Terrorists’ Use of WMD Still a Real Threat

Jihadist attacks against a Paris magazine office, a kosher market in that city, and the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa seem to signal a new reliance by terrorists on conventional weapons. But you would have to have a short memory not to remember the Mumbai Massacre and the Fort Hood Shootings.

Maybe it is because in France, Canada, and the U.S. assault weapons are easier to come by than the explosives that are the deadly force in countless IED attacks in the Middle East. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, the military, the intelligence community, and others designated with the task of protecting us from terrorist attacks, the likelihood is that the attacks will continue.

This is not lost on Americans. A recently released poll by the Pew Research Center, shows the public puts fighting terrorism above all other policy concerns for the first time in five years, edging out improving the nation’s economy which finished second in the poll.

In 1998, Osama bin Laden said that the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was a “religious duty.” In 2003, a fatwa by a radical cleric said it was legitimate to use such weapons to kill millions. There have been more than 50 reported attempts to acquire, create, or deploy WMD. Clearly, the possession of such weapons would give jihadists power on the world stage and lead to further recruitment of fighters.

This idea is still very much alive. A German journalist who imbedded with ISIL in Mosul for ten days, recently returned to report that Islamic State fighters are committed to killing millions who do not share the radical Islamists’ religious beliefs.

A major concern is the instability of certain nations that possess WMD as part of their military arsenal. Despite efforts to remove WMD from Syria, U.S. government sources have expressed fears that President Assad may have held back a small stash of chemical weapons.

In Iraq, it has been reported that ISIL fighters removed forty kilos of uranium from the University of Mosul. While the uranium was not enriched sufficiently to be a nuclear threat, it could well be used as in a radiological dispersion device. In the ISIL stronghold of Fallujah, a water treatment plant uses chlorine to treat sewage. Al Qaeda used chlorine cylinders in IEDs against coalition troops, but without much success. The laptop of an ISIL fighter, who had formerly been a university chemistry student, had plans for weaponizing bubonic plague and making ricin from castor beans. His whereabouts are unknown. Nor do we know if other chemists and scientists have joined ISIL’s cohort.

As hundreds of foreign fighters join ISIL every day there number now exceeds 15,000 including, it is estimated, some 2000 westerners. A top security concern is the potential return of these westerners to their native countries after having been groomed to carry out attacks in their homeland. The Charlie Hebdo attackers are a case in point.

As ISIL controls large swathes of land, the probability grows that people with the appropriate set of skills will find the right raw materials to fashion a WMD. It is an escalating threat which makes, “not if, but when” a prescient prediction. What we can do is train and prepare.

Emergency Film Group WMD Response Package II provides training and response guidelines to emergency personnel who would be called upon to respond to a WMD incident. This package contains four DVDs, two Resource CD-ROMs, and two Leader Guides.

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