FBI Foils Dirty Bomb Attempt by ISIL Sympathizer

A Florida man was recently arrested by the FBI on federal terrorism charges. Harlem Suarez, 23, who is also known as Almlak Benitez, was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, an offense that carries a potential sentence of up to life in prison. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that Suarez was plotting to detonate a shrapnel-laden bomb on a beach in Key West.


Suarez caught the attention of the FBI in April, when someone reported that he was attempting to recruit people to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). One post read, “Stand up with us my brother. Stand up with the black flag and the AK with 10 mag, fight with us, be a gangster with us, kill our enemies and convert to Islam now in USA.”

The agency used a confidential source to interact with Suarez by cellphone, online, text messaging, and in person. Over the next few months, the two exchanged many conversations regarding the making of a bomb. The source told Suarez he knew someone who could make the bomb, and introduced him to an undercover FBI agent.

Last month, Suarez purchased materials to make the bomb, including galvanized nails. The plan was to place the bomb in a backpack and use a cellphone to remotely set it off. He then met with the confidential source and gave the source the materials, along with $100, to make the bomb. Several days later, he and the source met with the FBI agent, who gave them the bomb and instructions on how to explode it. The device was actually inert and could not be detonated. Moments after the exchange, federal agents moved in and Suarez was arrested.

Backpack Bomb Plot

Emergency Film Group’s IED Training Package provides the training to strengthen preparedness for a dirty bomb attack, as well as deterrence, prevention and protection capabilities. The four program package is now available at a huge discount for a limited time.

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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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START Report Discusses Link Between TCOs and Islamic Terrorist Groups

A new report written by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s (START) in response to the recent theft in Mexico of a truck that was transporting radioactive material, concludes there are “substantial disincentives” for any type of collaboration between Islamic terrorist groups and Latin American-based transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).

For the past two years, START has been working on a project to determine what the potential alliances are of these two groups and if they could work together in order to  obtain radiological and nuclear materials.

The organization concluded that Islamic terrorists would have little reason to trust the TCOs, given the great differences in worldviews. There are several reasons cited in the report that TCO’s would be hesitant to work with Islamic terrorist group, with one of the main reasons being profit-motivation that drives most of these TCOs. The risks involved to the group’s safety, as well as retaliation from authorities, are other factors that inhibit this collaboration.  

Recovered cobalt-60. Recovered cobalt-60.

Although the recent theft of the truck carrying cobalt-60 wasn’t connected to terrorist activities, it did send up red flags over the potential consequences if this activity were to take place. However, according to the report, “Although unfounded, the recent incident in Mexico stirred concern regarding the potential for criminal organizations to acquire, smuggle and sell radiological materials, possibly to terrorist organizations. While there are many potential intersections between TCOs and terrorists, ranging from hybrid organizations to ideologically- or kinship-based collaboration, the scenario that seems to be of most concern to policymakers is TCOs utilizing their existing pathways and infrastructures for smuggling drugs, human beings and other cargo into the United States in order to provide a ‘delivery service’ for terrorists to smuggle RN weapons or materials into the United States.”

START says that although there is no indication that TCOs and Islamic terrorist groups are working together, there is “significant evidence of collaboration in drug trafficking and the transportation of members of terrorist organizations in and out of Central and South America.”

The report shared these conclusions of what the effects a “dirty bomb” explosion could have on the general population:

“At a minimum, “a radiological attack would entail considerable costs for cleaning up the attack site and may lead to at least the temporary displacement of people residing in the area where the attack occurred. The disruptive psychological impact on a public largely unaware about the effects of radiological terrorism would likely be far more damaging than the actual physical destruction, and could result in billions of dollars in economic damage and could stress the public health system.”   

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Thieves Steal Truck Carrying Radiactive Material

A stolen truck that was carrying radioactive medical equipment has been recovered by Mexican authorities. The dangerous cargo was being hauled to the Radioactive Waste Storage Center in Maquixco when the truck was stolen while parked at a gas station in Tepojaco.

