Al-Qaeda and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Sammy Salama and Lydia Hansell

The prospect of terrorists deploying weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is often referred to as the

foremost danger to American national security. This danger has become more realistic because of

al-Qaeda’s expanding global network and the expressed willingness to kill thousands of civilians.

In the past four years, numerous media reports have documented the group’s ongoing quest for

WMD capabilities; many reports have detailed al-Qaeda members’ attempts to manufacture or

obtain certain chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents to use in WMD

against targets in the West and the Middle East. Yet the question remains: Does al-Qaeda’s current

WMD capability match its actual intent? While most studies of the group have focused on its

explicit desire for WMD, allegations of CBRN acquisition, and the killing potential of specific CBRN

agents, few open-source studies have closely examined the evolution of al-Qaeda’s consideration

of WMD and, most notably, the merit of actual CBRN production instructions as depicted and

disseminated in the group’s own literature and manuals. The following report will examine the

history of al-Qaeda’s interest in CBRN agents, the evolution of the network’s attitude toward these

weapons, and the internal debate within the organization concerning acquisition and use of

WMD. More so, the following research will assess the validity of actual CBRN production

instructions and capabilities as displayed and disseminated in al-Qaeda’s own literature and


KEYWORDS: Al-Qaeda; Terrorism; WMD terrorism; Nuclear; Biological; Chemical; Radiological;

CBRN; Terrorist manuals; Uranium; Radium; Plague; Ricin; Cyanide; Hydrogen sulfide; Mustard

gas; Botulinum toxin; Cesium 137; RDD; Dirty bomb; Osama Bin Laden; Abu Musab – al

Zarqawi; Nuclear preparation encyclopedia; WMD Fatwa

The prospect of terrorists deploying weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is the foremost

danger to U.S. national security. During the 2004 U.S. presidential debates, the danger of

WMD terrorism was one of the few topics on which both candidates agreed. Since the

September 11, 2001 (9/11) attacks in the United States, this danger has become more

realistic because of al-Qaeda’s expanding global network and its expressed willingness to

kill thousands of civilians. In the past four years, there have been numerous media reports

concerning the group’s ongoing quest for WMD capabilities; many reports have detailed

al-Qaeda members’ attempts to manufacture or obtain certain chemical, biological,

radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents to use as a weapon of mass destruction against

targets in the West and the Middle East. Yet the question remains: Does al-Qaeda’s current

WMD capability match its actual intent?

Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 12, No 3, November 2005 ISSN 1073-6700 print/ISSN 1746-1766 online/05/030615-39

– 2005 The Monterey Institute of International Studies, Center for Nonproliferation Studies

DOI: 10.1080/10736700600601236

While most studies of the group have focused on its explicit desire for WMD,

allegations of CBRN acquisition, and the killing potential of specific CBRN agents, few

open-source studies have closely examined the evolution of al-Qaeda’s consideration of

WMD and most notably, the merit of actual CBRN production instructions as depicted and

disseminated in the group’s own literature and manuals. Yet monitoring and analysis of

primary al-Qaeda literature provides the most revealing window into the actual

motivations, goals, and capabilities of al-Qaeda.

It is not the objective of this report to examine al-Qaeda’s ability and desire to target

chemical and nuclear facilities within the United States. The prospect of such incidents is

worthy of separate and lengthy in-depth investigation and is beyond the scope of this

particular research. Nor is it the intent of this report to explore alleged weaknesses of

certain American industries to a WMD attack, a topic that has recently attracted much

attention in the U.S. news. This report will examine the history of al-Qaeda’s interest in

CBRN agents, the evolution of the network’s attitude toward these weapons, and the

internal debate within the organization concerning acquisition and use of WMD. More so,

the following research will assess the validity of actual CBRN production instructions and

capabilities as displayed and disseminated in al-Qaeda’s own literature, manuals, and

websites. This sort of analysis on issues of nonproliferation and international terrorism is

not often covered in open-source research.

What is al-Qaeda?

Al-Qaeda is a Sunni Salafi Jihadi network with affiliates and supporters spread all over the

globe. The network formed its roots during the 1980s when Islamist ideologues began to

recruit fighters from the Muslim world to oppose the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the

years that followed and up to today, al-Qaeda has continued to attract supporters around

the world with its international jihadist ideology. The group has gained much publicity in

the past decade following the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the

9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Whereas al-Qaeda is often envisioned as a well-defined group, it can be more

accurately described as a loosely affiliated network with very little hierarchical structure.

The diffused nature of the group poses many obstacles to intelligence collection and has

resulted in myriad contradictory and sensationalist accounts in open-source literature.

Many reports concerning al-Qaeda’s capability to conduct future attacks are focused on a

potential WMD capability. While the use of CBRN agents is a real security concern, the al-

Qaeda network is more likely to conduct future attacks by utilizing conventional weapons

in unconventional ways.

Al-Qaeda aims to expel Westerners and Muslims deemed ‘‘un-Islamic’’ from Muslim

countries and impose Islamic rule on countries in the Middle East. The group’s primary

goal during the 1990s was to force U.S. military and civilian establishments out of Saudi

Arabia.1 Since then, al-Qaeda’s objective has expanded to include the establishment of a

worldwide Islamic community, based on the concept of the umma (global caliphate).2

Current al-Qaeda affiliates aim to replace current, ‘‘corrupt’’ Islamic regimes and secular

Arab regimes with Shari’a Islamic law and to bring under control the regions of the world


that were once under Muslim rule.3 A commonly cited, long-term goal is to undermine

Western hegemony by targeting U.S. allies as well as U.S. military establishments and

civilian populations.4 Osama bin Laden, the most prominent leader of the al-Qaeda

network, has specifically identified the United States as the ‘‘great Satan’’ and has called for

armed struggle against the country and its allies.5

The al-Qaeda network has historically supported three different kinds of militant

groups: those who target Muslim regimes viewed as ‘‘apostates’’ (e.g., Egypt, Saudi

Arabia); those struggling to create their own Islamic state (e.g., Chechnya); and those who

aim to overthrow regimes that are believed to repress their Muslim populations (e.g.,

Indonesia, Kosovo).6 Network affiliates and supporters are encouraged to wage an armed

jihad, or holy war, against all enemies of Islam.7

Al-Qaeda Affiliates Worldwide

Al-Qaeda proper is in essence the 1998 union of bin Laden’s original al-Qaeda and Ayman

al-Zawahiri’s branch of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. This union is now known as Qa’idat al-

Jihad, although the global network itself is still often referred to as al-Qaeda. As a global

movement, al-Qaeda affiliates include, but are not limited to, the following Salafi Jihadi


Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade (al-Qaeda in Europe), Ansar al-Sunna (Iraq), and the

Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) have also been identified as network

affiliates.9 In addition to these identifiable groups, there are numerous ‘‘freelance’’ al-

Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Eritrea, Jordan, Kosovo,

Pakistan, Somalia, Tajikistan, and Yemen. Al-Qaeda cells have reportedly been disbanded

in Albania, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United

States. Current reports estimate that al-Qaeda affiliates operate in roughly 65 countries

around the globe.

. Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Egypt)

. Jamiat-ul-Ulema (Pakistan)

. Islamic Army of Aden (Yemen)

. Salafist Group for Preaching & Combat (Algeria)

. Groupe Tunisien Islamique (Tunisia)

. Ansar al-Islam (Iraq)

. al-Tawhid wal Jihad (or al-Qaeda in Iraq)

. Eastern Turkistan Liberation (China)

. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Philippines)

. Harkat al-Mujahideen (Kashmir)

. Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain (Morocco)8

. Jihad Movement (Bangladesh)

. Jemaah Islamiyyah (Indonesia)

. Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Libya)

. al-Qaeda fi Jazirat al-Arab (Saudi Arabia)

. Usbat al-Ansar (Lebanon)

. Islamic Movement of Turkistan

. Abu Sayyaf Group (Malaysia, Philippines)

. Jaish-e-Muhammad (Kashmir)

. Lashkar-e-Taiba (Kashmir)

. Jama’at al-Fuqra (Kashmir)


Overview of Allegations Concerning al-Qaeda and WMD

The al-Qaeda network poses a significant WMD terror threat, not only because of the

group’s extensive resources, but also because of its expressed desire to use WMD against

its enemies.10 There is evidence that al-Qaeda remains committed to acquiring CBRN

agents and has actively pursued the materials required to weaponize such agents. Equally

disconcerting is the wealth of technical information being disseminated to potential

supporters outlining the steps necessary to produce both chemical and biological (CB)

agents. There have been no reported cases of al-Qaeda affiliates using weaponized CBRN

agents in a terrorist attack. However, there is evidence of multiple attempts to acquire and

weaponize CBRN agents and efforts to disseminate technical information to supporters.

The host of allegations regarding al-Qaeda and CBRN agents ranges from the mid-1990s to

the present and mostly consists of attempts by al-Qaeda cells or affiliates to acquire

biological agents, various toxic chemicals, radiological material, and uranium. Other

allegations include plots to use biological and chemical agents in a terror attack as well as

plans to attack nuclear facilities.11

The specific biological and chemical agents reportedly pursued by al-Qaeda affiliates

are, respectively, anthrax bacteria, botulinum toxin, ricin, yersinia pestis, mustard gas,

potassium cyanide, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulfide, sodium nitrate, sodium peroxide,

sodium oxide, sarin, and VX. The majority of reports involving CBRN materials are

uncorroborated and remain largely speculative.

Chemical Agents

Most reports concerning al-Qaeda’s chemical weapons (CW) efforts state simply that there

is proof that al-Qaeda is interested in producing or acquiring chemical weapons. Indeed,

the 11th volume of al-Qaeda’s Encyclopedia of Jihad discusses how to construct chemical

and biological weapons (CBW).12 Additionally, Osama bin Laden, himself, has stated that

acquiring weapons, including nuclear and chemical weapons, is a Muslim ‘‘religious

duty.’’13 In an interview in 2001 with a Pakistani journalist, bin Laden claimed, ‘‘We have

chemical and nuclear weapons as a deterrent and if America used them against us we

reserve the right to use them.’’14 The majority of reports concerning al-Qaeda’s chemical

weapons capability indicate that the network has researched the production of chemical

agents, but has not been able to weaponize such agents.

Most cases involving chemical substances entail the use of cyanide in experiments

on animals. One eyewitness account came from Ahmad Rassam, who pleaded guilty in

2001 to plotting to attack Los Angeles International Airport. During his trial, Rassam

claimed that he had witnessed an experiment in which cyanide was used to gas a dog.15 It

is unclear how many experiments have been conducted with cyanide, but videotapes

allegedly recorded by al-Qaeda affiliates prior to 2001 show dogs being gassed with crude

chemicals. Experts have claimed that the substance used was either a crude nerve agent or

hydrogen cyanide gas.16 Other reports claim that al-Qaeda had planned to use cyanide,

sarin, or osmium tetroxide against large numbers of people in government buildings,

transportation hubs, and shopping centers in Britain, Jordan, and the United States.17


There have been specific reports of attempts to produce or acquire cyanide

compounds, as well as plots to use cyanide in terrorist attacks. In 2002, British authorities

arrested three men who were allegedly planning to use cyanide in an attack on the

London subway system.18 A series of reports in 2004 indicated that U.S. troops in Iraq

discovered three kilograms of cyanide at the home of an al-Qaeda affiliate.19 There are also

reports of attempted acquisition of hydrogen cyanide; however, this substance would

have to be disseminated in a high concentration in order to cause casualties. Additionally,

the gas emits a strong odor of bitter almonds, thus increasing the chance that victims may

be able to evacuate the area before the substance becomes lethal.20 Al-Qaeda has also

attempted to procure potassium cyanide, which can be used for cutaneous contamination

if mixed with the right chemicals. However, since the substance may appear wet or greasy,

it is likely that an individual who has come into contact with the substance would take

notice and wash the affected area of skin immediately. For this reason, potassium cyanide

is unlikely to cause mass casualties.21 There are also indications that al-Qaeda has pursued

toxic industrial chemicals, such as those used in a foiled attack on government targets in

Jordan in April 2004.

