission further states that pre-9/11 al Qaeda already had toxic chemicals, pesticides, and World War 1-era chemical agents, a fact attested to given that many of the group's training manuals contain instructions on how to produce such agents. At the time of the US intervention, al Qaeda was working to produce a blister agent that could be made from common chemicals and used to attack Americans.
Most of al-Zabadi's infrastructure, including its primary base was destroyed during the US invasion of Afghanistan, but what was unearthed in its aftermath was frightening enough. In addition the now-famous CNN video of dogs being gassed and the al Qaeda computer used by the leadership that was obtained by the Wall Street Journal that enable us to reconstruct a crude chronology for the beginnings of the program at its formal beginning in April 1999 (prior to this, Khabab had been conducting his work independently either on his own or on behalf of EIJ)."Part of the timeline posited in the Long War Journal report notes the following for June of 1999: 

"Al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef (killed in Afghanistan in November 2001) orders the construction of a chemical and biological weapons lab and mandates the location of the lab be changed once every 3 months to avoid detection. A decision is made to begin a robust recruiting of university scientists.The principle nerve center for al Qaeda's WMD efforts seems to have been Darunta Camp, 8 miles south of Jalalabad, though as the entry notes, Darunta hosted a number of al Qaeda training facilities in addition to the chemical and biological weapons labs.
But what about the state of Project al-Zabadi post-Afghanistan?
Following their defeat in Afghanistan, a number of al Qaeda leaders including shura majlis member Saif al-Islam el-Masry fled to the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia to seek refuge with Chechen jihadis led by Shamil Basayev as well as the Arab mujahideen there commanded by bin Laden's protege Amir ibn al-Khattab. While el-Masry was captured and turned over to the United States, a number of other al Qaeda leaders remained elusive, Khabab among them."Read more:
Understanding that the bin Laden/ Talib labs were not simply low level endeavors but with a procurement program which was mainly sourced by Western industries. According to a report entitled: 'Does Intent Equal Capability? Al Qaeda and Weapons of Mass Destruction," "Local Afghan sources reported that bin Laden was using a laboratory in Charassiab, South of Kabul to produce chemical weapons. (68) That same year US sources reported that bin Laden had established crude facilities in Khost and Jalalabad, Afghanistan in order to test and produce chemical and biological weapons."(69) In early 2002, American troops near Kandahar reported the discovery of an abandoned facility that appeared to have been built to research/weaponize biological agents.(70). Traces of ricin and production instructions were also reportedly discovered in an Al Qaeda safe house. (71) US investigators claimed that they uncovered laboratory equipment in a house near Khandar, that would support 'a very limited production of biological and chemical agents.(72) (Full report:

to be continued....
Dragon voice recognition

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. 

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