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Western policymakers need to enhance the biosecurity strategies if they want to protect populations against the next massive terrorist attack, which undoubtedly will involve viruses constructed in home laboratories, warned experts on Saturday, the day before 15th anniversary of 9/11.
Experts advised that states should improve their national and international threat detection, identification, reporting capabilities as well as enhance bioterrorism scientific, industry and academics research.
“Washington no longer has luxury of slow learning curve, when we know al-Qaeda has been interested in bioweapons”, said former senator Bob Graham who was Chair of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.
The search for smallpox genome conducted by a group of investigative journalists resulted in finding of the 185 letters long word necessary to grow virus. Restoration of the virus may not be that difficult for well-equipped laboratories and experienced scientists from so-called rogue states.
The European intelligence services have been also concerned that the al-Qaeda terrorists may have acquired strains of Francescilla tularensis, deadly bacteria researched produced and weaponised in secret laboratories of former Soviet Union during the Cold War.
A World Health Organization (WHO) expert committee in 1969 estimated that 50 kilograms of Francisella tularensis sprayed in aerosol form over a city of 5 million inhabitants would result in 250,000 incapacitating casualties and 19,000 fatalities. Such an aerosol attack would result in acute symptoms of sickness 3-5 days following the exposure. Tularemia is difficult to diagnose and often under-diagnosed in natural infections.
It is unclear whether a group put their hands on large quantities of this extremely dangerous bacterium and whether any of this agent was found its way outside al-Qaeda controlled region. Rampant corruption in Russia and increasing anti-Western sentiment in its army, among many other reasons, cannot exclude possibility that the deadly agent found its way to the arsenal of the group. The other possible seller may be North Korea, which may be interested in reinforcement of the capabilities of the group.
Some signs of the latest activities by, what was believed by some in West to be weakened, al-Qaeda, may indicate that the group far from being defeated is experiencing in fact a new Renaissance.
On Friday the terrorist media wing aired a twenty minutes video message delivered by Ayman al-Zawahiri, de-facto leader and brain of the group.
“As long as your crimes continue, the events of 9/11 will be repeated thousands of times, by the will of Allah. And we will follow you – if you don’t cease your aggression [against us] – until the Day of Judgment…”, Zawahiri said.
The video opened and ended with remarks by Osama bin Laden retrieved from archives.
Zawahiri, who according to Russian intelligence defectors was trained by post-Soviet Russian Special Forces in Dagestan, reiterated the reasons behind the attacks and their impact on the U.S., and urged the mujahideen to focus on targeting US allies, and to bring the battle onto their own soil as well.
Leader of the terrorist group appealed to non-Muslim African-American using footage of the speech by the radical leader Malcolm X calling United States a “thief of nations” and pointing at Islam as remedy for humiliation of his African compatriots.
The American and European security agencies have been increasingly focusing on the risk that “biohackers” – scientists, who use genome-editing techniques to change life forms by increasing or decreasing the function of genes — could develop biological weapons or other dangerous biological substances.
The problem is not only – or even mostly – with the work of professional scientists. Rather, Professor John Parrington of the University of Oxford’s Department of Pharmacology told the British Science Festival being held this week in Swansea, the real danger lies with amateur scientists around the world who have started to use gene editing techniques after the tools became cheap and readily available.