Biological Agents

The majority of allegations concerning al-Qaeda’s biological endeavors mention attempts

to procure and weaponize anthrax bacteria, botulinum toxin, and ricin.22 Many reports

have focused on the former Soviet Union (FSU) as a source of these biological agents. In

the mid-1990s, bin Laden associates allegedly attempted to ‘‘purchase’’ anthrax bacteria

and yersinia pestis (plague) in Kazakhstan.23 Some sources reported in 1999 that al-Qaeda

members obtained the Ebola virus and salmonella bacteria from countries of the FSU,

anthrax bacteria from East Asia, and botulinum toxin from the Czech Republic.24 In late

2001, U.S. officials in Afghanistan reported evidence indicating that Russian scientists were

assisting al-Qaeda militants in the weaponization of anthrax bacteria.25

In 2001, there were several indications that al-Qaeda had a continued interest in

acquiring a biological weapon (BW) capability. For one, Mohammad Atta and Zacharias

Moussaoui expressed interest in crop dusters prior to the 9/11 attacks.26 The same year, al-

Qaeda associate Ahmad Rassam testified that bin Laden was interested in acquiring

aircraft to disseminate biological agents at low altitude.27 Also in 2001, interrogations of

two captured militants in Malaysia led to allegations that al-Qaeda affiliate group Jemaah

Islamiyah was attempting to procure and weaponize biological agents.28 Around the same

time, U.S. operatives reported that multiple residences in Afghanistan, including al-

Zawahiri’s alleged residence in Kabul, tested positive for traces of anthrax bacteria.29

The network would need significant technical assistance to weaponize biological

agents for use in a terrorist attack. Anthrax bacteria can be harmful if dispersed in aerosol

form, or by personal contact. While anthrax bacteria in aerosol form is lethal, it is extremely

difficult to weaponize Bacillus anthracis spores so they maintain virulence and are easily

dispersed. Spore size is crucial to successful deployment of this agent. Botulinum toxin can

be difficult to procure through the soil, deteriorates quickly, and is very difficult to use as a

WMD. Yet it can be used effectively in aerosol attacks in closed spaces or in small-scale


poisonings.30 The biological toxin ricin can be extracted from castor beans, and while

deadly, it is only suitable for targeted poisonings as it is not contagious.

Radiological Materials

Although there is strong evidence to suggest that al-Qaeda has attempted to procure

radiological material, there is no indication that the network has been successful in this

endeavor. As with claims of chemical and biological acquisition, many of the allegations

surrounding al-Qaeda’s procurement of radiological material focus on Afghanistan and

countries of the FSU. British authorities claimed to have discovered documents suggesting

that the network had constructed a radiological dispersion device, or ‘‘dirty bomb,’’ at an

unspecified location in Afghanistan.31 These reports have not been corroborated. Many

allegations concerning al-Qaeda’s pursuit of radiological material stem from interrogations

of militants arrested over the past several years.

In April 2001, Bulgarian businessman Ivan Ivanov reportedly told authorities that he

had met bin Laden in China, near the Pakistan border, to discuss business plans for an

‘‘environmental’’ company to purchase nuclear waste.32 In April 2002, another al-Qaeda

member, Abu Zubayda, claimed that the network had the knowledge to construct a dirty

bomb and hinted that there may be such a device hidden in the United States.33 A more

well-publicized case occurred in May 2002 with the arrest of al-Qaeda affiliate Abdullah al-

Muhajir (José Padilla) in Chicago. Padilla claimed that he was part of an al-Qaeda plot to

detonate a radiological dispersal device in the United States. He had reportedly attempted

to acquire radiological material in Canada.34 Reports in early 2004 indicate that al-Qaeda

affiliate Midhat Mursi (Abu Khabab) may have constructed a radiological dispersal device.

Mursi allegedly maintains links with al-Zawahiri.35 British officials arrested eight men in

June 2004 after the discovery of information on explosives, chemicals, and radiological

materials and building plans of the New York Stock Exchange, the International Monetary

Fund in Washington, D.C., the Citigroup building in New York, and the Prudential building

in New Jersey.36 Reports in late 2004 suggest that an al-Qaeda affiliate by the name of

Walid al-Misri told investigators that bin Laden may have purchased radiological material

from contacts in Chechnya.37

Nuclear Materials

There are many exaggerated accounts of al-Qaeda procuring both radiological and nuclear

material in the form of an ‘‘off-the-shelf’’ explosive device.38 Reports in 1998 indicated that

bin Laden had plans to acquire nuclear material from Chechen contacts as well as contacts

in Kazakhstan.39 Reports in 2000 allege that bin Laden sent associates to acquire enriched

uranium from unspecified Eastern European countries.40 There were also accounts in 2001

and 2002 that bin Laden had obtained enriched uranium rods and/or a suitcase nuclear

weapon from the Russian mafia as well as a Russian-made ‘‘suitcase nuke’’ from Central

Asian sources.41 Also in 2001, reports surfaced that Pakistani scientists had shared nuclear

information with bin Laden.42 U.S. authorities have also stated that Pakistani businessman

Saifullah Paracha gave al-Qaeda associates information on where to obtain nuclear


weapons. Although Paracha later denied the allegations, he admitted to meeting bin

Laden in 1999 to consider a potential business deal.43 Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir

reported in 2004 that al-Zawahiri had claimed in an interview that the al-Qaeda network

had acquired nuclear weapons from Central Asia. The al-Qaeda deputy leader allegedly

told Mir that affiliates had traveled to ‘‘Moscow, Tashkent, [and] countries in Central Asia’’

with the intent to purchase ‘‘portable nuclear material.’’44

Al-Qaeda’s interest in pursuing nuclear weapons is made obvious by statements

posted on websites and testimonies from al-Qaeda operatives. In 2001, Jamal al-Fadl

claimed that he was responsible for investigating the purchase of uranium to be used in

the construction of a nuclear device in the early 1990s.45 Reports surfaced in 2004 that al-

Qaeda had purchased nuclear devices from the Ukraine in 1998. (Ukrainian officials

claimed that all nuclear weapons from the FSU had been transferred to Russia as of 1996,

and that no such transaction had taken place.)46 There were also accounts of al-Qaeda

attempts to purchase uranium from Russia and Germany in 1998.47 In 2002, reports

indicated that diagrams of U.S. nuclear power plants had been discovered in al-Qaeda

facilities in Afghanistan.48 In January 2005, German authorities arrested suspected al-

Qaeda member Ibrahim Muhammad K. for attempting to purchase roughly 48 grams of

uranium in September 2002. Muhammad had allegedly approached an unspecified source

in Luxembourg to facilitate the transaction.49 Moroccan investigators reportedly un-

covered a plot by al-Qaeda affiliate group Salafia Jihadia to attack a French nuclear power

plant at Cap de la Hague, Normandy. Al-Qaeda members had allegedly been involved in

the plot.50

One major obstacle to the acquisition of a ‘‘ready-made’’ device is political will; it is

highly doubtful that any regime would transfer such a device to this terrorist network for

fear of discovery and subsequent armed retribution by the United States. Reports

regarding nuclear weapons development are mostly speculative and highly sensational,

although there have been numerous reports of attempts to acquire uranium on multiple

occasions.51 All available reports suggest that al-Qaeda has yet to acquire the requisite

amount of fissile material to construct a nuclear device. Equally important, it appears that

the network lacks the technical capability to assemble a nuclear device*even if it were to obtain many of the needed materials.

The group would need significant technical assistance from nuclear scientists in

order to manufacture a nuclear weapon. Of particular concern is the allegation that a small

number of Pakistani nuclear scientists have had contact with al-Qaeda over the past

decade. Specific reports allege that two Pakistani scientists transferred nuclear weapon

information to Osama bin Laden in the mid-to late 1990s.52 If these allegations are true,

such assistance could increase al-Qaeda’s nuclear potential significantly.

Recent Cases Involving CBRN Agents

Ricin Plots in London

On January 5, 2003, six men were arrested in Wood Green, North London, and charged

with attempting to ‘‘develop or produce a chemical weapon.’’53 The six men were


identified as Arab men from Algeria or other North African countries. Three days after the

arrests, a seventh man was detained in connection with the case. British authorities

reported that at least one of the suspects had trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan,

while the others may have participated in terrorist training exercises in Chechnya and the

Pankisi Gorge area of Georgia.54 The case quickly became world news after British

authorities reported the discovery of castor beans, equipment to process the beans, and

traces of ricin in the apartment shared by the original six suspects.55

Subsequent reports indicated that the men implicated in the ricin plot did indeed

maintain connections to the al-Qaeda network and that Osama bin Laden had been

directing a number of terrorist cells throughout Europe that were intent on producing

poison to be used in terrorist attacks. Despite these numerous allegations, the nature of

the London ricin plot remained in question.

On April 13, 2005, a London jury acquitted four of the suspects in the ricin case.

Information presented in the trial led to the conclusion that there had been no traces of

ricin discovered in the London apartment. While field equipment used by chemical experts

did test positive for ricin, subsequent laboratory tests revealed that the reading had been a

false positive.56 Furthermore, it appeared that the five-page document of crude

instructions on how to produce ricin, cyanide, and botulinum toxin had been copied

from the Internet, as opposed to having been taken from a terrorist training camp in

Afghanistan, as previously suspected. Subsequent investigations revealed that the lists of

chemical instructions discovered in the London apartment were direct translations from an

Internet site maintained in Palo Alto, California.57

The only suspect convicted in the trial was Kamel Bourgess, an Algerian who was

already serving time in prison for the murder of a British constable in connection with the

case.58 Reports indicate that Bourgess had planned to smear a ricin mixture on door

handles in order to cause casualties in North London.59 However, it appeared that

Bourgess was far from being able to carry out the attack, given the crude attempts to

produce the poison. Even if he had successfully produced ricin, the substance would not

be an appropriate agent to cause mass casualties. Since ricin is a biological toxin as

opposed to a bacteria or virus, it is not contagious and cannot spread rapidly between

individuals. The surest way to induce fatalities is to encourage inhalation or ingestion of

the substance in a powder form or after it is dissolved in a liquid. Ricin is not cutaneously


Ansar al-Islam in Northern Iraq

Ansar al-Islam originated in Kurdish northern Iraq and is one of the most active Islamist

groups operating in Iraq since well before the 2003 coalition invasion. The group is

significant in that it is an al-Qaeda affiliate that has engaged in the production of both

biological and chemical agents, purportedly for use as terrorist weapons. Most reports

indicate that Ansar has worked with both cyanide and ricin; however, there is no evidence

to indicate that the group ever reached a stage of weaponization. Accordingly, it appears

that the group’s limited arsenal would have only been useful for targeted attacks or

assassinations and thus that it did not constitute a true WMD capability.


Available reports indicate that Ansar al-Islam had acquired cyanide over the past few

years, as well as a small amount of ricin, but they are unable to confirm the precise amount

of each substance or the degree to which the substances had been weaponized.60 Some

reports indicate that Ansar’s crude chemical weapons capability included a form of

‘‘cyanide cream’’ that ‘‘kills on contact.’’61 Other reports simply state that Ansar was in

possession of ‘‘cyanide,’’ without specifying storage details or any other information that

would indicate what type of cyanide was being used.

Still other reports claim that Ansar had produced or acquired ricin and had

conducted biological warfare experiments.62 One report even alleged that Ansar acquired

a quantity of VX smuggled through Turkey in the fall of 2001.63 While there is proof that

Ansar did acquire CB agents, technical details outlining the group’s involvement with such

agents remain vague and moderately consistent at best. Investigations of the laboratory

discovered in northern Iraq revealed that it was rudimentary and that the group was far

from achieving a real weapons capability.64

Ansar members claimed to have produced ricin, cyanide-based toxics, and aflatoxin

prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.65 Officials from the Patriotic Union of

Kurdistan (PUK) corroborated these reports, stating that Ansar members are trained in the

production of poisons in ‘‘encampments’’ in northern Iraq. Investigations by PUK and

coalition officials later revealed a makeshift laboratory that contained traces of ricin, as well

as equipment such as surgical masks, latex gloves, and beakers. After the invasion,

coalition forces also reportedly uncovered a ‘‘three-volume manual’’ that outlined steps for

conducting chemical and biological experiments. Specifics on the use of cyanide and ricin

were included in the manual.66 The group had allegedly tested both substances in

preparation for future use, including experiments on live animals.67

Ansar’s choice of ricin and cyanide, as well as the group’s failure to weaponize the

agents or develop adequate delivery systems, indicates that militants may have been

planning to conduct only limited attacks and/or assassinations. Both ricin and cyanide are

reasonable choices for a group that is planning to conduct a targeted attack because they

are easier substances to manipulate than some of their more virulent or unstable

counterparts. In addition, since very little would be needed for a limited attack, it makes

sense to choose agents that are easy to acquire and/or produce. Ricin is one of the easier

biological toxins to produce, while cyanide is a chemical that can be acquired from an

industrial complex. However, despite the deadly nature of these substances, neither can

be appropriately labeled as a weapon of mass destruction. Difficulties in weaponization

mean that such substances are suitable only for targeted assassinations, as opposed to

mass casualty attacks.

