A suspected Taliban operative in Afghanistan claimed recently that the group was working on a bomb that would disperse anthrax, the London Daily Express reported Sunday (see GSN, Jan. 26).
"We use anthrax so when a bomb explodes it produces a toxic cloud," Mullah Doud, a regional commander, said when interviewed last week by a British television news team inside an explosives production site at Tora Bora.
Extremist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda have not yet demonstrated the capability to weaponize biological agents such as anthrax or smallpox. However, one expert said the threat must be taken seriously.
"Anthrax is an effective weapon and producing it needs only basic levels of biology and chemistry," said Paul Wilkinson, a professor at the Center for Terrorism Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland.
"There are certainly extreme elements within the Taliban, those loyal to al-Qaeda, who would not think twice about this method. However, there is a wide chasm between producing anthrax and using it effectively in homemade bombs," Wilkinson asserted.
"Japanese terrorists had intended to use anthrax on the Tokyo metro in 1995. They experimented with it extensively but in the end opted for the nerve agent sarin. This shows that it is not an easy substance to control," he added (see GSN, March 12).
It remains possible that militants aim to use weapons that incorporate unconventional materials, said Col. Richard Kemp, a previous leader of British military forces in Afghanistan. "In Iraq chlorine was the flavor of choice," he said (see GSN, July 2, 2007).
British troops deployed to Afghanistan are not outfitted with biological, chemical or nuclear defensive equipment, however the gear is accessible if needed, the Daily Express reported (Marco Giannegeli, London Daily Express, March 14).