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Terror by Chemical Bombs

Is a chemical bomb the next weapon of choice that al-Qaeda groups will use on the United States, the United Kingdom and continental Europe? There are strong indications that it is! Specialized al-Qaeda training camps turned out multiple hundreds of terrorists capable of producing such bombs. These people in turn trained even more in the chemistry of killing.

by Cecil Maranville

Are al-Qaeda and its shadowy branch groups even now planning to use horrible chemical weapons against targets in the Middle East, Europe and the United States? The evidence that they are is mounting steadily.

While visiting the United States in mid-April, Jordanian King Abdullah rocked the world with the revelation that his country's security service foiled a terrorist plot to kill up to 80,000 people with chemical agents. The carefully orchestrated scheme was thwarted just in time to avert a colossal disaster, which, in the king's words, "would have decapitated the government."

The primary target was the nation's General Intelligence Department, an intelligence service of world renown. The conventional blast and the chemicals it dispersed would have killed for a radius of about a half mile.

Secondary targets were the prime minister's offices and the U.S. embassy, on which the terrorists were intending to use poison gas.

Authorities stopped five trucks loaded with 17.5 tons of explosives and intercepted at least one car owned by the terrorists, loaded with a chemical bomb and poison gas. The car was captured 75 miles from the Syrian border. King Abdullah said his country believes the terrorists came from Syria, although that government denies it. (The king was careful to point out that Jordan did not believe that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had any knowledge of the plot.)

Although greatly underreported, U.S. weapons inspector David Kay said in March that his investigation showed Iraq moved many components of its weapons of mass destruction program to Syria before the coalition forces invaded Iraq last spring.

A Syrian journalist, Nizar Nayuf, wrote the same thing in the Dutch De Telegraaf a few weeks before Kay's comments. Nayuf produced a letter from an Iraqi source detailing the transfer and the storage locations for the weapons.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

The Jordanians' success in stopping the mass murder by terror began with the arrest of two terrorists in early April. They pointed to the militant Islamic terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the mastermind. The United States has a $10 million reward out on al-Zarqawi because of his terrorist activities in Iraq.

Just a few days before this writing, al-Zarqawi posted a message on an Arab Web site, encouraging Sunnis in Iraq to "burn the earth under the [foreign] occupiers' feet" (Mark Huband, "Terrorist Chemical Threat 'Worse Than Suspected,'" Financial Times, April 11, 2004).

This same al-Zarqawi is believed to be the mastermind of the Madrid bombing that led to the replacement of the pro-coalition government in Spain.

Is the man knowledgeable about chemical weaponry? Absolutely. He taught classes in chemical warfare at an al-Qaeda training camp in Herat, Afghanistan, in 2000 and 2001. And he ran the al-Qaeda training camp in northern Iraq that coalition forces took out in early 2003.

Britons prevent chemical terror attack on London

Other disturbing pieces of intelligence are slowly emerging from a sweeping raid conducted by British antiterrorism police on March 30, 2004. Ten people were arrested: eight Britons of Pakistani origin, another of Algerian origin and one Canadian. Hundreds of officers participated in the evidence search of 24 London locations, acting on telephone intercepts by GCHQ (the British electronic eavesdropping intelligence agency)—with possible help from the U.S. National Security Agency.

Those intercepts showed serious intent to acquire and use a chemical agent, osmium tetroxide (OsO4), in terrorist attacks on crowded public places, including Gatwick airport and the London subway. Attacks were not limited to the United Kingdom, for the plotters discussed U.S. targets, too, including the Sears Tower in Chicago.

(The Sears Tower had been among the sought-after targets for 9/11's bombing with hijacked commercial aircraft. Some terrorism experts note that al-Qaeda's persistence with the World Trade Center, after initially failing to destroy it in a 1993 bombing, indicates that the group will return to a missed target.)

Because of obvious problems in using OsO4 as a weapon, it's been generally discounted as an unlikely possibility. The largest deterrents to using OsO4 are: (1) it is expensive to purchase; (2) even though it has legitimate commercial uses, its sale is closely monitored; (3) it is dangerous for the bomb maker to work with; (4) the damage it causes doesn't compare to what could be done through a radiological device—in other words, it wouldn't be terrorizing enough to make it worth the trouble.

Osmium tetroxide—an insidious killer

That's not to say it wouldn't terrorize the public. It can indeed terrorize, and antiterrorism authorities have long been aware of its potential as a weapon. The effects of OsO4 are similar to the old blister agents, producing chemical burns to the skin, irritating the eyes and throat, causing dizziness and headaches.

But the real evil of OsO4 is that it works undetected for hours after exposure, causing effects that the victims are unaware of until too late. OsO4 will turn the cornea of the eye to brown or black, causing permanent blindness. Even more seriously, again over several hours, it slowly causes the lungs to fill with fluid and brings about the same type of death as a severe asthma attack. That is what is known as "dryland drowning."

Compared to deadly sarin gas (used to kill 12 and injure 5,000 in a terrorist attack on five Tokyo subway lines in 1995), victims have to inhale a great deal more OsO4 to suffer fatal effects. But sarin, like VX and many other chemical agents, is hard to aerosolize. OsO4 isn't. It vaporizes from its typical solid gel-like form the instant it comes in contact with the air. (A person can suffer its terrible effects just by opening a container of OsO4.) In a broad comparison with sarin, then, OsO4 is equally as deadly.