Experiments in Afghanistan

Numerous reports since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 have

indicated that al-Qaeda was involved in testing CB agents in makeshift laboratories

throughout Afghanistan. However, despite evidence pointing to attempts at CBW

production, it appears that that network was unable to weaponize CB agents for use in

an attack. Local Afghan sources reported in 1999 that bin Laden was using a laboratory in


Charassiab, south of Kabul, to produce chemical weapons.68 The same year, U.S. sources

reported that bin Laden had established crude facilities in Khost and Jalalabad,

Afghanistan, in order to test and produce chemical and biological weapons.69 In early

2002, American troops near Kandahar reported the discovery of an abandoned facility that

appeared to have been built to research/weaponize biological agents.70 Traces of ricin and

production instructions were also reportedly discovered in an al-Qaeda safe house.71 U.S.

investigators claimed that they uncovered laboratory equipment in a house near Kandahar

that would support ‘‘a very limited production of biological and chemical agents.’’72

Al-Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan have reportedly researched how to use mustard

agent and cyanide as weapons of mass destruction.73 Confiscated documents also

reportedly showed al-Qaeda’s interest in producing sarin, mustard, and VX.74 Reports from

the late 1990s indicate that the network attempted to create a pesticide/nerve agent with

a very high absorption rate and that the substance was tested on dogs and rabbits.75

Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that al-Qaeda has conducted experiments using

crude chemical agents, some of which included the use of cyanide. One of the most telling

pieces of evidence is a training video uncovered by investigators in which a dog is

enclosed in a box and killed with a chemical substance believed to include cyanide.

Yet despite the myriad reports citing al-Qaeda’s efforts at chemical and biological

weapons production, all available evidence shows that the network worked only with

crude chemicals and was far from a true weapons capability. For one, investigators have

not reported the discovery of any kind of dispersal device, a main requirement for the use

of a chemical or biological agent for weapons purposes. Additionally, journalists searching

an al-Qaeda camp in Khost, Afghanistan discovered stacks of photocopied manuals

dealing with CB agents that were downloaded from the websites of American right-wing

groups.76 This lack of technical equipment and expertise is not indicative of a group that

poses an immediate WMD threat.

Evolution of al-Qaeda’s Attitude toward Weapons of Mass Destruction

WMD acquisition has been a recurring theme in bin Laden’s rhetoric*obvious in his steady claims that the Muslim world should achieve military parity with non-Muslims. On

May 11, 1998, just three days following India’s nuclear tests, Osama bin Laden stated, ‘‘We

call upon the Muslim nation and Pakistan* its army in particular*to prepare for the jihad. This should include a nuclear force.’’77 More than a year later, in reference to the

acquisition of weapons of mass destruction in December of 1999, bin Laden told Pakistani

journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, ‘‘Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a

religious duty. If I indeed have acquired these weapons I am carrying out a duty. It would

be a sin for Muslims not to try and possess weapons that would prevent the infidels from

inflicting harm on Muslims.’’78

Initial Interest

Osama bin Laden’s initial interest in WMD production likely began around 1994 during his

stay in Sudan. During that time, bin Laden became increasingly militant and showed


interest in the acquisition of CBRN agents. His research into chemical weapons began in a

laboratory in Khartoum and was supported by elements of the ruling National Islamic

Front (NIF) and the Sudanese military.79 Furthermore, it was reported that bin Laden hired

an Egyptian nuclear scientist and was able to purchase one kilogram of uranium from

South Africa.80 Subsequently, an American official reported, ‘‘Osama [was] directly

involving himself with the Sudanese government, trying to get it to test poisonous gases

in case they could be tried against U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.’’81

Some of bin Laden’s growing militancy may have been a result of personal

difficulties during this time. In February 1994, the Saudi Arabian government revoked his

Saudi citizenship and froze his financial assets as a reaction to his aggressive and overt

criticism of the monarchy. Later that year, the Saudis also induced his older brother, Bakr,

to denounce and condemn Osama on behalf of the bin Laden family. More significantly, it

is believed that in February 1994, Osama was the target of two failed assassination

attempts. The first failed attempt was carried out by the Saudi intelligence services, while

the second was conducted by al-Khulayfi, an angry member of the Egyptian Islamist group

al-Takfir Wal Hijra. A failed assassination attempt was also made in Khartoum’s central

market on the life of Osama’s eldest son, Abdullah.82 These events may have contributed

to bin Laden’s determination to carry out mass casualty attacks on his enemies.

Internal Debate within al-Qaeda Concerning WMD Acquisition

Subsequent to the formal union of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s

branch of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan on February 23, 1998, which

established ‘‘The World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders,’’ a new

and more dangerous al-Qaeda transnational organization emerged.83 Following this union,

a series of meetings took place within al-Qaeda’s ruling body, Majlis al-Shura, concerning

the acquisition of a WMD capability. At this time, the organization’s leaders were

concerned about an all-out American assault on Afghanistan due to a perceived U.S. desire

to control Central Asia or in retaliation for al-Qaeda attacks against Western targets. The al-

Qaeda hierarchy was especially concerned with the prospects of American WMD

deployment to win the war in Afghanistan. It appears that initially, the al-Qaeda leadership

wanted to achieve WMD capability not as a first-strike option, but as a deterrent against

U.S. military might and a counterbalance against American and Israeli WMD arsenals. In

these meetings within bin Laden’s inner circle, members repeatedly raised the following

questions: ‘‘Who will protect the Arab Mujahideen in their last abode on the face of the

earth? How are they to be protected? Who is going to protect the people, the states, the

wealth and the Islam of Central Asia, who have scarcely escaped the assault of the ‘Red

Satan’, only to face a more sinister attack from Washington and Tel Aviv?’’84

Inside Majlis al-Shura, the hawks frequently asked,

Who would protect the Muslims from them [the United States and Israel]? Is it the UN or

the Security Council? Or is it America’s friends and allies among the Arab regimes? What

if Israel decided to use atomic bombs, chemical or biological weapons against an Arab or

Muslim capital? What if America decided in the near future to lay siege on Afghanistan,


with its dirty bombs and lethal weaponry? And what would be the Islamic reaction if

Afghani cities were targeted from America or Israel with Atomic bombs?85

As a result of these internal discussions within Majlis al-Shura, the leadership of al-Qaeda

decided to pursue a very ambitious strategy. Its ultimate goal was to obtain atomic

weapons and store them on American soil to retaliate immediately for prospective U.S.

aggression against Afghanistan or other Muslim lands. In addition, although it was clear to

the al-Qaeda leaders that any WMD they could obtain would be inferior to the existing U.S.

arsenal, they made the decision that the acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological

weapons would be a priority for their organization.86

Within al-Qaeda’s ruling body, various factions voiced different attitudes toward the

value of the group’s prospective possession of WMD. Some believed that WMD are no

more than an empty threat, a ‘‘Jinni in a jar,’’ that no rational leadership would ever use.

Others argued that any WMD the network was able to acquire would not constitute a

strategic weapon, but a purely tactical weapon, because of its likely modest destructive

power and primitive qualities. A third faction argued that ‘‘weapons of mass destruction

would considerably enhance the fighting capability and moral influence of the Mujahideen

and the fighters of al-Qaeda. They are in dire need of such weapons to compensate for the

vulnerability of their military ordnance, the insufficiency of their numbers and their

growing isolation from their peoples.’’87 Several al-Qaeda leaders also envisioned WMD

paired with suicide attacks to maximize their effect.

Despite their differences, the one point on which the various factions within al-

Qaeda’s Majlis al-Shura unanimously agreed was their view that the United States was a

ferocious enemy but a dishonorable adversary. It would not hesitate to annihilate a weaker

opponent but would retreat in disarray if faced with a stronger enemy. To that end, the al-

Qaeda leadership agreed to continue to refer to CBRN agents despite their limited

operational benefit as weapons of mass destruction in order to sow fear and terror in the

minds of their enemies and to ‘‘bestow some credibility on the Mujahideen, and maybe

some respect, moral influence and an aura of invincibility in the minds of the people.’’88

Current Role of WMD in al-Qaeda’s Strategy

Since the late 1990s, changing realities in the Middle East have corresponded with

changes in al-Qaeda’s attitude toward the role of WMD. Since al-Qaeda’s leadership

decided to pursue WMD primarily as a deterrent and defensive weapon against possible

U.S. aggression and WMD deployment in Afghanistan and other Muslim and Arab lands,

various events have occurred that indicate al-Qaeda’s WMD policy has evolved from

defensive to offensive. The group is in fact aiming to use WMD as a first-strike weapon

against the United States and its allies. In 2001, following the 9/11 attacks that killed

roughly 3,000 American and other citizens, the United States and its allies invaded

Afghanistan and denied al-Qaeda its ‘‘last abode on the face of the earth.’’ Recently, many

senior members of al-Qaeda have been killed or captured, and bin Laden and al-Zawahiri

are on the run. In addition, al-Qaeda has evolved from an organization into a

decentralized, global movement made up of independent cells and international affiliates


who adhere to al-Qaeda’s doctrine and global vision but are not directly subordinate to

the commands of the parent organization.

Additionally, the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has changed the reality

of the region; al-Qaeda is no longer anticipating and preparing for a full-blown

confrontation with the United States. At this point, al-Qaeda is in the midst of a conflict,

which it aims to expand and intensify by inducing the United States to act more

aggressively in the region in the hopes of escalating Muslim antagonism toward the

West and increasing the appeal*and membership*of global jihadi organizations. The al-Qaeda leadership anticipates that new recruits will swell the ranks of these

jihadi affiliates and undermine the security and rule of secular or moderate Muslim

regimes (e.g., Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Libya). The

ultimate goal, as has been the case since the conception of al-Qaeda, is the overthrow of

these regimes.

Moreover, attacking American and other Western targets is seen by al-Qaeda as the

most effective strategy to drive a wedge between the United States and its Arab and

Muslim allies.89 Furthermore, in light of the open conflict currently under way between al-

Qaeda and the United States, coupled with the Western occupation of Iraq and

Afghanistan, al-Qaeda leaders see WMD attacks against the United States and the

resulting mass casualties as legitimate means of retribution for current and past killings of

Muslims in these countries. Bin Laden made this sentiment clear in November 2002 when

he stated: ‘‘This is an unfair division. The time has come for us to be equal . . . Just as you

kill, you are killed. Just as you bombard, you are bombarded. Rejoice at the harm coming

to you.’’90

Al-Qaeda’s assessment of the utility of a WMD capability has evolved from the

notion of a defensive tool designed to deter an American attack on Afghanistan and other

Muslim areas, to a first-strike weapon that should be deployed against the United States in

retribution for past and present killing of Muslims. The hope is that this first-strike

capability would also bring about a severe American reprisal that would only serve to

garner more support for Islamists in the Muslim world. Accordingly, the leadership of al-

Qaeda has recently obtained religious justification from a Muslim scholar to permit WMD

use against the United States. In May 2003, bin Laden likely prompted the respected and

well-known young Saudi Islamic scholar Shaykh Nasir bin Hamid al-Fahd to issue a fatwa

(religious decree) in support of such actions. In his 25-page document, ‘‘A Treatise on the

Legal Status of Using Weapons of Mass Destruction Against Infidels,’’ Shaykh al-Fahd

empowered al-Qaeda with a fatwa and provided the religious justification needed to carry

out such an attack.

