Preventing the Next Bio-Terror Attack

How Kenya has become an epicenter of biowarfare prevention.

It is not just a country’s worst nightmare but one that would, like 9/11, disrupt the whole world.

There are perhaps few weapons in existence that could cause more confusion, sickness and death in a society, undermining its very foundations, than biological ones used by terrorists. (One only has to remember the fear caused by only a small number of ‘anthrax letters’ in the weeks after 9/11.)   

“Biological weapons are unique in their invisibility and their delayed effect,” wrote Stefan Riedel, a doctor, in an article on biological warfare.

A biowarfare attack would not only cause “death in a large number of victims and a paralyzing uncertainty,” Riedel also claims: “It’s goal is disruption of social and economic activity, the breakdown of government authority, and impairment of military responses.” 

It is for these reasons, among others, that the United States is helping construct a safe storage facility, through its Defence Threat Reduction Agency, for Kenya’s Medical Research Institute in Kisumu City. America is paying 90 per cent of the costs.

Kenya has “multiple biological organisms” in the institute, which pose “a great threat to the community” if released accidentally or on purpose. Overall, a 2015 survey found that “Kenya stores at least 16 dangerous pathogens.”

Kenya has been a particular target of Islamic terrorist attacks in the past. Among the more spectacular and devastating ones have been the blowing up of the American embassy in 1998 that cost 213 lives, mostly Kenyan embassy employees. Others were the Westgate Mall attack in 2013 in Nairobi, leaving 67 dead.

Another, again in Nairobi, was the Islamic terrorist attack last month on a hotel complex, killing 21, in which an American and Briton also perished. The American, Jason Spindler, had survived the 9/11 attack.

But it was probably a thwarted Islamic terrorist plot in Kenya involving a planned biowarfare attack in 2016 that contributed most to America’s decision to help that country build the safe storage facility.

The 2016 plot, a proposed “large-scale biological attack,” was led by a medical intern working in a Kenyan hospital. The intern headed a terror group that “included other medical experts who could help organize a biological attack using anthrax,” Kenyan security stated. The plot was apparently connected to the Islamic State

“His network included medical experts with whom they planned to unleash a biological attack in Kenya using anthrax,” said Kenya’s Inspector General Joseph Boinnet, adding the attack aimed at “various targets.”

Kenyan authorities said the plot was truly international in character stretching to Somalia, Libya and Syria. The intern’s wife was also arrested and police were searching for two other medical interns.

But Kenya was not the only African country where a terrorist plot involving biological weapons was thwarted that year. In 2016, the Interior Minister of Morocco announced the arrest of ten ‘jihadists’. They were preparing to use “deadly toxic and biological substances” in a “terrorist project.”

“Some of the substances seized are classed by international bodies specializing in health as biological weapons, dangerous for their ability to paralyze and destroy the nervous system and to cause death,” said the Minister.

Again, like in Kenya, this cell was believed connected to the Islamic State.

As a major target of Islamic terrorist groups’ worldwide jihad, Europe has also not been spared as a biological warfare target.

Only last year, one such attack, described as “without precedent,” was foiled by German security authorities in Cologne. A Tunisian was found in his apartment with about a thousand grams of highly poisonous ricin, deadly even in small doses.

“The dose probably could have wounded, if not killed, at least several hundred people,” said Hans-Georg Maasen, president of Office for the Defense of the Constitution (Germany’s FBI).

In the Cologne apartment, police also discovered material for making a bomb. Security officials also “found clues” the Tunisian had “concrete plans” for an attack in Germany.

“If the project had been executed, it would have been the worst terrorist attack in Europe to this day,” said Herbert Reul, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia where Cologne is located.

Using biological weapons in a terrorist attack is not something new in Europe. In the 1970s, police discovered “large amounts” of the botulinum toxin in a safe house of the Red Army Faction, a German radical, leftist terrorist group, in Paris.    

Islamic terrorists’ attempts to use biological weapons in Europe, however, stretch back at least to 2002 with the ‘Wood Green’ ricin plot in Great Britain. It was an al-Qaeda conspiracy whose goal was “to spread panic and fear right across Europe by means of a coordinated poison attack.”

“British investigators stress that a row of poisonous substances like cyanide gas and diverse chemicals in connection with explosives were to be used in attacks at different places in Europe, such as near tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben,” stated one newspaper story.

Seven people were arrested and the apparent ringleader, Kamel Bourgass, was sentenced to seventeen years in prison “on the basis of his hand-written notes on how to make ricin, cyanide and botulinum.” Kamel and his co-conspirators had been trained in al-Qaeda camps on how to make poisonous materials and then sent to Europe to set up sleeper cells, including one in Slovakia.

Europe, stated the story, had “stood on the abyss of disaster.”

Biological warfare also has a long history in the United States. Besides the aforementioned ‘anthrax letters’ of 2001, as long ago as 1763, the British gave blankets, infected with smallpox, to Indians. Confederate sympathizers also sold clothing infected with yellow fever to Union soldiers. One such Confederate plot may even have involved making a gift to President Abraham Lincoln of fever-infected shirts.

But probably the largest number of Americans ever to become casualties of a bioterror attack was 751 in 1984 in The Dulles, Oregon. They were victims of the Rajneeshee cult that had a commune in the area. Cult members had deliberately contaminated salad bars with salmonella in ten local restaurants. The group’s purpose was to incapacitate voters for the county election so their candidate would win. 

Biowarfare has been present in the world since biblical times from poisoning wells to selling infected animals to enemies to the famous case of a Tartar army catapulting plague-infected corpses over the walls of the besieged Genoese fortress of Caffa (now Feodosia in Crimea) in 1346. It is believed the devastating Black Plague was carried back to Europe from this event.

In more modern times, Japanese forces in World War Two launched airborne biowarfare assaults, releasing plague-infected fleas over Chinese cities and towns, killing perhaps as many as 300,000 civilians.

Thus, considering the lengthy presence and lethality of biowarfare in world history and the determination of Islamic terrorists to kill infidels with biological weapons today, America’s effort to supply Kenya with a secure facility for its pathogens is definitely money well spent.

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