The radioactive material, Cobalt-60, is used for medical reasons, but can also be used to make “dirty bombs” - weapons where conventional explosives are used to disperse radiation from a radioactive source.

The equipment containing Cobalt-60 shown here as it was loaded onto a vehicle that was later stolen. The equipment containing Cobalt-60 shown here as it was loaded onto a vehicle that was later stolen.

The driver of the truck reported he was sleeping in the truck when he was awoken by two men, armed with guns, at around 1:30 a.m. They forced him out of the vehicle and tied his hands and feet and left him in the parking lot as they drove off in the 2007 Volkswagen cargo truck.

The truck was located in a remote area about 25 miles from where it was stolen. The Cobalt-60 was located about a half-mile away from the vehicle, along with the empty protective lead container. Authorities believe they recovered most of the radioactive material.

Officials said they don’t believe the radioactive material was the target of the thieves and believe the two men had no idea what they were stealing. The two men are most likely suffering from radiation exposure.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based UN nuclear body, says there are more than 100 incidents of thefts and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive material each year. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, at a 2012 nuclear security summit, spoke about the effects dirty bombs can have. In his speech, Amano said, “These materials, such as cobalt-60, could be used along with conventional explosives to make so-called dirty bombs. A dirty bomb detonated in a major city could cause mass panic, as well as serious economic and environmental consequences.”

Emergency Film Group’s, Radiation Monitoring, teaches emergency personnel in mission specific Operations Level competencies regarding monitoring for radiation at WMD events as well as natural disasters and industrial accidents. To learn more, read here. . .


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Dry Ice Bombs Planted and Explode at LAX

A baggage handler has been arrested and is being held on $1 million bail for planting several dry ice bombs in restricted access areas at the Los Angeles International Airport. Two of the bombs exploded.

According to police officials, on Sunday evening, a bomb exploded outside a restroom located in Terminal 2, an area the public is not allowed in. A 20-ounce plastic bottle containing dry ice was found at the location. No injuries were reported, but operations at the terminal were suspended and flights were delayed as a precaution.

Monday evening, an employee found a bomb that was fizzing, but had not exploded, near the gate of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. This is another area off-limits to the public. When police arrived, the employee told them he had found another similar device which had exploded the night before, but didn’t realize what it was until he discovered this second device.

Demonstration of a dry ice explosion. Demonstration of a dry ice explosion.

On Tuesday, 28 year-old Dicarlo Bennett, an employee of Servisair, was arrested on suspicion of possessing and exploding a destructive device near an aircraft. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Dept. said that terrorism was not the motive for Bennett’s actions. Instead, Deputy Chief Michael Downing referred to Bennett as a “prankster” who thought planting the bombs was humorous.

Investigators say that despite there not being any video evidence showing Bennett planting the bombs, there is plenty of other evidence linking him to the crime. It is believed he took the dry ice used in making the bombs directly from an airplane.

Emergency Film Group’s Terrorism: Explosive & Incendiary Weapons examines pre- and post-detonation response to IEDs, dirty bombs, secondary devices, and much more. This program is part of the WMD Response Series and can also be purchased separately. To learn more, read here. . .

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Is Your City Prepared?

A recent survey conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has revealed that some of this country’s major cities may not be prepared to handle large radiological dispersal device [RDD] and improvised nuclear device (IND) attacks. Major cities are thought to be the most likely targets of such attacks. The GAO, which is an investigative branch of Congress, recently presented the 68-page report to Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security.

The GAO concluded that many of these cities have received limited guidance from the federal government and emergency managers who were interviewed voiced a need for both technical and resource assistance from the federal government in order to be prepared in the event of an RDD attack.

The plans and reactions of first responders to the Boston Marathon attacks could be use as a model to follow in "dirty bomb" attacks. The plans and reactions of first responders to the Boston Marathon attacks could be use as a model to follow in "dirty bomb" attacks.