In his document Shaykh al-Fahd argued, ‘‘This matter is so obvious to Muslims that it

needs no demonstration . . . . Anyone who considers America’s aggression against Muslims

and their lands during the past decades . . . will conclude that striking her is permissible

merely on the rule of treating as one has been treated. Some brothers have totaled the

number of Muslims killed directly or indirectly by their weapons and come up with a figure

of nearly 10 million.’’91

Shaykh al-Fahd also argued in his treatise that in a state of jihad against infidels, the

mass killing of American civilians is also permissible. He stated, ‘‘Thus the situation in this


regard is that if those engaged in jihad establish that the evil of the infidels can be repelled

only by attacking them at night with weapons of mass destruction, they may be used even

if they annihilate all the infidels.’’92 In the conclusion of his treatise, Shaykh al-Fahd did not

limit his argument to targeting Western locations and civilians; he argued that while

usually the killing of other Muslims is forbidden by God, in the path of jihad it should

be permitted. He stated, ‘‘. . . as long as jihad has been commanded . . . and it can be

carried out only in this way [i.e., with Muslims being killed in attacks by Muslims], it is


This is an important landmark in the evolution of al-Qaeda’s view of and quest for a

WMD capability. As a religious organization and movement, al-Qaeda has always sought to

present itself as working within the limits of what is permissible in Islam and advocates

that open jihad against unbelievers is the duty of true Muslims. Prior to May 2003, al-

Qaeda leadership did not possess any religious justification to carry out a WMD attack on

the West or Western interests in the Middle East. However, Shaykh Al-Fahd’s fatwa has

removed religious constraints and has empowered al-Qaeda*at least in theory*with justification to carry out such attacks even if they result in mass casualties among Western

or Muslim civilians.

More recently, statements from al-Qaeda leaders left little to the imagination and

made it abundantly clear that if and when the movement were to acquire a credible WMD

capability, it would not hesitate to use such weapons against suitable targets. This new

direction was made obvious following the allegations that one of al-Qaeda’s cells in Jordan

intended to carry out a massive chemical attack in April 2004. After the seizure of large

amounts of explosives and chemical precursors by Jordanian security forces and the arrest

of several suspects, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the sponsor of this attack and bin Laden’s

lieutenant in Iraq, denied that the group had planned to use chemical weapons in the

attack. (Al-Zarqawi is the one-time head of al-Tawhid wal Jihad who, in October 2004,

swore allegiance to bin Laden and changed the name of his outfit to al-Qaeda fi Bilad al-

Rafidayn [al-Qaeda in the Land of two Rivers, i.e., Iraq].) Although al-Zarqawi claimed that

al-Qaeda did not possess WMD, he avowed unequivocally, ‘‘If we had such a bomb*and we ask God that we have such a bomb soon*we would not hesitate for a moment to strike Israeli towns, such as Eilat, Tel Aviv and others.’’94

These sentiments were echoed by another important jihadi thinker and operative,

Mustafa Sit Maryam Nasar, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Musab al-Suri, who, in

December 2004, published the manuscript, ‘‘The International Islamic Resistance Call.’’95 In

this 1,600-page global jihadi blueprint and in his ‘‘Letter of Reply to the U.S. State

Department,’’ al-Suri enthusiastically argues that weapons of mass destruction should be

used against the United States and criticizes Osama bin Laden for not using weapons of

mass destruction in the 9/11 attacks. He states, ‘‘If I were consulted in the case of that

operation I would advise the use of planes in flights from outside the U.S. that would carry

WMD. Hitting the U.S. with WMD was and is still very complicated. Yet, it is possible

after all, with Allah’s help, and more important than being possible* it is vital.’’96 He adds, ‘‘The Muslim resistance elements [must] seriously consider this difficult yet vital



Al-Qaeda’s Evolving Organizational Structure and Implications for WMD Use

It is worth considering the intentions of al-Qaeda in light of the network’s transformation

into a decentralized organization. This evolution into a global movement with various

regional affiliates and autonomous cells increases the risk of an attack utilizing CBRN

agents, but decreases the likelihood of any individual cell obtaining a true mass-casualty


Three factors explain the heightened risk of a CBRN attack. First, since operational

decisions are currently made by the leaders of individual cells without consent from Majlis

al-Shura, these cells operate without oversight from a ruling council; thus, any cell is

theoretically free to pursue any course of action that it deems desirable or appropriate.

Second, cell leaders are likely to carry out a WMD attack as soon as they have the capability

to do so. This has been the case with conventional weapons, and there is no reason to

believe that cell leaders would delay an attack once they are armed with weaponized

CBRN agents. In addition, it may be in the best interest of cell leaders to precipitate an

attack in order to safeguard the virulence and/or potency of any biological or chemical

agent employed as a weapon. Third, the fatwa issued by Shaykh Nasir bin Hamid al-Fahd

in 2003 served as an open invitation to all al-Qaeda jihadis to deploy WMD against

Western interests when they are ready and able. This was the first semblance of religious

justification for the use of CBRN materials by al-Qaeda affiliates. Additionally, bin Laden’s

statement that the acquisition of nuclear and chemical weapons is a religious duty for all

Muslims will surely quell any remaining doubts among Salafi Islamists with regard to the

use of CBRN agents.

While the cellular nature of the organization may facilitate the acquisition and

deployment of CBRN agents in some ways, the same decentralized structure is likely to

prevent any one cell from developing a true mass-casualty capability using CBRN agents.

The result is that an individual cell is destined to have a more modest weapons capability

than the network as a whole. Individual cells are likely to acquire only low-end CBRN

agents, comprising a crude CBRN capability. As previously discussed, such a capability is

more suitable for targeted assassinations than for mass-casualty attacks.

One caveat to this argument is that the rank and file of al-Qaeda, and especially the

Egyptian cadre, are the most capable components of the al-Qaeda network, and thus

worthy of special attention. Al-Zawahiri and his cohorts have thus far evaded capture by

Western or allied entities and are likely to remain on the run, at least in the foreseeable

future. Given that the cellular structure of al-Qaeda greatly hinders monitoring efforts, it is

difficult to accurately assess the threat of this or any one faction. It is possible that the

Egyptian cadre is able to acquire or produce more advanced CBRN agents; such a prospect

would have serious implications for the security of Western entities around the globe.

How Are WMD Portrayed in al-Qaeda’s Literature?

Using the Internet to Export the Revolution

After 9/11, an array of al-Qaeda and pro-al-Qaeda websites have emerged on the Internet.

Currently, the al-Qaeda movement relies heavily on these websites to enhance its mission


and spread its message. Furthermore, many al-Qaeda affiliates, such al-Tahwid wal Jihad,

the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) and many others, have

erected their own websites. While most pages on these websites contain religious

doctrines, ideological justification, reports of the tyranny of Arab regimes, and anti-

Western diatribes outlining historical Muslim grievances against Western powers, a select

number of these sources deals specifically with operational terrorist methods and tactics

that detail how to carry out terrorist attacks against potential targets and how to

manufacture conventional and unconventional weapons. One of the best ways to

ascertain information about al-Qaeda and assess its threat, intentions, and capabilities is

through active monitoring of various al-Qaeda websites.

One cannot overemphasize the importance of many of these websites. They provide

the al-Qaeda network with an effective method to disseminate information, allowing al-

Qaeda affiliates, supporters, and independent cells worldwide to learn from the experience

of al-Qaeda operatives in various global theaters. Such websites also help supporters to

replicate al-Qaeda operations and tactics, thus spawning additional cells in various

locations around the globe. This effect was best demonstrated by the latest bombing

attempt in London on July 21, 2005, as the would-be bombers manufactured the

peroxide-based explosive hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMDT).98 Detailed instruc-

tions for the manufacture of this explosive are available on the jihadi website, Mausu’at al-

Aqsa al-Jihadiya (the Aqsa Jihadi Encyclopedia).99 The instructions include technical

information regarding temperature, storage, usage, exact ingredients, exact preparation

instructions, and various informative pictures of basic, readily available ingredients,

including HMDT at various production phases and effects of a blast.100 It would not be

surprising to find that the would-be bombers in this case used these specific instructions

to manufacture their explosives.

Several al-Qaeda websites provide detailed instructions on how to manufacture

CBRN agents. Most notable of all tactical jihadi websites is Mausu’at al-E’adad (the

Preparation Encyclopedia), which is by far the most informative and comprehensive source

on al-Qaeda terrorism.101 It is a large website that contains links to dozens of portals

detailing numerous tactical skills used and developed by jihadis. It includes hundreds (if

not thousands) of pages on a large array of terrorist topics, and it provides detailed

instructions and diagrams concerning guerrilla tactics, light weapons, silencers, marksman-

ship, self-defense, martial arts, physical education, survival techniques, sabotage techni-

ques, espionage, resistance to interrogations, rocket manufacture, explosive production,

suicide-belt production, bombs and landmines, timed explosives, first aid and warnings,

chemical weapons, poisons, deadly gases, biological weapons, some basic information

about nuclear weapons, and electronics, radar, and airplane-hindering techniques.102 It

also links to scores of Western websites that deal with similar topics.

It is clear that the al-Qaeda movement is disseminating a considerable amount of

information on its various websites to export its ideology, to attract new recruits to its

cause, and to empower independent cells with advice and instructions needed to organize

effectively and carry out random acts of terrorism at important targets worldwide. Most of

these websites are surprisingly blunt about their goals and methods. They are also very

innovative; it appears that al-Qaeda supporters are putting forth a great deal of effort to


spread their message by using multiple user resource locators (URLs) and, in some cases,

password-protected websites. Active monitoring of these mostly Arabic websites is one of

the best ways to assess accurately the conventional and WMD threat posed by the al-

Qaeda network.

It is important to establish that WMD portrayal in al-Qaeda literature is rather limited.

The vast majority of al-Qaeda literature is made up of religious doctrine, writings of famous

ideologues (e.g., Ibn Taymiyya, Sayyid Qutb, and Abdullah Azzam), discussion forums

among al-Qaeda supporters, reports of daily activities, videos of operations, advice to

other jihadis, warnings to other supporters, long anti-Western and anti-Shi’a diatribes, and

endless criticism of ‘‘apostate’’ moderate and secular Muslim regimes. Only a small part of

the literature deals with actual operational topics, and of those, a minority explores

weapons of mass destruction.

The Equalizer

Recently, an al-Tawhid wal Jihad (al-Qaeda in Iraq) official website posted an eight-page

document specifically dealing with the history of use of biological weapons and indirectly

advocating the use of these weapons against the United States. The group clarifies the

advantage of biological weapons technology as an effective and affordable WMD that

could bring the Mujahideen to parity with the United States. It states, ‘‘The American

people are living in fear due to the anthrax phobia. This justified fear among ordinary

citizens is due to some casualties from the infected letters . . . . What many Americans do

not know is that these microbes are the fruit of the endless greed of their culture.’’103

Following a short chronology of the uses of biological weapons throughout history, the

author continues:

Biological weapons are considered the least complicated and the easiest to manufacture

from [sic ] all weapons of mass destruction. All the information concerning the production

of these weapons is readily available in academic books, scholarly publications and even

on the internet . . . . In addition to the ease of their production, these weapons are also

considered to be the most affordable. With $50,000 a group of amateurs can posses a

biological weapon sufficient to threaten a superpower. It is for this reason that biological

weapons are called the poor man’s atomic weapon.104

The view of WMD as the ‘‘equalizer’’ that could bring the Mujahideen community to

parity with the West is also the theme of other recently published important jihadi

literature, namely the previously mentioned text, ‘‘The International Islamic Resistance

Call,’’ and the Nuclear Preparation Encyclopedia . In the first document, arguing that WMDs

are the only method that can bring equivalence with the United States, Abu Musab al-Suri

states, ‘‘The ultimate choice is the destruction of the United States by operations of

strategic symmetry through weapons of mass destruction, namely nuclear, chemical, or

biological means, if the Mujahideen can achieve it with the help of those who possess

them or through buying them.’’105 He continues to state that acquiring WMD should be a

foremost priority of the global jihadi community and is more important than attacking

American troops in Iraq. Al-Suri goes so far as to call on the global jihadi movement to


create special elite squads that would carry out strategic operations and should consist of

highly trained jihadis who possess advanced WMD knowledge and receive ample financial

support ‘‘when there is a need to counter attack or to achieve strategic symmetry with the

