Al-Qaida-linked terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah could try to launch biological or chemical attacks against US allies and secular Muslim governments in Asia using widely available materials, security experts warned today.
Jemaah Islamiyah is believed to be exploiting anti-western sentiment over Iraq to recruit new members and raise funds that could be used obtain or develop such weapons, top Japanese security official Shinsuke Shimizu told a conference on terrorism in Kuala Lumpur.
“There are several warning signs” that terrorists could be planning biological or chemical attacks in Asia, said Shimizu, the director for international counterterrorism co-operation at Japan’s Foreign Ministry.
“The most realistic threat comes from al-Qaida and its associate groups.”
Warning signs include the discovery last October of manuals on bioterrorism at a Jemaah Islamiyah hideout in the southern Philippines, and the arrest in June 2003 of a man who tried to sell cesium 137 – a radioactive material used in industry that could be used to make so-called “dirty bombs.”
Zainal Abidin Zain, the director-general of the US-backed Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counterterrorism, said terrorists may try to adapt chemicals that are widely available commercially for use in weapons.
“Deadly chemical agents, including various insecticides, industrial chemicals and potent toxins are relatively easy to produce or acquire,” he said. Also, “It is possible to harvest deadly pathogens from nature with unsophisticated equipment and limited expertise.
“The probability of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorist attacks cannot be overlooked,” said Zain.