Germ warfare 'next big threat'

2001-09-17 09:48

Washington - However bad the terrorist onslaught on the United States last week may have been, US officials are contemplating a more deadly scenario - an assault with chemical or biological weapons.

"One has to know that a terrorist can attack at any time and any place using any technique," Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned.

Speaking as a British newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph, reported that alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden had planned a deadly sarin nerve gas attack on the European Parliament earlier this year, Rumsfeld told Americans that terrorist aggression could take many forms.

"It could be ships, it could be subways," he said in a Fox News television interview Sunday.

"What they can do is use these asymmetrical threats of terrorism and chemical warfare and biological warfare and ballistic missiles and cruise missiles and cyber attacks."

William Cohen, predecessor to Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, said last month that bin Laden, identified by US officials as the prime suspect in Tuesday's attacks on targets in New York and Washington, was seeking to add more lethal weapons to his armoury.

Bin Laden wants 'weapons of mass destruction'

"We know that Osama bin Laden is trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction," he said.

"We know that in the bombing of our World Trade Centre a couple of years ago the (culprits) were also experimenting with chemical weapons," he said, referring to the truck-bomb blast at the World Trade Centre in 1993.

Cohen evoked a nightmare scene in which terrorists could unleash deadly anthrax on the Washington metro, the underground railway system, potentially killing tens of thousands of people.

The colorless, odorless bacteria is lethal unless antibiotics are administered immediately. Otherwise the victim dies within days.

A 1998 plan to immunize US troops against the bacteria has been blocked by opposition within the ranks and in Congress, where concern has been raised about unwelcome side effects.

General Randall West, an undersecretary at the Pentagon who specializes in chemical and germ warfare threats, told AFP that anthrax is widespread and favored by many US enemies.

"We do know that several of our potential adversaries have an active chemical and biological weaponisation program," said West.

"Anthrax seems to be the weapon of choice for several reasons. It's not terribly difficult or expensive to make," he said.

"There is quite a bit that is manufactured by others in the world, that is available in the black market," he added.

Danger delivered in bombs or through spraying'

Speaking prior to the demolition of the World Trade Centre and the destruction of part of the Pentagon by hijacked planes on Tuesday, he named a number of countries - former Soviet Republics, Iraq and North Korea - who were thought to have developed chemical and biological weapons.

The former senior adviser to the secretary of defence on biological and chemical warfare said the danger could come from terrorist groups as well as nation states and could be delivered in bombs, missiles or through spraying.

"We know there are some terrorist groups that have tried to get it," West said. "We know that at least one did and tried to use it a couple of times, but I can't go into the specifics of that."

The Sunday Telegraph, quoting sources close to British anti-terrorist forces, said that six terrorists working for Bin Laden planned to kill all 625 members of the European parliament and scores of officials using a potent biological weapon sarin gas.

The attack on the parliament building in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, which was to have taken place between February 11 and 14, was foiled by German police who broke up the terrorist cell operating in Frankfurt. - Sapa-AFP