United States.’’106

The second document, the Nuclear Preparation Encyclopedia , is authored by the self-

described al-Qaeda supporter Layth al-Islam who, in October 2005, posted the document

on the al-Firdaws Jihadi website. In this extensive multi-chapter document, the author

argues that scientific discovery*namely mastery of nuclear technology* is the desired path for al-Qaeda to gain parity with the West and calls for the construction of jihadi

nuclear weapons. He states, ‘‘I believe that the strategic balance of power on the battle

field will not change for the Mujahideen without correct scientific progress.’’107

Backlash*The Boomerang Effect

Al-Qaeda literature claims that in recent history the United States itself was instrumental in

the development of deadly weapons and thus is doomed to be undermined by its own

creation. One statement reads:

It is strange that all these experiments have yet to convince America that it is the most

vulnerable nation to such weapons . . . it appears that the capitalist nations which were

founded on the sanctity of material values have made their entire cultural makeup a

hostage of these imaginary values, so it is challenged by the smallest of beings

(microbes), which has revealed their powerlessness . . . the magic spell has turned on the


Although various CBRN production instructions are included in al-Qaeda literature,

the vast majority of this information is intended to educate the Mujahideen community on

the history, legitimacy, and the effects of CBRN agents.109 Only a small percentage of such

information consists of formulations and recipes geared toward manufacture and

production of actual CBRN agents. Furthermore, it is important to note that the volume

and the detail of these CBRN instructions pales in comparison to instructions dealing with

the manufacture of explosives, guerrilla warfare, use of conventional arms, religious

doctrine, ideology, resisting interrogation techniques, and anti-Western and anti-Shi’a

diatribes that amount to hundreds of pages. To put things in perspective, a recent posting

on one Syrian anti-government, pro-al-Qaeda website dealing with the importance of

everyday camera and video usage exceeds in depth and length the instructions on the

manufacture and weaponization of the biological toxin ricin.110

Evaluation of CBRN Production Instructions as Portrayed in Actual al-Qaeda Literature

In recent years, some al-Qaeda outlets have produced books, manuals, and web pages

that discuss in detail the importance and the utility of various poisons, chemical agents,

biological agents, and nuclear weapons. Many of these sources contain a great deal of

general information on the history, utility, and use of specific agents. Some pages


specifically discuss toxicity and potency of chemical and biological agents, while others

discuss how these agents were produced and used throughout history. The most

worrisome sections of material dealing with CBRN agents are the instruction pages that

detail specific directions for the manufacture of numerous important CBW agents. In most

cases, these instructions are specific and easy to emulate. In some cases, the instructions

are very vague and do not include key technical information. The production instructions

most notably outline the production of the following chemical agents: cyanide, hydrogen

sulfide gas, and mustard gas. Instructions also include information on the biological agents

ricin, Yersinia pestis , and botulinum toxin, as well as information on several other low-end,

non-CBRN poisons. Two website postings also instruct the Mujahideen on how to

manufacture a nuclear weapon.

These instructions were translated from Arabic and assessed by analysts at the

Center for Nonproliferation Studies for merit and accuracy (see Table 1). With regard to

CBW formulations, in general, it became obvious that the instructions were amateurish

and adequate for the production only of small quantities of crude agents that were not

suitable for mass-casualty terrorism.111 The four different formulations portrayed for ricin

are sufficient for the production of a small amount of crude agent.112 The instructions for

mustard gas were incomplete and insufficient for actual production of the agent.113 In the

case of cyanide, the instructions did not indicate that the precursor chemicals were

difficult to procure.114 The process outlined for botulinum toxin was very difficult to

master and likely would not have resulted in the successful production of the agent.115

The instructions for plague bacteria were rudimentary and did not indicate that it would

be difficult to find a suitable host to extract a culture, or that the plague is fragile and is

very difficult to weaponize and disperse effectively.116 Primarily, the author borrowed text

and sketches from the 1977 American biology book Microbiology by Michael J. Pelzcar,

Roger D. Reid, and E. C. S. Chan.117

As for the various postings dealing with nuclear or radiological weapons, one is

mainly informational and appears to be a translation of a document written by Outlaw

Labs, which is currently posted on various American websites.118 A second article, which

surveys international instances of radiological contaminations from 1945 to 1987,

discusses the possibility of using Cesium-137 in a radiological dispersal devise (RDD). It

discusses in general terms the possible sources of the radioactive material and the use of

this agent in an RDD. The posting does not provide detailed directions for the construction

of the RDD, nor does it detail the amount of Cesium-137 or explosives needed for such an

endeavor. It does, however, outline the expected economic damage of such an attack and

lists possible Western cities as targets.119

A third posting detailing instructions for enrichment of uranium and the

manufacture of an atom bomb was ludicrous. The instructions borrowed from a fringe

publication in English were simply sub-par and absent of any real scientific expertise. They

coach the would-be terrorist not to be fearful of working with nuclear fissile material, for

radiation is actually good for us. Furthermore, these instructions teach a would-be terrorist

how to enrich uranium on a kitchen table by using ‘‘commercial grade uranium’’ metal,

hydrofluoric acid, a few buckets, and a bicycle pump.120 If these instructions were

accurate, Iraq and Libya, for example, would not have spent millions of dollars, employed



Assessment of Production Instructions for CBRN Agents as Displayed in Actual al-Qaeda and

other Jihadi Literature and Manuals

Agent Validity of instructions

Expected quality of

agent/ device


Outlines for the

manufacture of munitions


Instructions for delivery

systems credible

Mass casualty potential of this agent if produced following

these instructions

Chemical Weapons Cyanide (various formulations)

Yes; ingredients are difficult to procure

Very crude No No Very low; more suitable for poisoning or assassination

Hydrogen sulfide gas (2 different formulations)

Yes Crude No No Low; this agent will work only if deployed in a confined area; awful odor will force people to evacuate the area

Mustard gas No These instructions are not sufficient for production

No No None

Biological Weapons Botulinum toxin

Yes; the process is very difficult to master

Crude; may not work

No No Very low; more suitable for poisoning or assassination

Ricin (4 different formulations)

Yes; the process is amateurish

A small amount of crude agent

No No Very low; more suitable for poisoning or assassination

Plague (Yersinia pestis)

Yes; the process is very difficult to master

Crude; will likely not work

No Vague, unspecific instructions are provided

Very low

Radiological and Nuclear Weapons Cesium-137 (RDD*)

Yes; ingredients are difficult to procure

Very crude; instructions are not precise

No Vague, unspecific instructions are provided

Very low; depends on amount of and type of explosives used


thousands of scientists, and purchased reactors, gas centrifuges, and conversion facilities,

only to be unsuccessful in attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. Enriching uranium is a

technologically formidable task that is beyond the modest scientific means of a

transnational terror network with access to ‘‘commercial grade uranium,’’ bicycle pumps,

and kitchen tables.

The most serious al-Qaeda-related nuclear text, the Nuclear Preparation Encyclope-

dia, was posted in October 2005 on the jihadi website al-Firdaws. As mentioned

previously, it is a multi-chapter collection that was compiled and written by a self-

described supporter of al-Qaeda, Layth al-Islam (the Lion of Islam). Unlike previous

literature that was largely void of scientific data, this document contains tens of pages on a

historical survey of nuclear technology, including an Arabic explanation of nuclear

experiments, concepts, and an overview of Enrico Fermi as well as other prominent

nuclear pioneers. Most disturbing, it includes information about critical mass and the

amount of fissile materials needed in the construction of nuclear weapons. In addition,

various sketches and diagrams in English and Arabic are provided of purported gun-type

and implosion-type nuclear warheads, which are clearly borrowed from open-source

information available on the Internet.121

The author claims, ‘‘I have been studying nuclear physics for two years on various

scientific and Jihadi websites’’ and that his posting is ‘‘a present to the Amir [captain] of

the Mujahideen Sheikh Osama bin Laden, God bless him, for the Jihad in the path of

god.’’122 Although this posting does not provide al-Qaeda terrorists with an accurate

TABLE 1 (Continued)

Agent Validity of instructions

Expected quality of

agent/ device


Outlines for the

manufacture of munitions


Instructions for delivery

systems credible

Mass casualty potential of this agent if produced following

these instructions

Highly enriched uranium

No; instructions are ludicrous

These instructions are not sufficient for production

No No None

Radium- based gun- type nuclear explosive device

No; radium is not a fissionable material

These instructions are not suitable for production of a nuclear explosive device

No No; method described is not a credible nuclear warhead delivery system

Very low; this device would amount to an RDD; accordingly, casualty potential depends on amount and type of explosives used

*RDD: Radiological Dispersion Device


step-by-step blueprint for the construction of a nuclear weapon (à la the warhead

assembly design given to Libya by the A. Q. Khan network), it is noteworthy as it reveals an

increase in the understanding of nuclear technology by the jihadi community.

However, similar to other al-Qaeda WMD production manuals, this nuclear

encyclopedia contains numerous basic technical flaws. The author details steps for the

extraction of the radioactive material radium and the assembly of a gun-type radium

bomb, which he inaccurately claims can yield a nuclear explosion. This is false, for radium

is not a fissionable material and is not suited for nuclear bomb assembly; the instructions

outlined would in fact amount to no more than an RDD, provided the perpetrator could

extract a sufficient amount of radium through the outlined crude methods and


Not only are there basic technical flaws in these instructions, but the literature also

fails to mention the importance of effective deployment strategies and techniques. Simply

stated, even a potent CBRN agent on its own does not equal a weapon of mass

destruction. For an agent to be transformed into a true WMD, multiple stages of

weaponization are required. Carrying out a successful terrorism attack utilizing CBW

agents is a formidable task, as outlined by Dr. Raymond Zilinskas, co-editor of the

Encyclopedia of Bioterrorism Defense :

Acquiring an effective biological weapon and carrying out a successful biological attack

requires the criminal to take four vital steps: (1) secure a culture of a suitable pathogen or

a quantity of toxin; (2) develop an appropriate formulation* that is, a combination of the pathogen or toxin and the substrate in which it is suspended or dissolved; (3) obtain

an appropriate container to store safely and transport the formulations; and (4) apply an

efficient mechanism to disperse the pathogen or toxin over or onto the target

population. In addition, if the BW agent is to be delivered by aerosol, a fifth factor is

essential, namely, favorable meteorological conditions for the act of dispersion.124

For the most part, al-Qaeda literature does not explore the last three stages of

deployment*weaponization, manufacture of munitions, and effective delivery sys- tems*as they lack any real insight into credible techniques of weaponization and deployment of CBRN agents. Procuring an agent is only the first step in the construction of

a credible WMD. At a most basic level, a terrorist cell needs the proper technical expertise

in order to weaponize and deliver the agent to its target. This involves ensuring the

chemical stability of the agent during the filling of munitions (e.g., canisters, shells, artillery,

and rockets) as well as throughout the process of deployment.125 With the exception of a

few mentions of crop dusters and a few basic diagrams of CW munition shells, al-Qaeda

WMD literature is largely devoid of such specific instructions on how to weaponize,

stabilize, and build munitions. Moreover, there are no specific instructions on how to

manufacture or utilize credible dispersal methods.

