Dr. Jill Bellamy van Aalst is an international renowned Bio-warfare expert whom we have interviewed and published articles by her in both the NER and The Iconoclast blog. Recently we posted on a Dutch intelligence report concerning the threat of returning home grown Jihadis from the Syrian civil war. In this article, republished from Dr. Bellamy’s The Biowarfare Blog, Black Six, she assesses the potential bio-warfare threat posed by these returning Dutch jihadis.
“The tendency in our planning is to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered seriously looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be considered seriously.” — Thomas C. Shelling
European security services are quietly monitoring radicalized groups and returning jihadi fighters from Syria. The Netherlands has instituted new laws designed to criminalize travelling to war zones to fight jihad or commit acts of murder and terrorism. While the Dutch should be applauded in their efforts, it may ultimately prove irrelevant. According to French sources, “As things are now, it’s easy enough identifying just who is in Syria-or returned and are urging others to join the fight. But that’s bound to change when jihadi leaders in Syria and elsewhere decide to internationalize their fight, and order recruits to mask their identities and movements even before they leave to join Syrian militias.” “According to the French official, security forces across Europe anticipate jihadi leaders will instruct European fighters to take their holy war beyond the borders of Syria, once they return home from fighting Assad.” “Under most scenarios, they have little to lose by unleashing terror operative in Europe and would tend to view such activity as logical within their wider worldview,” That’s the one very bad way we don’t expect Syria to be much different from Afghanistan–except in possibly being an even bigger threat.” See: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2014/0422/Europe-keeps-wary-eye-on-jihadists-traveling-to-fight-in-Syria.
The problem however and the threat to Europe is multi-dimensional, particularly where biological weapons may be the next coveted and possibly preferred weapon of use in Europe by returning and trained jihadi fights and operatives; mainly due to deniability. While the current focus both of returning jihadi fighters and the services which monitor them, appears centered on conventional threats, the risk such fighters may be trained on chemical and biological weapons or deployment tactics suitable to releasing weaponized biological agents cannot be ignored; particularly in light of continued statements by Al Qaeda to use biological weapons against said targets. It may be naive to consider Al Qaeda would task inexperienced radicalized youth with deploying biological warfare agents in European cities, it is possible such Europeans may have been trained in deployment tactics, suitable to releasing weaponized biological agents and not the weapons itself. Such training could be undertaken at a later date and in different locations. Recalling too that “The use of biological weapons against population centers is allowed and is strongly recommended,” U.S. born Anwar-al Awlaki is quoted as saying in one of two issues of the Inspire Magazine. Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in September 2011.” See: http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20120503-alawlaki-posthumously-urges-biological-chemical-attacks-on-u-s
“According to counter-terrorism officials and independent experts, the number of newly radicalized European Muslims flocking to fight with jihadi militias in Syria more than doubled in 2013, as the war ground toward its fourth year.Though figures vary significantly, specialists’ estimates indicate between 2,000 and 3,000 Europeans are currently acquiring combat and explosives skills as part of their anti-Assad fighting. Virtually all are considered a formidable potential terror threat whose eventual return home is just a question of time.” See: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2014/0422/Europe-keeps-wary-eye-on-jihadists-traveling-to-fight-in-Syria
“MIT researchers have been studying how US international airports would affect a rapidly spreading disease epidemic to maybe one day help in dealing with a real situation. A number of relevant factors have been used in the simulation including how many planes come in and out of airports, their intersecting times, the patterns of passengers coming through and the geographic variety of the people int he airports. ” See: http://www.medgadget.com/2012/07/in-silico-study-of-role-of-airports-during-disease-epidemics-video.html
The use of biological agents in a multi-state attack would surely give Al Qaeda the spectacular type of attack it has been calling for since 911. Perhaps concern should be raised as well that the networking of such radicals and operatives (I draw a distinction, with the later being professionally trained and instructed in intelligence operations), increases the risk that unconventional weapons will be selected for use in Europe; and that such networking increases the potential for a well orchestrated multi-state attack. Biological weapons are well suited for enclosed mass transit infrastructures which run unimpeded across Europe i.e. trains, subway systems, air transport.
A well orchestrated multi-state attack which introduced disease into a number of commuting infrastructures could exponentially increase the attack and give Al Qaeda more bang for their buck. Health surveillance systems which are fairly robust in some European countries are almost non-existent in others. Such inconsistencies are known by Al Qaeda and would certainly be exploitable. Selected points of release which included rapid transit in countries with minimal bio-defence capabilities would likely succeed. Even a small train station or a line which runs to a major train station could be quite vulnerable to this type of deployment. Additionally, as is usually incorporated into war-games and scenarios (see Atlantic Storm: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1369238/) , staged releases of BW, weeks apart using different locations and transit veins throughout Europe, perhaps with a focus on the Balkan states, would be likely to produce higher numbers of casualties.
While a number of suspected AQ terrorist attacks involving trains has been a major concern in Europe, the threat appears to be a conventional one. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/10251941/Al-Qaeda-planning-attacks-on-Europe-rail-lines.html
The risk of radicalized European fighters returning from Syria, fighters who know their local transport infrastructures and who may have networked with operational AQ members, exists that they might become involved in wider and complex plots involving unconventional weapons using, conventional means. European transportation infrastructures are highly vulnerable to this type of attack.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.