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France issues warning of Islamic State chemical/biological attack

Last Sunday’s Lisa Benson Show had a segment on the possible Chemical and Biological threat posed by ISIS to  Europe and the West in the wake of the November 13th Massacres in Paris and the battle in the predominately Muslim St. Denis banlieuse suburb.  Belgium and especially Brussels continues under lockdown as there could be another series of devastating attacks by ISIS operatives given the significant presence in the significant Muslim population with radicalized  elements in suburban Molenbeek. On the Lisa Benson Show segment we asked why French Premier Manuel Valls had raised concerns over possible ISIS operatives use of chemical and biological agents?  Dr. Jill Bellamy, noted bio-warfare threat reduction expert, whom we have interviewed in the NER, provided some answers. See our January 2013 interview her, The Dangers of Syria’s Bio-Warfare Complex Should Assad Fall.

Following the program, Dr. Bellamy posted her assessment of what triggered Valls ‘comments; the theft of bio-protection suits and threats to France water supply system.  See her Biological Warfare blog post, “France and Belgium Prepare for CBW Attacks While Europe Sleeps.”

In May 2013, we posted on the possible terrorist to U.S. water supply systems after two incidents had occurred. We refer to the arrest and arraignment by federal prosecutors in Manhattan of Ahmed Abassi, a Tunisian national and chemical engineering graduate of Laval University in Quebec, on Asylum fraud and an alleged WMD attack on a municipal water system, the Quabbin reservoir in Massachusetts.  The possible biological agent involved is cryptosporidium (Crypto).  We noted:

In the U.S. we have had two mass Crypto outbreaks in water supply systems in Carrollton, Georgia in 1987 and in Milwaukee in 1993.  The Georgia outbreak affected 13,000 out of 16,000 residents.  Because the Milwaukee water supply system draws from Lake Michigan, Crypto pathogens might have entered from drainage or in ice breakup during the early spring.  In the Milwaukee case, the epidemiologists and public health specialists estimate that more than 400,000 succumbed to Crypto causing massive outbreaks of watery diarrhea over a period of two weeks or more.  108 deaths occurred involving those with immune deficiencies from cancer treatment, AIDS and other maladies. Within immunocompromised communities, exposure frequently leads to severe and permanent diarrhea, decreasing absorption of nutrients resulting in progressive dehydration and eventual death.

Here are excerpts from Dr. Bellamy’s Biological Warfare post.

On the missing bio-protection suits and Eau de Paris water supply.

While France and Belgium prepare their populations for continued terrorist attacks and the possible use of chemical or biological weapons, other EU states avoid the obvious conclusion that a prepared public is better than an unprepared one. Several smaller states, excluding Spain and Germany, continue the drum beat that there is no significant threat to them or their civilian populations. In study after study this has not been proven to be the case and public preparedness has been shown to reduce casualties. PM Valls statement on the bio-chem threat was in part motivated by the apparent loss of several bio-chem suits from a Paris hospital. While its possible these suits were misplaced or that inventory lists were incorrect, and warnings are not based singularly on bio-chem suits being unaccounted for, the French have taken appropriate measures.  Belgium has increased security at its nuclear facilities and France has increased protection for water supply facilities taking note of analysis by French intelligence  that ISIS is capable of producing crude chemical agents.

“Eau de Paris, the capital’s state-run water company, has banned access to six sensitive sites to all but key personnel following the Government’s decision to declare a state of emergency for three months.”Our eight security agents are the only ones to be accredited by the defense ministry and are in permanent contact with the terrorism cell of Paris police headquarters,” a spokesman told Le Parisien.” “The storage and treatment sites have protective fencing and special sensors to detect intrusion. To limit the risk of contamination, Eau de Paris has increase the amount of chlorine added to water at five supply sites.” “The dose injected has been raised,” said Celia Blauel, president of Eau de Paris. Chlorine is a key indicator of any anomaly in the water. “When the chlorine level drops, it means there is a biological contamination.” she said.” 

“It emerged last week that hospitals and emergency services across France have been supplied with the most powerful antidote to sarin and other nerve gas chemicals for the first time. Under a November 14 decree, the army’s medical service was ordered to distribute stocks of the drug atropine. Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said that the country could rule nothing out when it came to terrorists bent on mass murder, including “chemical and biological weapons”.

On French and Belgian CBW intelligence and threat reduction capabilities.

The security services of both France and Belgium are to be commended. Both countries share similar population demographics and have extensive experience with terrorism. Additionally, they have both worked, since 911, to prepare their populations for such bio-chem attacks, some of these scenarios I developed and ran myself with their government officials in attendance. Far from being the weakest link, as some media outlets have portrayed the situation, they are in fact the best prepared within the EU to counter such threats.  The weakest link are those countries who have not prepared their public, are currently bombing IS and have announced it on the nightly news without one moment of thought to the risk they have placed their population in and no counter-terrorism or counter intelligence experience to fall back on.

In 2005, French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin called for international cooperation against bioterrorism at an Interpol meeting in Lyon. He promoted the idea of creating a joint database and a rapid alert network for theft, diversion and illegal transfer of biological agents, as well as a list of designated groups and individuals of concern. De Villepin also proposed the creation of an international center for monitoring bio terrorist threats. Mr. de Villepin went on to plead for a better coordination of Biotox style (the French government response to the deliberate introduction of the smallpox virus) plans at European level. “Why not to imagine for example a European reaction plan against a biological attack?”he asked. Furthermore, he added, the EU should initiative an update on reserves of vaccines so that each country knows the nearest country to turn to in case of emergency.” See: http://cordis.europa.eu/news/rcn/23453_en.html.
For over a decade the French government has established itself as the gold standard when it comes to bio-security, bio-safety and certainly countering, on the ground threats from would be bio-terrorists. In 2003, French authorities discovered ricin like substances in Gare du Lyon train station. Subsequently nine suspects of North African descent, who had trained in the Pankisi Gorge and were associated with AQ were arrested. While this is just one high profile example of a possible bio-threat, the French have developed outstanding and what I would describe as comprehensive capabilities to counter the threat of bio-terrorism. This depth of expertise offers a lot from which Member States within the EU could well benefit.