Finally, al-Qaeda literature does not contain any detailed information on the impact

of atmospheric conditions (i.e., temperatures, sunlight, rain, altitude, wind speed, wind

direction, and turbulence) on the deployment of CBW agents. These are crucial

considerations, for these atmospheric conditions have a direct effect on the performance

and potency of a CBW agent.126


The acquisition of small quantities of ricin or hydrogen sulfide gas neither

constitutes a WMD capability nor empowers a terrorist organization to cause mass

casualties. Judging from al-Qaeda’s literature and open source information, the network’s

conventional capability for inflicting mass casualties as demonstrated on 9/11 over-

shadows any actual CBRN capability. It is not clear if the information portrayed in al-Qaeda

literature is the full extent of the movement’s CBRN knowledge, or if more information is

disseminated through secretive channels. However, despite the proliferation of sensational

reporting, as well as al-Qaeda’s self-proclaimed bravado, many notable experts in the field

agree that weaponization and deployment of WMD entails myriad technical and logistical

hurdles that no terrorist organization, including al-Qaeda, has demonstrated the means to


Deployment Instructions as Depicted on al-Qaeda Websites

In general, al-Qaeda’s deployment instructions are rather crude and more suited for

assassination or poisoning than mass-casualty terrorism. A posting on an al-Qaeda website

informs a Mujahid how to purchase and deploy cyanide: ‘‘Go to a place that sells poisons

and ask about cyanide, which is very affordable. Then purchase some hand lotion at a

supermarket specifically the kind that opens pores. Take a teaspoon of cyanide and add

some of the hand lotion and mix it well very carefully.’’ Following the preparation

instructions, the Mujahid is asked to experiment with the mix by applying it to a rabbit to

make sure that the dosage is lethal. Then the instructions specify how to target human

beings. They state, ‘‘Following the successful experiments put the poison in a glass

container and watch out specifically for cars of Americans and other enemies, and apply

some of the poison on the door handle. This should not be done in a clumsy way, but you

should use a piece of cotton to properly apply . . . this poison on the inside and outside of

the handle to come in contact with the fingers of the enemy of God.’’128

Other instructions dealing with deployment of low-end (non-CBW) poisons advocate

targeting individuals in their cars and poisoning food in a supermarket: ‘‘[L]ook for a

vaccination needle and fill it with the agent and spray this material into to the air

conditioning openings of a car or house, if you could do this to the enemies of god,

knowing that targeting the car would be much better.’’129 As for targeting American

customers at a supermarket, the advice states:

All that you have to do is to go to the supermarket were the American pigs shop.

Observe him well and make sure that you are close to him especially to his shopping

cart . . . . if this pig puts some uncovered vegetables or fruit in his cart you should spray

this material (poison) on them when he is not paying attention . . . . if you can, it is

preferable to stick the needle in the fruit.130

Not surprisingly, these instructions clearly portray al-Qaeda’s intent to harm

Americans in their cars, homes, or supermarkets; at the same time they are clearly

deficient and incapable of instructing readers in how to use CBRN agents and other

poisons in a mass-casualty attack. If anything, such directions clearly demonstrate the

amateurish nature of CBRN attacks currently concocted by al-Qaeda supporters. The


prospects of using an aerosol dispersion device for deployment and contaminating water

or food supplies are mentioned briefly in a few sources; some even advocate combining

CBRN agents with explosives or suicide bombings. Yet there is no detailed discussion of

the matter, nor are there any specific instructions on how to manufacture or utilize such

devices to deploy actual CBRN agents.131

The results of an assessment of current al-Qaeda CBRN agent production and

deployment capabilities fall in line with al-Qaeda’s originally stated goals as portrayed in

the internal meeting of Majlis al-Shura in the late 1990s. It appears that al-Qaeda leaders

and outlets are intentionally exaggerating the organization’s CBRN capability by making

provocative statements to provoke fear among their enemies and to enhance the combat

capability and influence of their fighters. Proclamations of ‘‘weapons of mass destruction’’

possession also increase the stature and the apparent capability of the al-Qaeda

movement. At the same time, it is not the intention of this paper to dismiss out of

hand the network’s WMD threat to the West. To the contrary, despite the inherent flaws in

production instructions of most CBRN agents currently portrayed on al-Qaeda outlets, it

appears that the organization is fully intent on achieving a WMD capability. For that reason

alone, it is essential to continue monitoring al-Qaeda outlets to accurately ascertain the

organization’s future capabilities and technical prowess.

Difficulties in Manufacturing � Lessons from Libya and Iraq At the most basic level, developing and weaponizing CBRN agents is not an easy

undertaking. Many developing nations that employed hundreds of trained technicians and

scientists and allocated millions of dollars over many decades were not able to achieve a

significant WMD capability. Libya is a prime example of the inherent difficulty of

manufacturing and weaponizing such agents. Libya had a scientific cadre of 120 chemical,

800 nuclear, and 4,000 missile specialists.132 Overall, the country had spent hundreds of

millions of dollars on relatively sophisticated labs for the production and weaponization of

CBRN agents. Yet the net result of this largely uninterrupted lavish effort was rather

unimpressive. Following Libya’s unilateral disarmament on December 19, 2003, the

country’s entire WMD arsenal was revealed as 23 tons of mustard gas, a few hundred

short-range Scud missiles, five untested longer-range Scuds, and virtually no nuclear or

biological weapons production capability.

Another illustrative example is Iraq. Prior to 1991, Iraq invested more funds in WMD

manufacture and research than any other developing country and was able to produce

and weaponize an array of CBW agents. Iraq also employed tens of thousands of scientists

and technicians in its various WMD production facilities. Nevertheless, it was not able to

weaponize anthrax bacteria in a powder form. This is a noteworthy fact, especially

considering the enormous attention garnered by the anthrax cases in 2001. A 2003 report

for the Pentagon estimated that if terrorists released a large amount of anthrax bacteria in

a large city under optimal weather conditions, it would infect 200,000 people in an area 40

miles downwind.133 The specter of biological agent release under optimal weather

conditions is truly horrifying, but if Saddam Hussein, with his lavish labs and thousands of


capable scientists, could not weaponize anthrax bacteria spores, how could a few jihadis in

Waziristan produce a sufficient amount of this agent to carry out a mass-casualty attack?

Capability does not equal intent, and no amount of anti-Western animosity, religious

fervor, wishful thinking, enthusiasm, or threatening rhetoric from al-Qaeda can overcome

the formidable technical challenges involved in the weaponization and deployment of

high-end CBRN agents. These hurdles can only be overcome if and when the al-Qaeda

movement acquires such scientific capability that fortunately still appears beyond its


Difficulties in Deployment � The Case of Aum Shinrikyo In March 1995, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway

system, killing 12 people and injuring more than 1,000.134 Cultists spread the sarin solution

by puncturing small bags containing the agent with sharpened umbrella tips. One Aum

member was placed on each of five subway cars converging on the Kasumigaseki station

during morning rush hour. In this way, the cult hoped to effect the highest number of

casualties. The incident was the culmination of years of secretive research and

development efforts to produce biological and chemical agents as terrorist weapons.

Although the subway attacks resulted in a loss of human life and led to widespread panic

throughout Tokyo, the incident could have had far deadlier repercussions had the agent

been weaponized and disseminated using more advanced techniques. The fact that Aum

was unable to perpetrate a true mass-casualty WMD attack after years of research and

development efforts at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars has important

implications for the WMD potential of other terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Aum recruited experts in biochemistry, physics, engineering, and other technical

specializations in order to participate in the group’s CBW program. In the early 1990s, Aum

scientists began experiments with the intent to produce a series of nerve agents, including

sarin, soman, tabun, and VX.135 The group also acquired hydrogen cyanide and sodium

cyanide.136 Japanese authorities believe that by 1995, the cult had produced both

botulinum toxin and anthrax bacteria. Aum scientists were also able to acquire advanced

laboratory materials, including filtration systems, electron microscopes, sophisticated

computer systems, and documents describing the intricacies of agent cultivation.137 The

cult obtained this specialized equipment through complex procurement networks and

actually acquired many precursor chemicals through legal channels in the pharmaceutical


Aum Shinrikyo allegedly conducted at least 20 attacks utilizing chemical and

biological agents between 1990 and 1995; however, few of these attacks resulted in any

casualties.139 In total, Aum conducted six attacks using botulinum toxin, four attacks using

anthrax bacteria, five attacks using sarin, three attacks using VX, and two attacks using

hydrogen cyanide. Only 20 individuals were killed as a result of these 20 attacks, spread

across five years. While any number of casualties is unfortunate, this number is small

given the cult’s intent to cause mass fatalities in the majority of these cases. Attempts at

mass-casualty terrorism include an attack in the summer of 1993, during which Aum

members sprayed what they believed was anthrax bacteria off the roof of an eight-story


building for four straight days.140 Another failed attack occurred in early March 1995, as

the cult attempted to spread what they believed was botulinum toxin in the Tokyo

subway but was unable to properly disseminate the agent.141 In fact, Aum produced

neither Bacillus anthracis nor botulinum toxin.

Despite the ease of acquisition of precursor materials and equipment, the high level

of technical expertise among group members, and the relatively long periods of time that

the group was able to operate in secret without police intervention, the cult was still

unable to carry out a single true mass-casualty attack. Al-Qaeda appears to be far less

organized than the Aum Shinrikyo cult had been before the March 1995 sarin attacks in

Tokyo. Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that the al-Qaeda network has had

access to the kinds of sophisticated technology or expertise enjoyed by Aum cultists in the

1990s. The case of Aum Shinrikyo thus serves as a historical testimony to the difficulty of

developing a true mass-casualty capability through the production of CBW agents.

Mass Destruction versus Mass Disruption

Radiological Dispersion Device

Many media reports over the past few years have speculated on the possibility of a

terrorist attack using an RDD, or dirty bomb. Indeed, instances of attempted acquisition of

radiological materials by al-Qaeda affiliates have occurred. While it is possible that a

terrorist might be able to acquire radiological material and successfully construct an RDD,

the likely effects of such an attack are less acute than most reports indicate. Mass

casualties are unlikely to result from an RDD attack. An explosive RDD, which uses a

conventional blast to disperse radiological material, is likely to cause casualties only in the

immediate vicinity of the explosion. In addition, these casualties would likely be caused by

the explosion itself, rather than by the effects of radiation.142 Even a ‘‘passive RDD,’’ which

releases radiological material manually placed near a target, would cause radiation

sickness only to those in the immediate area and only after long periods of exposure.143

The most dangerous scenario would be direct inhalation or ingestion of a radiological

substance. An ‘‘atmospheric RDD,’’ which converts radioactive material into a substance

that can be carried through the air, may contaminate a wider area but may not cause mass

casualties since radiation levels would be low after the material is dispersed. The real

outcome of any RDD attack would be widespread panic and economic disruption. For

these reasons, an RDD is not so much a weapon of mass destruction as it is a weapon of

mass disruption.

Although al-Qaeda has expressed an interest in acquiring radiological material and

has attempted to acquire such material on numerous occasions, it does not appear that

network affiliates have been able to construct an RDD device. While an RDD would be

much easier to construct than a nuclear device, formidable obstacles still exist that can

prevent a terrorist group from successfully carrying out an RDD attack. For one, a group

would have to acquire a radioactive isotope with a relatively short half-life in order to

ensure maximum radiation. Only a handful of isotopes would be useful in a radiological

attack: cobalt-60, strontium-90, yttrium-90, iridium-192, cesium-137, plutonium-238,


radium-226, americium-241, and californium-252.144 Experts suggest that it is very unlikely

to have a high number of casualties, or even a large number of people with severe

radiation sickness, from an RDD attack. Indeed, it is probable that only those individuals

who are close enough to the device to risk sustained injuries or death from the explosion

would receive lethal doses of radiation.

In addition, it is likely that individuals near an explosion would move quickly from

the area, thus drastically reducing the chance of radiation sickness. These individuals may

experience burns on the skin or changes in the number of white blood cells, but would

likely avoid more severe reactions. The only scenarios which could generate high numbers

of fatalities under the right circumstances would be direct exposure to radioactive material

emitting gamma rays, or injuries sustained from an explosion involving radioactive


Although many sources of radioactive isotopes exist, numerous obstacles can

prevent terrorist acquisition. For one, Russian radioisotope thermal generators and

Gamma-Kolos seed irradiators are radiation ‘‘megasources’’ that have been cited as

‘‘vulnerable’’ to terrorist acquisition.146 Large numbers of radioactive isotopes are also

found in spent fuel from nuclear power plants. Although these sources would be a

terrorist gold mine in terms of the sheer amount of radioactive material, spent fuel is

usually encased in containers estimated to weigh one-half a metric ton. Also, spent fuel

emits extremely high levels of radiation*a fact that would heavily complicate efforts at transportation.147 Terrorists would be most likely to acquire radioactive material from the

open market, as many radioactive isotopes are used in commercial practices such as

communication technology and medical procedures. Furthermore, regulatory procedures

to track global shipments of radiological materials used in commercial applications are not

as consistent or widespread as those in place to regulate the transfer of nuclear material.

A real concern is that terrorists with a high level of technical expertise may be able

to use radiological material to contaminate a target without using an explosive device.

