Are we nearer to an unconventional terrorism attack? (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ELY KARMON 03/27/12)
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Since the sarin attacks by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan in 1994-
1995, the anthrax attack in the United States in October 2001 and the
chlorine attacks by al-Qaida elements in Iraq in 2006-2007, there was
no serious chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN)
incident worldwide. Although limited in their scope and lethal
results, these attacks materialized, albeit tardily, the potential
CBRN threat perceived since the early 1970s.
Present events in the Greater Middle East and Pakistan have raised
the specter of a far greater and more present danger. After the fall
of the Gaddafi regime it became known that he had secretly kept some
of his chemical weapons arsenal, in spite of his international
obligations. Two sites containing chemical weapons were found in
Libya and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
(OPCW) and the United States were notified.
The OPCW inspectors visited Libya in mid-January 2012 and found
stocks of mustard agent. Libya now has until April 29, 2012, to
submit a detailed plan and a date by which the destruction of the
materials would be completed.
However, no one is sure such agents could not have been disseminated
to terrorist elements, as heavy weapons, ground-to-air and antitank
missiles have found their way to jihadists in the Gaza Strip and
possibly to al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb elements in the Sahara
region. For instance, in February 2012, 43 SA-24 anti-aircraft
missiles and the shoulder- fired SAM-7 were found in a cache in the
town of In Amenas in southern Algeria, near the Libyan border.
This scenario could be repeated with the chemical (nerve and blister
agents), biological and even radiological weapons and agents found in
the hands of the beleaguered Assad regime in Syria. Already in May
2011, in a CNN interview, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned
about the possibility that Hezbollah is armed with more missiles and
rockets than most states, possibly with chemical or biological
In the event of a power vacuum in Syria there is the possibility of
weapons proliferation to Hezbollah or other regional militant groups.
Damascus has already provided ballistic missiles to Hezbollah. An
Israeli defense official threatened that Israel will not tolerate any
transfer of Syrian chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The future status of Syrian chemical weapons has become a major worry
also for the United States, which is pressing nations bordering Syria
to be attentive for unconventional arms that might be smuggled into
their territories. It was reported that the US and some Middle East
allies are intensifying satellites surveillance of Syria’s chemical
and biological sites. According to Arab and US officials, Jordan and
the United States are preparing a strategy for securing Syria’s
considerable arsenal of chemical and possibly biological weapons. In
the event an Arab peacekeeping force is approved to enter Syria,
Jordanian special forces teams would be assigned to find and protect
close to 12 WMD-related facilities located at al-Safira, Hama, Homs
The 2008 US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass
Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism centered its findings on
several areas where the risks to the United States were increasing,
and mainly at “the crossroads of terrorism and proliferation in the
poorly governed parts of Pakistan,” described as “the most likely
source of WMD acquisition.”
It should be remembered that Pakistani nuclear scientist Bashiruddin
Mahmood, former chief of Pakistan’s Khushab plutonium reactor, had
close ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Together with other scientists and military and intelligence officers
he created the Pakistani humanitarian NGO Umma Tameer e Nau (UTN).
Former Director General of Pakistani Interservices Intelligence
Directorate (ISID) Hamid Gul was among the board members and patrons
Before 9/11 Mahmood offered to construct chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons programs for al Qaida. After 9/11 he was detained
with other associates by Pakistan Intelligence at the request of the
US government, but was later liberated.
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science
and International Affairs at Harvard and former director of
intelligence and counterintelligence at the US Department of Energy,
mentioned several scenarios of “nuclear nightmares that keep [him] up
at night”: Pakistan loses control of its bomb; the burgeoning
Pakistani nuclear arsenal (more places where something can go wrong);
increased extremism; the perilous military-civilian relationship.
Pakistan is seen indeed by international officials and experts as the
main threat in this field.
The US has implemented a $100 million program to secure Pakistan’s
nuclear laboratories and weapons (for example, by separating warheads
from missiles) while “US officials remain concerned about foreign-
trained scientists who support radical Islamic causes infiltrating
Pakistan’s nuclear establishment and, more broadly, about the remote
(but not unthinkable) possibility of an acute regime-threatening
political crisis during which nuclear security is breached and a
warhead falls into the hands of Islamic extremists.”
In a February 20, 2011, editorial, significantly titled “Pakistan’s
Nuclear Folly,” The New York Times warned that Pakistan, which has
between 95 and over 110 deployed nuclear weapons, had manufactured
enough fuel for 40 to 100 additional weapons. “The ultimate nightmare
is that the extremists will topple Pakistan’s government and get
their hands on the nuclear weapons,” claimed the editorial.
A more realistic scenario is the Islamist radical terrorists attack
some nuclear facility and provoke a major nuclear incident, or get
their hands on some fissile material.
Eight people were killed in a 2007 suicide bombing at a nuclear
missile holding site south of the Pakistani capital. Suicide bombers
in 2008 attacked entry points at Pakistan’s Kamra air base – a
suspected nuclear weapons holding site – and the Wah Cantonment
facility, thought to be involved in putting nuclear weapons together.
Two high-profile attacks by terrorists on highly secure military
bases in Pakistan, the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in
Rawalpindi in October 2009 and the naval aviation base at PNS Mehran
near Karachi in May 2011, have renewed anxiety about the safety of
Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Some terrorists learned their tactics
from the Pakistan Army’s elite commandos, the Special Service Group,
which had trained earlier generations of Pakistani/ Kashmiri
militants in similar tactics for operations against India.
In light of the revolutionary events and the growing instability in
much of the Greater Middle East and South Asia and the growing threat
of failing states losing control on their chemical, biological and
nuclear assets, an international effort to monitor, control and foil
CBRN terrorist attacks is vital for the security of the international
The writer is a senior research scholar at The International
Institute for Counter-Terrorism and a fellow at the Institute for
Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. (©
1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 03/27/12)
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