Thursday, May 26, 2005

Interpol says world should prepare for bioterrorism

By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA (Reuters) - Bioterrorism is a credible threat which authorities worldwide have underestimated, the world's top law enforcement agency warned on Wednesday.

Interpol says the world is largely unprepared for the possibility of attacks with crude biological agents -- some of which can be developed in a kitchen -- that militant groups have developed a heightened interest in.

"We, as police, cannot afford to be unprepared for the eventual use of biological agents by terrorist groups," Interpol president Jackie Selebi told a regional conference in Cyprus.

The world intelligence community has long warned that the militant group al Qaeda could try to use biological weapons such as anthrax, ricin, smallpox, plague or Ebola.

Al Qaeda manuals on preparation of biological agents were discovered at the group's training camps in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

"I do not want to scare everybody to say there is going to be a bio-terrorist attack. I am simply saying that, dealing with the issue of terrorism, you must deal with the issue of terrorism in its totality, including the possible use of biological agents," Selebi told journalists.

HIDDEN KILLERS

Biological agents are easy to make, carry and conceal but do not, at the moment at least, have the capacity to claim large numbers of casualties at once.

Interpol has a dedicated unit working on raising awareness of the threat, developing training programs and encouraging new legislation in jurisdictions where a prosecution for using bio-agents is possible only once the agent is actually deployed and therefore far too late.

"Failing in this area is not an option. The consequences of such failure are far to dire to contemplate," he said.

Asked if Interpol members were now prepared to counter the threat, Selebi replied: "They are being prepared."

The devastating effects of deliberate use of biological agents to inflict harm manifested itself with the anthrax scare of 2001, in which five people died in the United States after exposure to barely-visible flecks of the bacteria.

Last month, a British court jailed a man with suspected links to al Qaeda on charges of plotting bomb or poison attacks in London. Police believed the poison that would have been deployed was ricin, extracted from castor beans and fatal even in doses of less than a milligram.

In March, a U.S. presidential commission suggested al Qaeda had made advances in developing a virulent biological warfare agent they called Agent X.

The commission also said U.S. intelligence had long believed that al Qaeda had trained its members in producing toxins obtained from venomous animals and botulinum, a toxin more commonly known for its association with improperly canned food.
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