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Al Qaeda's Euro-chemists stress the simple and the practical


I suspect that the opportunity horizon for unskilled Muslims across Europe matches that of France: Forever a Muslim and Arab, never French, never financial opportunity, and the only acceptance to be found within the religion of Islam. Put that magnitude of alienation into the hands of the wrong cleric, and there is an instant jihadist.

I also suspect that the only reason that we have not already had ricin and other low-grade biochemical attacks is the disruption and denial of the Afghan sanctuary housing such labs as the Derunta facility near Jalalabad. This is yet one more pointer to the value of identifying and controlling lawless areas, and why poverty, famine, and AIDS in distant areas are so deadly to us in Europe and the US.

Accessibility is key to the interest in ricin, botulinum toxin, potassium cyanide, and osmium tetroxide. "Biological and chemical weapons are more important than ever to al Qaeda, but the new emphasis is on the simple and the practical." How much simpler than this: a spare bedroom doubling as sewing room by day, work at night with windows open to dissipate fumes, coffee decanter to blend ingredients, spoons and newspaper to dry the product, and store in old Nivea skin cream jars.

The French arrest of Menad Benchellali was a breakthrough that led to discovery of other European cells. Ricin-making tools or toxin traces, along with detailed instructions have been found in raids on al Qaeda-affiliated cells in Britain, France, Spain, Russia, Georgia and Kurdish Iraq. Al Qaeda will make or buy anthrax when and where it can, but in the interim, low tech toxins will do.

"French officials believe the Spanish, British and French cells were communicating with one another and coordinating their activities, especially those related to obtaining toxins and poisons. Members of all three groups had spent time at the same Pankisi Gorge camp [after leaving Derunta]." Both European and US counterterrorism assets are not convinced that all members of the network have been identified.

While ricin is indeed not well suited as a military-scale WMD, it would do very nicely in a building, amphitheater, hockey rink, or train station. Given that only small amounts need to penetrate the skin or be ingested in order for lethality to ensue, I have already conjured up a series of simple weapons to accomplish the task.

I could also see a ricin attack as the booster or precursor to a larger event that would be masked by the system noise of the ricin attack.

Van Hulst's comments are mirrored by Jeffrey Bale at the Monterey Institute of International Studies: "There's no doubt that the groups we're seeing today could carry out such an attack. What surprises me is that that they haven't already done so."

As I wrote in an earlier note, the Euro-ricin threat was not getting coverage or traction in the US -- as if it can't happen here.  This article is the first that I have seen in the US mainstream press:

An Al Qaeda 'Chemist' and the Quest for Ricin
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 5, 2004; Page A01

Gordon Housworth

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