Currently, the threat of terrorists’ organizations use of chemical or biological agents to cause havoc is raising public concern, not only in the United States, but also around the world, as well. Since the agents are normally dispersed in the air, they lead to mass casualties as they either affect the body contact surfaces or cause the deterioration of the general nervous system.
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The potential for future terrorists use of such weapons has been heightened by past attacks such as the anthrax mailings in the U.S. that sickened twenty-two individuals and lead to the death of five between September and November, 2001. Since the worldwide threat of terrorists’ use of chemical and biological weapons is undeniably real, certain motivating factors have increased the potential for their likely use.
To begin with, terrorists’ capability to attack has been enhanced by state sponsorship of their activities. In spite of the total ban on bio-chem agents in international law, some countries are still believed to harbor aspirations of possessing biological and chemical weapons capability, which terrorists’ organizations either can acquire readily through purchasing or be given freely (Chandra, 2003). Some states are also providing a ‘safe haven’ for the operation of terror organizations.
They do this by means of negligence, inefficient law enforcement or lack of total territorial control of their borders. Such attributes inadvertently increase the potential of the terrorists’ use of bio-chem weapons. More so, this ‘safe haven’ has led to the sharp increase in the emergence of militant religious terrorists, which are driven by the urge to kill a large number of people since they label their victims as heretics or infidels and thus not fit to be alive.
During this decade, there have been increased terrorists attacks executed by individuals with religion-based animus. This substantiates the panic that terrorists acts based on extreme religious convictions is more predominant than in earlier years; therefore, they can use bio-chem weapons to fulfill their motives.
Changes due to globalization have led to easy access of sensitive information that was previously difficult to acquire. Similar to the rest of the world, terror organizations have access to the enormous amount of technical information readily available in the World Wide Web, and this has increased their capability of developing weapons of mass destruction that previously was only possible by the use of the extensive resources of a state (Cronin, 2003, p.6).
In addition to al Qaeda, other terror groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hezbollah, Hamas, and World Tamil Movement, have established their interests in obtaining unconventional agents of destruction. Similarly, the disintegration of the Soviet Union resulted in greater availability of materials and expertise of unconventional weapons.
The increased movement of individuals, technological information, products, and services across borders due to the breakdown of geographical constraints has further led to less control of bio-chem weapons by the governments.
In this century, it is likely that a terror group can execute a biological or chemical attack and fail to take responsibility for it. This is because terror groups tend to concentrate on issues that have less local and concrete political effects, rather than those that are spurred by certain ideologies.
The occurrence of a catastrophic anonymous attack is likely to raise the dilemma of whether the outbreak was due to terrorism or simply a natural disaster. For instance, releasing the deadly Ebola virus in Washington, D.C. would at once be perceived to be an act of terrorism.
However, the salmonella attacks executed by the Rajneeshees cult remained undiscovered until when one of the perpetrators confessed to the offense one year later (Shea & Gottron, 2004, p.42). This illustrates that terror groups may carry out an attack, using a disease found within a country, and opt to covert.
Recently, as religiously-oriented organizations have increased their commonality of interests to develop ties across previously divisive ideological ethnic and national lines, the nature of international terrorists’ acts have transformed in dangerous ways.
Even though most traditional organizations continue in their struggles, terror groups in disparate geographical areas have increased their ties in reaction to American global policies and cultural practices; thus, the area for potential recruits has been broadened than it could have been for a traditional separatist organization sustained only with the assistance of its local constituency.
Moreover, the growth of international terrorism has resulted in a greater distance between terror organizations and targets. This has led to erosion of moral and political constraints, with less fear of potentially dishonoring a homeland or murdering potential constituents; therefore, emergence of global terrorism can unfortunately give an indication of an increase in just the sorts of motivational factors that have made terror organizations to consider using chemical and biological weapons.
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Based on evidence that has been brought forward by various experts, there are clear indications that most contemporary terror organizations have developed interests in the acquisition and use of biological and chemical weapons (Cordesman & Eisenhower, 2005). Notably, al Qaeda and its allies have publicly expressed there interest of developing such weapons and using them to create havoc in the United States soil.
Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, has apparently made efforts to acquire the weapons saying that it is a ‘religious duty.’ The 11th volume of the group’s 5,000-page “Encyclopedia of Jihad” is dedicated to giving details on how to develop the biological and chemical weapons.
In addition, there are several proven instances in the open press in which terror groups try to acquire the weapons, for example, trace amounts of cyanide and other chemicals were found during the operations in Afghanistan and in 2001, CNN found 64 al Qaeda video tapes found on the same.
It appears that the increased desire to acquire biological and chemical weapons is driven by the motive to cause widespread economic damage or exhibit might and increase political support or leverage. In addition, they may also be motivated by the urge to copy the activities of other terror groups or imitate the technological abilities of a country. If causing numerous deaths is the intended goal, then chemical and biological agents are not the efficient means of achieving this.
These weapons are usually more effective in increasing anxiety and panic than leading to the death of a high number of people. To achieve a high number of deaths, there has to be ideal weather conditions, temperature conditions and others, which are difficult to realize. Regardless of this, terrorists acts are psychological weapons intended to achieve political objectives.
A successful terrorist attack by the use of chemical or biological agents poses some obstacles. First, the technicalities involved in successfully achieving such an end are still significant. Even though a terror group might have money, facilities, and knowledge, it can still experience problems ranging from acquiring biological seed cultures to disseminating them efficiently to chemical leaks and accidents. However, the advance in technology that has occurred in the world has somewhat reduced this obstacle.
Second, compared to conventional weapons, chemical and biological weapons are not considered the most worrisome threat. As mentioned above, terrorists usually have some other reasons for using them, not necessarily to cause mass destruction. It is worth noting that the historic 9/11 attacks caused many deaths without their use. However, there are some relatively easier ways of executing such attacks.
For example, experts are investigating the possibility of the ease with which terror groups can carry out attacks by polluting food sources so as to deliver tainted products to the end users. In addition, terrorists can also manipulate life science technologies for causing destruction. If such attacks could occur, the detection of the culprits behind the deliberate contamination might not be an easy task.
To this end, it is likely that biological or chemical agents of mass destruction can be used to carry out terrorist attacks in any country in the world. The attack can either be on a large or small scale depending on the goals of the terrorists. It can be in small scale if it is intended to create general panic within the population and on large scale if is intended to create widespread destruction. This calls for enactment of radical measures that can prevent the terrorists’ from obtaining or accessing these dangerous unconventional weapons.
Chandra, R. (2003). Potentials of world terrorism. Delhi: Kalpaz Publ.
Cordesman, A. H., & Eisenhower, D. D. (2005). The challenge of biological terrorism: when to “cry wolf”, what to cry, and how to cry it. Washington, D.C.: CSIS.
Cronin, A. K. (2003). Terrorist Motivations for Chemical and Biological Weapons Use. Congressional Research Service. Web.
Shea, D. A., & Gottron, F. (2004). Small-scale Terrorist Attacks Using Biological and Chemical Agents. Congressional Research Service. Web.