As well, as we trust the U.S. and UK bio-terrorism threat reduction programs.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Assessment: The Islamic State’s Chemical and Biological Threat to Europe

French Premier Valls this week raised concerns about the possible threat of ISIS’ use of CBRN in Europe. The Daily Mail reported:

France’s prime minister has warned his country to be prepared for chemical and biological attacks as he told MPs that the ‘macabre imagination’ of ISIS is ‘limitless’.

Manuel Valls made the ominous prediction while calling on French MPs to extend the country’s state of emergency for another three months, amid fears another attack is imminent.

The warning comes as U.S. security officials report that they have found proof that ISIS is developing bio-weapons with the help of Syrian and Iraqi scientists in the Middle East.

Speaking in the French Parliament today, Mr Valls said: ‘Terrorism hit France, not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria… but for what it is.’

He added: ‘We must not rule anything out. I say it with all the precautions needed.

But we know and bear in mind that there is also a risk of chemical or bacteriological weapons.

DrJillBellamy

Dr. Jill Bellamy

In late July, 2015, noted  Syrian bio-warfare expert, Dr. Jill Bellamy,  wrote about that possibility in a post on Black Six: The BioWarfare Blog Europe at Risk: Assessing ISIS’ Current Chemical and Biological Weapon Capabilities “.  Our New English Review interviews with noted biological warfare expert Dr. Jill Bellamy revealed the Assad regime’s extensive dual use pharmaceutical research and production facilities for development of  Class A Pathogens, “The Dangers of Syria’s Bio-Warfare Complex Should Assad Fall (Jan. 2013.”   Listen to Dr. Bellamy discuss ISIS’ CBW capabilities on the Sunday, November 22, Lisa Benson Show that airs at 3PM EST.
Here are some excerpts from Dr. Bellamy’s post:

“On June 20th, 2015, The Independent ran an article entitled: “ISIS Dirty Bomb: Jihadists have seized Enough Radioactive Material to build their First WMD.” Adam Withnall reports: “The ISIS militant group has seized enough radioactive material from government facilities to suggest it has the capability to build a large and devastating “dirty” bomb, according to Australian intelligence reports. ISIS declared its ambition to develop weapons of mass destruction in the most recent edition of its propaganda magazine Dabiq, and Indian defense officials have previously warned of the possibility the militants could acquire a nuclear weapon from Pakistan. According to the Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop, NATO has expressed deep concerns about the material seized by ISIS from research centers and hospitals that would normally only be available to governments.” Withnall goes on to report in his article that:

“The threat of ISIS’s radioactive and biological weapon stockpile was so severe that the Australia Group, a 40 nation bloc dedicated to ending the use of chemical weapons, held a session on the subject at its summit in Perth last week.”

According to a post on Nuclear Security Matters, a Harvard University site, Nate Sans posits in his article entitled: How much of a Nuclear, Chemical or Biological Threat Might ISIS Pose (Part II)? “ISIS may have the monetary means and the necessary equipment to organize and carry out a sophisticated attack in another count; therefore there is a real danger that they might be able to seize CBRN materials or tech, or inflict catastrophic damage to a facility such as a nuclear power plant. It is worth noting that ISIS includes hundreds of fighters from Europe and North America, who can travel in Europe and the United States without needing a visa.”

National Defense published an article recently which, if true, provides a bit of insight on IS biological weapon aspirations and capabilities. In “ISIL Determined to Acquire Biological Weapons,” Sara Sicard writes: “Intelligence has recently discovered that ISIS intends to pursue biological agents and also is trying to figure out how to weaponize bubonic plague through the use of infected animals,” quoting Brig. Gen. Maria Gervais, Gervais is head of the Army’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School.”

It would appear given ISIS, like Al Qaeda’s quest for BW is underway. The difference with ISIS is they have the financial means to attract and acquire higher level scientists and control areas where they could test it possibly on human subjects, thereby forgoing the need to waste money on developing animal models and could effectively deploy it in a mass casualty scenario.

The capability issue is a concern should they overtake the SSRC in Damascus and install a scientific team with knowledge of synthetic biology. Much of the research undertaken at the SSRC is research into novel pathogens and deployment techniques. This would give ISIS a state warfare capability. I believe they are currently interested but not capable.  With chemical warfare agents they are already using it and should they acquire VX or sarin both in Assad’s former declared stockpiles they could easily transport this over land to Europe and deploy it around a city center.  Governments generally downplay the ease of use but in fact CW in smaller quantities transported by several couriers with EU passports would be doable.

BW is even easier as the quantity doesn’t matter as much as the quality of pathogenic agent and some agents don’t need to be weaponized.  The first deployment of a biological warfare agent in Europe will be a wakeup call to all states who continue to believe they are for some reason exempt from such attacks.

The real risk any ISIS WMD program posses to Europe is the dismissal by European governments that such an attack would ever occur. It is the denial and disbelief that ISIS could possess such a capability and their intent to use it which is the biggest threat to European populations.” 

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.