Emergency managers from 27 major cities took part in the study. Most of the cities had assessed what kind of risk they were at for an RDD or IND attack and ranked that risk as being lower than other hazardous risks their municipality faced. Eleven of these cities had completed RDD response plans, and eight had completed IND response plans.  Emergency managers of cities without plans in place said they would rely on their all hazards emergency operations plan or hazard management plan in the event of an attack.

Map of major cities of risk for an attack. Map of major cities at risk of an attack.

Should such an event occur, the primary responsibility for early response would fall to local government. How that response is handled in those first 24 hours is critical to the impact the actual event has on the public.

Despite the concern over the need for federal government guidance and assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, (FEMA), told the GAO that more guidance may not be needed because that agency expects cities to handle smaller attacks in the same way the currently handle hazardous materials spills, which is with as limited federal government assistance possible.

But GAO found that even for those cities that had some kind of IND attack plan in place, many could not move forward with any response activities without federal assistance. The agency concluded: “Effective response to an RDD or IND attack would require marshaling all available federal, state and local resources to save lives and limit economic damage.”

Their recommendation: “FEMA develop guidance to clarify the early response capabilities needed by cities” for both RDD and IND attacks.

Emergency Film Group’s Terrorism: Radiological Weapons DVD training video is part of the WMD Response Series. This program demonstrates a credible scenario in the use of a dirty bomb, consisting of explosives and radioactive materials. To learn more, read here. . .

Another program in EFG’s library, Radiation Monitoring, teaches emergency personnel in mission specific Operations Level competencies regarding monitoring for radiation at WMD events as well as natural disasters and industrial accidents. More information on this DVD can be found here. . .



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Is NATO Strike against Syria Imminent?

The U.S., France and Britain are gearing up to launch a retaliatory strike against the Syrian regime for the August 21st “chemical substance” attack the Syrian government used against its own citizens. Hundreds of people were killed in the attack, which occurred in four suburbs of Damascus.

Reports said rockets with chemical agents hit the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar during fierce pre-dawn bombardment by government forces. Figures compiled from medical clinics in Damascus put the death toll at 494 - 90 percent of them killed by gas, the rest by bombing and conventional arms. The rebel Syrian National Coalition said 650 people had been killed.

A nurse interviewed by Reuters news agency said many of the casualties were women and children and described how they looked, “They arrived with their pupils constricted, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims.” Exposure to sarin gas causes pupils in the eyes to shrink to pinpoint sizes and foaming at the lips.

Young victims of Syria's chemical attack. Young victims of Syria's chemical attack.

After the attacks, the Internet was flooded with amateur video and photographs, showing countless bodies, with victims choking, some of them foaming at the mouth, and no sign of outward injury.

Ironically, just three days prior to the attacks, U.N. chemical weapon inspectors had arrived in Syria. Syria is one of just a handful of countries that are not parties to the international treaty that bans chemical weapons. It is believed the country has caches of undeclared mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve agents.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad has stated it would never use poison gas - if they had it - against their own citizens. The U.S. and European allies believe Assad's forces have used small amounts of sarin gas in attacks in the past, which Washington called a "red line" that justified international military aid for the rebels. Assad’s government has accused opposition rebels of using chemical weapons; however the U.S. government doesn’t believe the rebels have access to these weapons.

The U.N. is asking for time to allow their chemical weapons investigators to confirm the attack was made by Assad’s government, predicting they may need another week or so of investigating. However, the U.S. and allies have indicated immediate action needs to be taken.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday that allowing "the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to, threat to the United States' national security." And today, Britain will introduce a resolution to the U.N. Security Council "authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria, citing Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which could include breaking diplomatic ties and economic sanctions, or action by air, sea or land forces.

Washington has said it will release further evidence that the Assad’s government was to blame. That means military strikes could begin with the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors still in Damascus. Warships armed with cruise missiles are filling the waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea and senior White House officials say once ordered, the strike could be completed in "several days".

