Again yesterday, Sunday, there are reports coming out of Iraq that IS are targeting civilians, police and the Iraqi Army with improvised Chemical Weapons (CW) in the form of Chlorine bombs. This is now the fourth claim of chlorine use in Iraq in the last 4 weeks and there have been a total of 18 alleged chlorine attacks in Syria since 20 Aug 14 when the US began a series of airstrikes against IS. Secretary Kerry called for an investigation last Friday. I was in Syria only four weeks ago with moderates from the Muslim Brotherhood of the Free Syrian Army--who are very proud that they have already defeated IS in NW Syria, and they continue the fight against Assad and the regime which they see as the equal to IS in evilness. Also last week there were many and varied claims of chemical use by IS to prevent the loss of Kobane to the Syrian Kurds. There was much talk about IS use of CW and I met with doctors from all across Syria who described the palpable fear of civilians to chlorine attack which has sapped their moral. I was there to show them how to avoid becoming a casualty to this not very toxic and readily available chemical. Talk of biological weapons was rife among my Syrian doctors and it is well documented that the Regime declared the biological toxin RICIN to the UN and OPCW in Oct 13. There is also talk of biological terrorism on the back of the rampaging fear being caused by the Ebola outbreak--IS claim to be developing a biological weapon based on Bubonic Plague, aka Black Death, which wiped out half of Europe in the Middle Ages, but is now, thankfully, easily treated with antibiotics and other medicines.
I believe IS will continue to use chlorine as a terror weapon in Iraq and Syria, especially as it loses ground in the fight with the Coalition. It is possible that they [IS] might try similar use outside the region as chlorine is readily available but the chances of a spectacular in UK or US are in my opinion pretty low. There is a good chance that nobody would notice and there are likely to be few casualties. However, the biological terror front could be different if the public let themselves be terrified by the thought of viruses out of control. The ‘white powder’ menace common in the US and Europe, where disgruntled employees, lone wolves and others send letters allegedly containing RICIN or ANTHRAX still creates business interruption and affects employee welfare, despite the fact that 99% are hoaxes and there are very few if any casualties. The talk of an Ebola suicide bomber should equally be dismissed as over-hyped fantasy. Any IS or other terrorist who went to West Africa to pick up the disease would be long dead before they could detonate in New York or London to spread the disease. Very unlikely as both these scenarios are, sensible mitigation will provide a very high level of resilience and assurance against these threats for the general public, and public/commercial institutions.
-- Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE MD CBRN of Avon Protection Systems will be at the CBRNe Convergence in Long Island NY, Oct 28-30. 2014
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