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Coronavirus: global alert over rising ISIS bioterror threat

Coronavirus: global alert over rising ISIS bioterror threat

Security officials have detected rising interest from Isis terrorists in the potential use of biological weapons amid the deadly global outbreak of coronavirus, experts have disclosed.

The mass deaths caused by Covid-19 and the virus’s crippling of the global economy have put security services on alert to bioterrorism, The National has been told.

The US Department of Homeland Security recently stated in a memo that terrorists were making “bioterrorism a popular topic among themselves”. The UN and the Council of Europe have also warned of bioterrorism attacks.

ISIS is understood to be re-examining its experiments on using bubonic plague as a terrorism weapon and there are concerns that the extremist group will attempt to attack a Level 4 high-security biosafety laboratory.

The leading biosecurity expert, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told The National that long-standing ambitions have come back into focus.

“We do know that ISIS and Al Qaeda have experimented with bioweapons but found chemical much easier to make,” Mr de Bretton-Gordon said. “The Covid experience will undoubtedly change this and we must now be on our guard as it has brought the world to its knees and will take years to get out of it.”

The former army officer previously investigated attempts by ISIS in Syria and Iraq to introduce plague to refugee camps and their research into weaponising Ebola.

The British Defence Senior Adviser for Middle East, Lt Gen Sir John Lorimer, said intelligence-gathering is under way to ensure terror groups do not create deadly bioweapons.

Lt Gen Lorimer told this newspaper: “It is important for us to continue determining what research Daesh [ISIS] are doing and that’s a priority. We’ve got all the right capabilities in place to deal with any chemical or biological system that they come up with and we have got measures we can put in place to defeat them.”

While Lt Gen Lorimer said there was no “specific information” about biological weapons he gave a warning that security forces had to keep “absolutely alert to any option or capability used against Iraqis or coalition troops”.

He added: “We will keep scanning and researching the intelligence to make sure we are on that.”

The pandemic also demonstrated that security services needed to focus on terrorist groups developing less toxic pathogens that are easily transmissible, such as the coronavirus.

The threat is not limited to Islamist extremists but also white supremacists in America have also discussed in chat rooms using biological weapons.

Bioweapons include botulinum toxin, anthrax and small pox. Chemical weapons can be substances such as deadly nerve agents including novichok, sarin, VX or marginally less sophisticated gases such as mustard and chlorine, which have both been used by Isis.

Mr de Bretton-Gordon said terrorists wanted to develop the weapons because they were terrifying. “The psychological to physical impact is 10 is to one. It’s horrific. It’s quite difficult to get it right but it’s very easy to terrorise a lot of people with small amounts.”

Other “dirty bombs” could include an attack on a secure laboratory, especially one of the category 4 facilities that store deadly pathogens. “I’m hugely concerned that in the light of Covid-19 they will be looking at the vulnerability of Level 4 labs around the globe,” Mr de Bretton-Gordon said. “You can imagine what an attack or explosion at one of these labs could do, especially psychologically.”

A Western military intelligence source confirmed that there were concerns over the bioterrorism activity: “ISIS are not stupid. We are aware that they are exploring many avenues to pursue their objectives.”

© The National


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