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Is al-Qaida stealing bioweapons from Assad?

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor
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Al-Qaida is trying to obtain biological weapons from the ruins of Syrian government laboratories, and may already have access to “biological pathogens or weaponized agents.”

A new report by the conservative, British-based Henry Jackson Society says that al-Qaida-aligned groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria are ransacking bio-research and pharmaceutical facilities, many of which are fronts for the Assad regime’s biological weapons program.

“The Syrian civil war has left sections of the bio-pharmaceutical infrastructure destroyed and looting of labs has been observed,” the report alleges, “which could indicate that Assad is losing command and control over one of the most dangerous classes of weapons remaining in his weapons of mass destruction arsenal.”

In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a hotbed of jihadist rebels, “a very credible source” confirmed that he saw a looted pharmaceutical laboratory, “which was probably a cover for a biological weapons production site.”

And in February, the Syrian government arrested al-Qaida’s chief bioweapons expert, Yazid Suffat, as he tried to enter the country.

“The issue of al-Qaida (AQ) acquiring biological weapons has so far been a remote preoccupation of Western intelligence services,” the report says. “However, with the Syrian crisis and the potential acquisition of biological weapons by AQ, the issue is now a clear and present danger.”

The Syrian government’s biological weapons program was finally confirmed by American intelligence in March of this year, but it has been in existence for decades. Because the stored pathogens can also be used for medical research, the program doesn’t fall under the United Nations disarmament mission currently underway in Syria.

Research facilities are spread out across the country and can be found in military bases, veterinary labs, pharmaceutical and agricultural laboratories, and public-health buildings. Their dispersed nature and low profile make them easy targets for looting and capture in Syria’s rebel-run north.

Experts are especially concerned about the possible theft of a particularly virulent smallpox strain allegedly kept by the Assad regime after a 1972 outbreak. Should al-Qaida terrorists manage to infect just a few individuals with this pathogen, the number of deaths could dwarf those caused by a chemical attack.

Al-Qaida has tried to create or obtain bioweapons for nearly two decades, running through a slew of scientists and chemists during their quest. The terror group has run experiments with anthrax, ricin, botilunum and even the bubonic plague.

In 2009, al-Qaida fighters in Algeria suddenly closed down their training camp and surrendered after allegedly mishandling bubonic plague samples. Algerian sources reported that as many as 40 terrorists succumbed to the illness before the remainder turned themselves in.

And in September 2011, deceased U.S.-born terror leader Anwar al-Awlaki said that “the use of chemical and biological weapons against population centers is allowed and is strongly recommended.”

The report fingers Europe as the most likely target for an al-Qaida biological attack, although it also said that the group’s Yemeni affiliate has considered targeting the United States with similar weapons.

“[A biological attack] could require drastic measures to be taken to counter the spread of an epidemic,” the authors conclude, warning that “quarantine, voluntary or otherwise” would be difficult to enact within a democratic society.

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Tags : syria
Brendan Bordelon