Emergency Film Group’s Terrorism: Chemical Weapons DVD is part of the WMD Response Package. This safety video is designed to provide training and response guidelines to emergency personnel who would be called upon to respond to a terrorist incident involving chemical agents. To learn more, read here. . .

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EFG Producing Program on Transportation Systems Vulnerability to Terrorism for TSA

Emergency Film Group has begun production of its latest project, Target: Transportation Systems. The training program is funded by the United States Congress and designed to support the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) and law enforcement efforts to prevent and deter acts of terrorism. The project is organized in four modules, describing the vulnerability of transportation systems to explosive device attacks and how transportation industry personnel can make major contributions to the security of the nation’s transportation network.

Filming of the first module recently took place on location at several Massachusetts transportation facilities. This program studies terrorist attacks on transportation systems around the world and filming included re-enactments of several major terrorist incidents. Both facilities personnel and local actors participated in the filming.

Several scenes were filmed at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, in West Tisbury, and featured different methods of concealments of improvised explosive devices (IED) as well as basic security procedures to prevent terrorist attacks.

EFG films at Martha's Vineyard Airport. EFG films at Martha's Vineyard Airport.

Another day of filming was spent at the Steamship Authority ferry terminal in Woods Hole, both aboard the SSA’s vessels and at the ferry terminal in Woods Hole. EFG’s crew, with the help of several local boat owners, the Falmouth Harbormaster and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute was also able re-enact examples of terrorist actions on the water.

The third day of filming was spent with the MBTA Transit Police Department.  Three MBTA facilities – South Station, World Trade Center Station and Courthouse Station - became the scene of “terrorist activity” as the EFG’s cameras rolled. Several MBTA Transit police officers participated in the filming, including the Transit Police’s bomb squad.


Other programs in the series will focus on in-depth look at IED components, the mind set of terrorists and how the set about to organize an attack, and responses to suspicious objects, including protective actions, incident command and response priorities.

As with all of Emergency Film Group’s productions, this program was created with the assistance of an expert technical committee, with members from Safe Skies, Office for Bombing Prevention (OBP), TSA, Transportation Explosives Security Training Center (TESTC), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), NYPD Bomb Squad and the FBI.


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Is Al Qaeda Using Chemical Weapons?

Earlier this week, the commissioner of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that testimony gathered from casualties and medical staff indicated that the nerve agent sarin was used by rebel fighters. In an interview with a Swiss-Italian television station, Carla Del Ponte, a veteran war crimes prosecutor, said, “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.” Del Ponte added, "This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities."

The commission later released a statement saying that investigators had “not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict”.  White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the U.S. is “highly skeptical” that Syrian rebels had used chemical weapons and added, “We find it highly likely that chemical weapons, if they were in fact used in Syria - and there is certainly evidence that they were - that the Assad regime was responsible.”

Syrian chemical bomb attack victims Photo released by state news agency Sana shows people being treated after an attack in Syria.

But Del Ponte’s statements raise the issue of whether or not Syrian rebel forces have access to chemical weapons. A U.S. State Department official told CNN that the United States does not have information suggesting that rebels have "either the capability or the intent to deploy or use such weapons." But, the source also said facts are not complete and the investigation continues.

Al-Nusra Front, the strongest Syrian opposition group, is actually a front for al Qaeda in Iraq, who have been known to use chemical weapons in the past, detonating a series of chlorine bombs from 2006 through 2007. Evidence shows, however, that there has been a debate among al Qaeda leadership regarding the use of chemical weapons. A letter written by Osama bin Laden five days before his death urges his followers who were considering “poison” to be “careful of doing it without enough study of all aspects, including political and media reaction.”

The Syrian civil war, which began with anti-government protests in March 2011, has now claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and forced 1.2 million Syrian refugees to flee.

Emergency Film Group’s Terrorism: Chemical Weapons DVD is part of the WMD Response Package. This safety video is designed to provide training and response guidelines to emergency personnel who would be called upon to respond to a terrorist incident involving chemical agents. To learn more, read here. . .


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