Some isotopes can be dissolved and sprayed, while some can be vaporized, or even

burned.148 These delivery methods would require special technical skills and expertise in

order to carry out an effective terrorist attack. Another concern is the fact that so many al-

Qaeda affiliates are willing to die in the process of carrying out an attack. For this reason, if

the group is able to procure a large amount of radioactive material, it may be less

concerned about the technical expertise required to conduct a sophisticated attack;

instead, they may opt to sacrifice a life in order to deliver a lethal dose of radiological

material to a target. Radiological material that is ingested or inhaled is the most deadly,

and this can only really occur in close proximity to a highly radioactive source.

Crude CBW Agents and Mass Disruption

Similar to an RDD, crude CBW agents can also be used as weapons of mass disruption.

Such an attack would certainly instill fear and anxiety and would probably have serious

economic consequences. A CBW attack on government buildings, transportation net-

works, or supermarkets would most likely result in the closure of these sites as well as an

overcrowding of hospitals with the concerned citizens. Other effects could include a


disproportionately high demand for vaccinations or other medical treatments, as well as a

sharp decrease in traffic on public transportation systems. Additionally, an agent

disseminated using an explosive device could result in significant structural damage.

Despite the difficulties inherent in obtaining a true WMD capability with CBW

agents, it is clear that such substances are suitable as a terrorist weapon. The use of a

chemical or biological agent, albeit crude, has the potential to cause fear and panic

disproportionate to the actual effect of the agent. Thus, if the purpose of terrorism is

indeed to terrorize, then CBW agents can also be used to produce a highly effective

weapon. However, while they may succeed in terrorizing a population and causing

massive economic disruption, it is unlikely that such agents would be capable of causing

mass casualties.

Conventional Weapons as WMD

Some may argue that massive conventional weapons in the hands of terrorists could be

considered a form of WMD and could serve as an alternative to CBRN agents. Indeed, the

large majority of al-Qaeda literature dealing with operational methods outline the use of

conventional explosives and guerrilla warfare. This fact does not dilute the group’s

intentions and capabilities; rather, it tends to reinforce it. While al-Qaeda’s intention is

most certainly to attack American and Western influences around the globe in whatever

way possible, the most successful attacks to date have utilized conventional weapons or

nontraditional weapons used in unconventional ways. The most obvious example is the

9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., that killed approximately 3,000 people.

Other examples of highly effective conventional attacks include the U.S. embassy

bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and most recently, numerous car and suicide

bombings in Iraq.

Nevertheless, these successes have failed to trump the appeal of CBRN agents as

potential terrorist weapons. Utilizing CBRN agents would add a degree of unprecedented

fear to an attack and impart status on those responsible, although the actual mass-

casualty effects of such an attack would be limited. Despite this drawback, the al-Qaeda

network is aggressively attempting to procure CBRN agents, although it will continue to

rely primarily on conventional methods of attack.

Possible Sources of CBRN Acquisition*Countries of the Former Soviet Union Much has been written on the dangers of terrorist acquisition of CBRN agents from the

countries of the former Soviet Union. These accounts are not totally speculative; as Nikolai

Patrushev, Chief of the Russian Federal Security Service, told journalists on August 19,

2005, ‘‘Terrorists are striving to gain access to biological, nuclear and chemical arms. We

have registered such attempts and have information to that effect . . . . Our task is to stop

them from having access to them.’’149 Indeed, former U.S. intelligence officials have stated

that organized crime and corruption in the FSU, and particularly in Russia, have increased

the risk of al-Qaeda acquiring CBRN materials from these countries.150


Efforts to bolster security at former Soviet weapons facilities have been under way

since the early 1990s; however, there are significant obstacles to ensuring the safety of

CBRN materials at these facilities. One of the main concerns is funding: Russian officials

have reported that expected financial contributions from foreign countries have not been

able to meet the security needs of several important facilities.151 Many of these include

‘‘anti-plague’’ laboratories that secretly supplied pathogens to the Soviet offensive BW

program during the Cold War. Because these facilities were not officially part of the Soviet

BW program, they are not eligible to receive funding from foreign governments.152

Nuclear experts have stated that it is possible al-Qaeda could acquire uranium from

the FSU to use in a crude nuclear device. Others believe that a preferable path to nuclear

acquisition for the group would be to obtain an ‘‘off-the-shelf’’ device. Although unlikely,

even if such scenarios come to fruition, significant obstacles to terrorist acquisition and use

of such devices remain. For one, many Soviet weapons were equipped with permissive

action links (PALs) in order to enhance security and prevent unintended detonation.

Additionally, many Russian nuclear devices were constructed with plutonium, which is

more radioactive than HEU and thus more likely to be identified during transportation

through countries that utilize radiological sensors as part of their security procedures.153

Still, not all nuclear devices were assembled with PALs, and not all countries screen for

radiological materials moving past their borders.

Although there is evidence that CBRN materials in the FSU are vulnerable to criminal

or terrorist acquisition, it is unlikely that the al-Qaeda network has already procured these

materials, in light of the apparent lack of technical expertise as revealed by foiled plots and

active monitoring of al-Qaeda-sponsored websites. Reports stating that Osama bin Laden

‘‘purchased’’ biological or chemical weapons are largely speculative, as are reports

indicating that bin Laden was able to acquire materials for chemical weapons from the

former Soviet Union during the mid-1990s.154

Additionally, sources from the International Atomic Energy Agency have claimed

that only 10 incidents of theft involving HEU have occurred over the past 10 years, each

involving less than a kilogram, and none have involved the al-Qaeda network.155 While it

does not appear that al-Qaeda has succeeded in procuring CBRN materials from the FSU, it

is unwise to discount the network’s commitment to obtaining these materials. In June

2002, for example, Russia’s Federal Security Service reported an al-Qaeda attempt to

secure 11 pounds of radioactive thallium from decommissioned Russian submarines.156

There will surely be more opportunities for al-Qaeda to procure CBRN materials as long as

these materials remain unsecured.

Conclusions: Capability versus Intent

Open-source information suggests that al-Qaeda has yet to build a real CBRN capability for

mass destruction. As discussed, an examination of al-Qaeda’s own literature and manuals

reveals many flaws in its CBRN production instructions*a fact that would hinder any real WMD deployment. However, it is important to note that all evidence from Western sources

and al-Qaeda’s own websites and publications indicate that the movement itself and its

various affiliates are aggressively pursuing such a capability. It is hard to determine if and


when these groups will actually attempt to produce CBRN agents and delivery systems

that could potentially cause mass destruction equal to or greater than the horrendous

human and capital loss of 9/11.

Fortunately, obtaining a real WMD capability that is capable of killing thousands is a

difficult challenge, as evidenced by the history of both rogue regimes such as Libya and

Iraq and previous terrorist organizations such as Aum Shinrikyo. Most current evidence

suggests that al-Qaeda is still far away from a true WMD capability and that most CBRN

agents acquired by this group or its affiliates are crude and more suited for small-scale

assassinations, contaminations, and poisonings.

However, the fact that al-Qaeda and its affiliates may be far from perpetrating a

mass casualty CBRN attack does not warrant reduced vigilance of their activities. Even so, it

is important to keep the threat in perspective and not attribute to these terrorists any

capabilities that they still do not possess. Doing so serves no tangible purpose; even

without mastery of CBRN agents, al-Qaeda and its affiliates are extremely dangerous and

demand the cooperation of the United States, Europe, and Arab and Muslim regimes to

pursue aggressive military and law enforcement tactics that will hinder their operational

capabilities, as well as a series of sound, long-term political policies that will help curb the

appeal and recruitment potential of these equal-opportunity terrorists. The near- and long-

term danger in al-Qaeda’s current ability to recruit, indoctrinate, train, and graduate large

numbers of suicide jihadis all over the world overshadows any possession of a WMD, short

of a nuclear bomb.

It can be argued that the most dangerous aspect of the al-Qaeda network is its

ability to recruit and replenish its ranks with young jihadis who are willing to die for their

cause around the globe. This real capacity for regeneration and export of destructive

ideology and training eclipses any attempt by the group or its affiliates to acquire CBRN

agents that currently seem beyond their rudimentary technical capabilities.

It is certainly difficult for al-Qaeda or its affiliates, who are on the receiving end of the

most comprehensive and aggressive counterterrorism operation in modern history, to

engage in the manufacture of actual high-end WMD agents beyond the rudimentary

stage, as has been discussed. As for the prospect of nuclear terrorism, however, exhaustive

efforts should be made to prevent the al-Qaeda network from acquiring nuclear devices or

fissile materials that can be used to build such weapons. Besides the technical difficulties

inherent in the manufacture of nuclear devices, the acquisition of fissile materials remains

the greatest obstacle to nuclear warhead assembly. Nevertheless, should sufficient

amounts of HEU fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, the network’s destructive potential

would multiply exponentially. When considering the specter of nuclear weapons in the

hands of al-Qaeda, there simply is no acceptable margin of error.

At the same time, the risk from al-Qaeda’s use of conventional terror tactics as seen

in recent years probably exceeds any current risk from attempts to develop or deploy

WMD agents. While the killing potential of these agents is theoretically high given modest

technical and delivery means, it likely pales in comparison to the real threat of

conventional weapons. Overall, al-Qaeda’s current technical knowledge and WMD

capability are likely most suitable for assassinations rather than large-scale attacks aimed


at mass casualties. In the near future, the al-Qaeda network is likely to continue to use

conventional weapons and atypical weapons in creative ways.


Even though all toxins are chemicals, they fall under the purview of the Biological Weapons

Conventions (BWC), and for this reason, many analysts term them as ‘‘biological agents.’’

Disclaimer: The full Internet addresses of pro al-Qaeda websites are intentionally withheld

by the authors for security reasons. If you have any questions about sources, please

contact the authors directly.


1. See U.S. Dept. of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism � 2000, Appendix B: Background Information on Terrorist Groups, April 30, 2001, B/ 2450.htm�/; Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al Qa’ida Global Network of Terror (New York: Columbia UP, 2002), pp. 54�94.

2. U.S. Dept. of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism; Jason Burke, ‘‘Al Qa’ida,’’ Foreign Policy

(May/June 2004); John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 62, 90.

3. International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, ‘‘Al-Qa’ida,’’ B/ ter/orgdet.cfm?orgid�/74�/; Jeffrey Bale, ‘‘Militant Islamic Organizations,’’ lecture delivered to a workshop at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, California,

USA, Jan. 10�14, 2005. 4. U.S. Dept. of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism.

5. International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, ‘‘Al-Qa’ida’’; ‘‘Al Qa’ida’s Fatwa,’’ PBS

News, Feb. 23, 1998.

6. National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, Terrorism Knowledge

Database, Terrorist Group Profile: ‘‘Al-Qa’ida,’’ B/�/6�/. 7. Federation of American Scientists, Intelligent Resource Program, ‘‘Al-Qai’da-The Base,’’

B/�/. 8. Council on Foreign Relations, ‘‘Al-Qa’ida,’’ ‘‘Terrorist Group Profile: Al-Qa’ida,’’ National

Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, Terrorism Knowledge Database; ‘‘Al-

Qai’da-The Base,’’ Federation of American Scientists; Bale, ‘‘Militant Islamic Organiza-


9. ‘‘Terrorist Group Profile: Al-Qaeida’’, National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of

Terrorism, Terrorism Knowledge Database.

10. ABC News Transcript of Interview with Osama bin Laden, Dec. 24, 1998. See also Hamid

Mir, ‘‘Osama Claims He Has Nukes: If US Uses N-Arms It Will Get Same Response,’’ Osama

bin Laden interview with Hamid Mir, Nov. 10, 2001, B/ top1.htm�/.

11. Dave Saltonstall, ‘‘Pakistan Reportedly Warned U.S. Targets,’’ New York Daily News , Aug.

23, 1998; Laura Mansnerus, ‘‘Testimony at Bombing Trial Outlines Recipe for Mayhem,’’


New York Times , July 6, 2001, p. B2; C.L. Staten, ‘‘Dirty Bomb Plot Thwarted Says Attorney

General,’’ Emergency Net News , June 10, 2002; Elaine Sciolino, ‘‘Terror Verdict Due

Today for a Frenchman on Trial in Morocco,’’ New York Times , Sept. 18, 2003; Jordan TV

Channel 1, ‘‘Confessions of Group Planning Jordan Chemical Attack,’’ BBC Monitoring,

April 26, 2004.

