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Al-Qaeda Operatives Discussed WMD Attacks While Training Prior to 9/11, Report Says

Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, al-Qaeda operatives training in Afghanistan considered methods of conducting large-scale attacks involving weapons of mass destruction, according to a report released today by a U.S. commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks (see GSN, June 2).

Al-Qaeda training camps in then-Taliban controlled Afghanistan “created a climate in which trainees and other personnel were free to think creatively about ways to commit mass murder,” the report states. Such measures, according to the report, included taking control of a missile launcher and forcing Russian scientists to fire a nuclear-armed missile at the United States, using mustard gas or cyanide in attacks against Jewish areas in Iran, pumping poisoned gas into a building through its air-conditioning system, and hijacking and crashing an airliner into an airport terminal or nearby city.

“Trainees in the camps did not focus solely on causing the deaths of enemies,” the report says, noting that many al-Qaeda operatives expressed an eagerness to conduct suicide-type attacks.

The commission also warned today that al-Qaeda continues to explore ways to conduct WMD attacks. The terrorist group is still attempting to obtain a nuclear weapon, and remains interested in conducting attacks with a “dirty bomb,” which combines radiological material and conventional explosives, the report says. It also says that al-Qaeda might attempt to conduct a chemical attack in the future by using common industrial chemicals, or by attacking a chemical plant or hazardous material shipment. 

In addition, U.S. officials believe that “one of the most immediate threats” is that al-Qaeda might conduct a biological attack using anthrax, the report says (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States release, June 16).

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