OsO4 is easy to absorb. It can be taken in by breathing, contact with the skin and through the eyes or any other mucous membrane. But these properties work against its effectiveness for a terrorist, too, because it is just as easily absorbed by other things, including rubber, plants and cooking oil.

Unlike radioactive material, there's no residual threat from OsO4, and it is easily cleaned up—further characteristics terrorists should find unattractive about the substance.

In an explosion, such as the British terrorists apparently intended to use to disperse OsO4, the chemical could actually have oxidized, rendering it useless.

Finally, as noted above, it's quite costly to buy. So why, in spite of the many downsides to it, were these terrorists planning to use osmium tetroxide?

Why use a dangerous and costly agent?

Let's look at the fact of its expense. A reality of state-sponsored terrorism and al-Qaeda's businesslike structure is that terrorists have considerable financial means to accomplish their wicked missions. They can afford costly weapons. (Al-Qaeda put out a statement recently that they had purchased two suitcase nuclear devices—if true, they paid in the millions of dollars for each one.)

Let's look at two more facts—that OsO4 is tightly controlled and dangerous to work with. In January of 2004, French antiterrorist police arrested five people on suspicion of plotting terrorism. Two of them confessed to a plan to use ricin poison and botulinum bacteria in attacks on Russian targets in France. The investigation uncovered the fact that one of the five was highly skilled in the production of chemical substances for weapons use.

So they had the means to obtain or manufacture, and the knowledge to use, chemical weapons. In a Financial Times interview, a senior French counterterrorism official warned: "We have seriously underestimated the terrorists' willingness and capacity to develop chemical weapons" (ibid., Mark Huband).

Where do they get such training, and what is the Russian connection? The terrorist with training in chemical warfare arrested by the French learned his skills in Chechnya. Hence the reason for targeting Russian interests—the terrorists sympathized with the al-Qaeda-connected terrorists in Chechnya.

But that's not the only place for training in chemical warfare. At least one other source, a Pakistani Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Toiba, is knowledgeable about chemical weaponry and has trained other groups within the al-Qaeda network.

As mentioned above, al-Qaeda had a training camp (maybe more than one) in Afghanistan to teach the chemistry that kills. Antiterrorist specialists now suspect that there is a wide network of such specialists who can aid each other in their goals—without detection through normal monitoring channels. Because their network is nearly impossible to break into, antiterrorist police know only part of the unsettling picture.

Were the London fanatics dumb?

Some suggest that the London terrorists knew only a little chemistry and did not know that they would likely destroy their osmium tetroxide by exploding a conventional bomb to disperse it. Were they ignorant? Were they on a fool's errand?

I'm not so sure. What if they intended to release the OsO4 after a conventional explosion? That is, after the first responders (police, firefighters and EMTs) came to the aid of the victims? Such timing would maximize the effect of the osmium tetroxide by redoubling the terror on the survivors of the initial explosion and targeting the first responders.

There's more intelligence from the French arrests. This group also had connections to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is proving to be a criminal of colossal proportions. The day King Abdullah announced the foiled terrorist chemical attack, Jordan's state security court sentenced al-Zarqawi (and seven others) to death at an in-absentia trial for the 2002 murder of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman.

Clearly, al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda's fingerprints are all over the world—and the horrific specter of chemical weapons along with them. I am not so quick to assume that anyone associated with the evil gang was wasting time and money. They may have been crazy like a fox.

Implications from what we see and from prophecy

The implications are that terrorists will indeed use chemical bombs in future assaults. As 9/11 demonstrated, a single terrorist attack can strike a crippling blow to the strongest economies in the world. As "3/11" (the bombing of Madrid trains on March 11, 2004) demonstrated, a single terrorist attack can apparently bring down a government. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's thugs nearly did it again in Jordan in April—only a month after their success in Spain.

They are clearly capable of planning multiple operations at the same time, in part, because terror cells are trained to operate independently of each other. At the same time, they can draw upon each other for resources, as necessary.

The U.S. security forces are gearing up to guard against possible attacks just before the presidential elections in November. Greece is bracing itself for possible attacks on Israelis, Americans and others at the Olympics in August of this year. The EU recently appointed an antiterrorist "czar" to coordinate European defenses against terror.

Yet, as Western government and security officials repeatedly warn their citizens, the defensive network must be right 100 percent of the time, whereas the terrorists have to meet their objective only once.

Terrorism has redefined the economies of the world, as untold trillions have been lost in revenues and/or spent on defensive measures. Terrorism has also redefined the political structure of many nations, for a given government's stand on antiterror efforts looms large in the minds of the electorate.

How does that dovetail with Bible prophecy?

The Bible foretells three shifts of seismic proportions in the geopolitical landscape:

(1) The modern inheritors of the wealth God promised to biblical Israel will suffer mortal defeat. Those nations are principally the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
(2) Much of Europe will coalesce into a sovereign entity, capable of dominating the world's economy and of marshalling armies to go to any place in the world they are needed.
(3) Another entity, identified only as the king of the South (Daniel 11:40), will provoke the European superpower to sweep into and take over the Middle East. Terrorist attacks on European targets may well be the catalyst that incites Europe to take this action.

We publish several booklets that present in easily understood language the Bible's warnings on these subjects: The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy, You Can Understand Bible Prophecy, Are We Living in the Time of the End?, The Book of Revelation Unveiled and The Middle East in Bible Prophecy.

Consider the present evidence:

One can only conclude that chemical bombs will indeed be used successfully, and soon... WNP

 

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