Covid-19 in­spires ISIS to ex­plore bioter­ror­ism, ex­perts warn

▶ Ex­perts raise fears dur­ing pan­demic that ex­trem­ist groups will use deadly pathogens as weapons

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - THOMAS HARD­ING

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have de­tected ris­ing in­ter­est from ISIS in us­ing bi­o­log­i­cal weapons, as the world con­tin­ues to fight the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

The mass deaths caused by Covid-19 and the virus’s ef­fect on the global econ­omy have put se­cu­rity ser­vices on alert for bioter­ror­ism. The US Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity re­cently said that ter­ror­ists were mak­ing “bioter­ror­ism a pop­u­lar topic among them­selves”. The UN and the Coun­cil of Europe have also given warn­ings about pos­si­ble bioter­ror­ism at­tacks.

Mean­while, Iran’s health min­istry an­nounced a record 221 coro­n­avirus deaths on Thurs­day. Iran has recorded 250,458 in­fec­tions and 12,305 deaths, health min­istry spokes­woman Sima Sa­dat Lari said.

It is suf­fer­ing from a resur­gence in cases and deaths af­ter eas­ing lock­down mea­sures to help re­vive the econ­omy.

The UAE re­ported 532 new cases of Covid-19 on Thurs­day, af­ter con­duct­ing 49,000 more tests. The new in­fec­tions brought the to­tal to 53,577. At least 1,288 peo­ple re­cov­ered from the virus, for a to­tal of 43,570. One pa­tient died, rais­ing the toll to 328.

The num­ber of ac­tive cases dipped un­der 10,000 for the first time since April 30.

In Tokyo, 224 new cases on Thurs­day marked a record sin­gle-day high for the Ja­panese cap­i­tal as author­i­ties fo­cused test­ing on the city’s nightlife dis­tricts.

In Aus­tralia’s sec­ond-big­gest city, five mil­lion peo­ple be­gan a new lock­down on Thurs­day, re­turn­ing to tough re­stric­tions only weeks af­ter they ended.

Melbourne res­i­dents have been told to stay at home for six weeks af­ter other mea­sures to con­tain a surge in Covid-19 failed.

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials de­tected in­creas­ing in­ter­est from ISIS mem­bers in the po­ten­tial use of bi­o­log­i­cal weapons dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, ex­perts said.

The death toll caused by the virus and its crip­pling of the global econ­omy put se­cu­rity ser­vices on alert for bioter­ror­ism, The Na­tional was told.

The US Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity re­cently said in a memo that ter­ror­ists were mak­ing “bioter­ror­ism a pop­u­lar topic among them­selves”.

The UN and the Coun­cil of Europe gave warn­ings about the threat of bioter­ror­ism at­tacks.

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

Biose­cu­rity ex­pert Hamish de Bret­ton-Gordon told The Na­tional that the group’s long-stand­ing am­bi­tions had come back into fo­cus.

“We do know that ISIS and Al Qaeda have ex­per­i­mented with bioweapons but found chem­i­cals much eas­ier to make,” he 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.”

Mr de Bret­ton-Gordon, a for­mer army of­fi­cer, in­ves­ti­gated at­tempts by ISIS in Syria and Iraq to in­tro­duce plague to refugee camps and ex­am­ined the group’s re­search into weapon­is­ing Ebola.

The UK’s se­nior de­fence ad­viser to the Mid­dle East, Lt Gen Sir John Lorimer, said in­tel­li­gence was be­ing gath­ered to en­sure ex­trem­ist groups did not cre­ate bioweapons.

“It is im­por­tant for us to con­tinue de­ter­min­ing what re­search Daesh are do­ing and that’s a pri­or­ity,” he said.

“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 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”.

“We will keep scan­ning and re­search­ing the in­tel­li­gence to make sure we are on that,” he said.

The pan­demic also demon­strated that se­cu­rity ser­vices needed to fo­cus on ter­ror­ist groups de­vel­op­ing less deadly pathogens that are eas­ily trans­mis­si­ble, such as Covid-19.

The threat is not lim­ited to ex­trem­ists in the Mid­dle East and white su­prem­a­cists in the US also dis­cussed in chat rooms the use of bi­o­log­i­cal weapons.

Bioweapons in­clude bo­tulinum toxin, an­thrax and small­pox. Chem­i­cal weapons can be sub­stances such as nerve agents, in­clud­ing sarin and 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 to one. It’s hor­rific,” he said.

“It’s quite dif­fi­cult to get it right but it’s very easy to ter­rorise a lot of peo­ple with small amounts.”

Se­cure lab­o­ra­to­ries that store deadly pathogens could be tar­gets for ex­trem­ist groups.

“I’m hugely con­cerned that in 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 bioter­ror­ism ac­tiv­ity.

“ISIS are not stupid,” the source said.

“We are aware that they are ex­plor­ing many av­enues to pur­sue their ob­jec­tives.”

The threat is not lim­ited to ex­trem­ists in the Mid­dle East. White su­prem­a­cists in the US also dis­cussed the use of bioweapons

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