12. ‘‘Wolf Blitzer Reports,’’ CNN, July 31, 2002.

13. Transcript of Interview with Osama bin Laden, Time , Dec. 24, 1998.

14. Mir, ‘‘Osama Claims He Has Nukes.’’

15. Pamela Hess, ‘‘Al Qaida May Have Chemical Weapons,’’ United Press International, Aug.

19, 2002.

16. ‘‘Insight,’’ CNN, Aug. 19, 2002.

17. ‘‘Poison Gas Intended for Jordan Attack,’’ MSNBC, Jan. 31, 2000; Chris Hastings and David

Bamber, ‘‘Police Foil Terror Plot to Use Sarin Gas in London,’’ Daily Telegraph (London),

Feb. 18, 2001; David Bamber, Chris Hastings, and Rajeev Syal, ‘‘bin Laden British Cell

Planned Gas Attack on European Parliament,’’ Sunday Telegraph (London), Sept. 16, 2001;

‘‘bin Laden Planned Nerve Gas Attack on Europarliament: Paper,’’ Agence France Presse,

Sept. 16, 2001; ‘‘Poison Gas Plot,’’ CBS News, April 27, 2004; ‘‘Deadly Chemical Planned for

Use in Potential British Bomb Plot,’’ Agence France Presse, April 6, 2004; ‘‘Al Qa’ida’s

Fatwa,’’ PBS News, Feb. 23, 1998; ‘‘Osmium Tetroxide: A New Chemical Terrorism

Weapon,’’ Center for Nonproliferation Studies Research Story of the Week, April 13, 2004,

B/�/; ‘‘Qa’ida-Linked Chemical Attack in Jor- dan Could Have Killed 80,000,’’ Agence France Presse, April 26, 2004; ‘‘Confessions of

Group Planning Jordan Chemical Attack,’’ BBC Monitoring, April 26, 2004; ‘‘Interview with

Mahmud Al-Kharabsha, Member of the Jordanian Parliament and Former Chief of

Jordanian Intelligence,’’ Federal News Service, April 27, 2004.

18. Hala Jaber and Nicholas Rufford, ‘‘M15 Foils Poison-Gas Attack on the Tube,’’ Sunday

Times (London), Nov. 17, 2002.

19. John Lumpkin, ‘‘U.S. Forces in Iraq Find Some Cyanide,’’ Associated Press, Feb. 7, 2004;

Douglas Jehl, ‘‘U.S. Aids Report Evidence Tying Al Qa’ida to Attacks,’’ New York Times ,

Feb. 10, 2004.

20. ‘‘Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects (U),’’ Central Intelligence Agency, May 2003.

21. Ibid.

22. ‘‘Al-Qa’ida Made Biological Weapons in Georgia*French Minister,’’ Moscow News , Jan. 3, 2005; Jihad Salim, ‘‘Report on bin Laden, Zawahiri, Afghanistan,’’ Al-Watan Al-Arabi, Oct.

31, 1997, in Foreign Broadcasting Information Services (hereafter FBIS),

FTS19971118000479; ‘‘Al Qaeda Tested Germ Weapons,’’ Reuters, Jan. 1, 2002.

23. Paul Daley, ‘‘Report Says UBL-Linked Terrorist Groups Possess ‘Deadly’ Anthrax, Plague

Viruses,’’ Melbourne Age , June 4, 2000.

24. Al J. Venter, ‘‘Elements Loyal to bin Laden Acquire Biological Agents ‘Through the Mail’,’’

Jane’s Intelligence Review 11 (Aug. 1999); Khalid Sharaf al-Din, ‘‘Bin Ladin Men Reportedly

Possess Biological Weapons,’’ Al-Sharq al-Awsat , March 6, 1999.

25. Jeffrey Bartholet, ‘‘Terrorist Sleeper Cells,’’ Newsweek , Dec. 9, 2001.

26. ‘‘Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects (U),’’ Central Intelligence Agency, May 2003.

27. ‘‘bin Laden’s Biological Threat,’’ BBC, Oct. 28, 2001.


28. Maria Ressa, ‘‘Reports: Al Qaeda [sic ] Operative Sought Anthrax,’’ CNN, Oct. 10, 2003;

Judith Miller, ‘‘U.S. Has New Concerns About Anthrax Readiness,’’ New York Times , Dec.

28, 2003; ‘‘Yazid Sufaat,’’ The Open Source Threat Network Database, Jan. 26, 2004,

B/�/. 29. ‘‘Al-Qaeda: Anthrax Found in al-Qaeda Home,’’ Global Security Newswire, Dec. 10, 2001;

Judith Miller, ‘‘Labs Suggest Qaeda Planned to Build Arms, Officials Say,’’ New York Times ,

Sept. 14, 2002.

30. ‘‘Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects (U),’’ Central Intelligence Agency, May 2003.

31. Ed Johnson, ‘‘Report: Al-Qaida Made Bomb in Afghanistan,’’ Associated Press, Jan. 30,


32. Adam Nathan and David Leppard, ‘‘Al-Qa’ida’s Men Held Secret Meeting to Build ‘Dirty

Bomb,’’’ The Times (London), Oct. 14, 2001.

33. Jamie McIntyre, ‘‘Zubaydah: al-Qaeda Had ‘Dirty Bomb’ Know-How,’’ CNN, April 22, 2002;

‘‘Al-Qaeda Claims ‘Dirty Bomb’ Know-How,’’ BBC, April 23, 2002.

34. Dan Eggen and Susan Schmidt, ‘‘‘Dirty Bomb’ Plot Uncovered, U.S. Says: Suspected Al

Qaeda Operative Held as ‘Enemy Combatant,’’’ Washington Post , June 11, 2002.

35. Muhammad Wajdi Qandyl, ‘‘Searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Al-Qa’ida,’’

Al-Akhbar (Cairo), Jan. 18, 2004.

36. Ben English, ‘‘Britain Charges Eight Over U.S. ‘Terror Campaign’,’’ Advertiser , Aug. 18,


37. Nick Fielding, ‘‘bin Laden’s Dirty Bomb Quest Exposed,’’ The Times (London), Dec. 19,


38. ‘‘Al-Qa’ida Claims ‘Dirty Bomb’ Know-How.’’; McIntyre, ‘‘Zubaydeh: al Qa’ida had ‘Dirty

Bomb’ Know-How;’’ ‘‘Frenchman Faces Trial Over Casablanca Blasts; Middle-Class Islamic

Convert Masterminded Suicide Attacks,’’ Daily Telegraph (London), July 20, 2003.

39. Marie Calvin, ‘‘Holy War With U.S. in His Sights,’’ Times (London), Aug. 16, 1998; Riyad

‘Alam al-Din, ‘‘Report Links Bin Ladin, Nuclear Weapons,’’ Watan al-Arabi (Lebanon), Nov.

13, 1998; Emil Torabi, ‘‘bin Laden’s Nuclear Weapons,’’ Muslim Magazine (Winter 1998).

40. ‘‘Arab Security Sources Speak of a New Scenario for Afghanistan: Secret Roaming

Networks That Exchange Nuclear Weapons for Drugs,’’ Al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), Dec.

24, 2000.

41. Uthman Tizghart, ‘‘Does Bin Ladin Really Possess Weapons of Mass Destruction? Tale of

Russian Mafia Boss Simion Mogilevich Who Supplied Bin Ladin With the Nuclear ‘Dirty

Bomb’,’’ Al-Majallah (London), Nov. 25, 2001; ‘‘Al-Majallah Obtains Serious Information on

al-Qa’ida’s Attempt to Acquire Nuclear Arms,’’ Al-Majallah (London), Sept. 8, 2002; ‘‘N-

Weapons May be in U.S. Already,’’ Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Nov. 14, 2001.

42. Toby Harnden, ‘‘Rogue Scientists Gave bin Laden Nuclear Secrets,’’ Daily Telegraph

(London), Dec. 13, 2001; Peter Baker, ‘‘Pakistani Scientist Who Met bin Laden Failed

Polygraphs, Renewing Suspicions,’’ Washington Post , March 3, 2002; Susan B. Glasser and

Kamran Khan, ‘‘Pakistan Continues Probe of Nuclear Scientists,’’ Washington Post , Nov.

14, 2001.

43. ‘‘Pakistani Told al-Qaeda Operatives to Acquire Nuclear Weapons, U.S. Investigators Say,’’

Nuclear Threat Initiative, Feb. 11, 2005, B/�/;


Frank Davies, ‘‘U.S. Alleges Pakistani Businessman Urged al Qaeda to Acquire Nuclear

Weapons,’’ Miami Herald , Feb. 11, 2005.

44. Max Delaney, ‘‘Under Attack al-Qaeda Makes Nuclear Claim,’’ Moscow News , March 3,


45. Kimberly McCloud and Matthew Osbourne, ‘‘WMD Terrorism and Osama bin Ladin,’’

Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Nov. 20, 2001, B/ binladen.htm�/.

46. ‘‘Al-Qaida Said to Possess Nuclear Arms,’’ Associated Press, Feb. 9, 2004; ‘‘Al-Qaida May

Have Nuclear Weapons,’’, Feb. 8, 2004, B/�/; ‘‘Al- Qaida Does Not Have Our Nuclear Bombs Insists Ukraine,’’ Scotsman , Feb. 11, 2004;

Nikolai Sokov, ‘‘Suitcase Nukes: Permanently Lost Luggage,’’ Center for Nonproliferation

Studies, Feb. 13, 2004, B/�/; Jane Macartney, ‘‘Al-Qaeda Unlikely to Have Attained Nuclear Know-How,’’ Reuters, Feb. 6, 2004.

47. Earl Lane and Knut Royce, ‘‘Nuclear Aspirations? Sources: bin Laden Tried to Obtain

Enriched Uranium,’’ Newsday (New York), Sept. 19, 2001; Benjamin Weiser, ‘‘U.S. Says Bin

Ladin Aide Tried to Get Nuclear Weapons,’’ New York Times , Sept. 26, 1998.

48. Bill Gertz, ‘‘Nuclear Plants Targeted,’’ Washington Times , Jan. 31, 2002; John J. Lumpkin,

‘‘Diagrams Show Interest in Nuke Plants,’’ Associated Press, Jan. 30, 2002.

49. Craig Whitlock, ‘‘Germany Arrests Two Al Qaeda Suspects,’’ Washington Post , Jan. 24,

2005; ‘‘Germany: Al Qaeda Suspects Held,’’ Facts on File World News Digest, Jan. 27, 2005,

B/�/; ‘‘Iraqi Al-Qaeda Suspect Held in Germany Sent by bin Laden,’’ Agence France Presse, Jan. 29, 2005.

50. Martin Arostegui, ‘‘Terrorism in Morocco Deeper Than Imagined,’’ United Press

International, June 7, 2003; ‘‘Frenchman on Trial in Morocco Over Suicide Bombings,’’

Agence France Presse, Aug. 25, 2003.

51. ‘‘Report Links Bin-Ladin, Nuclear Weapons,’’ Al-Watan Al-Arabi, Nov. 13, 1998, in FBIS,

FTS19981113001081; ‘‘Report Cites French ‘Expert’ on bin Laden Acquisition of Nuclear

Weapons,’’ London Al-Majallah, Nov. 25, 2001, in FBIS, GMP20020108000065.

52. Toby Harnden, ‘‘Rogue Scientists Gave bin Laden Nuclear Secrets,’’ Daily Telegraph

(London), Dec. 12, 2001; Peter Baker, ‘‘Pakistani Scientist Who Met bin Laden Failed

Polygraphs, Renewing Suspicions,’’ Washington Post , March 3, 2002; Susan B. Glasser and

Kamran Khan, ‘‘Pakistan Continues Probe of Nuclear Scientists,’’ Washington Post , Nov.

14, 2001.

53. ‘‘Islamist Says ‘More Than 50’ Suicide Bombers Recruited, Most in UK,’’ BBC Worldwide

Monitoring, May 6, 2003; ‘‘Italian Aide Confirms Risk of Biochemical Terrorist Attacks in

Italy,’’ La Stampa (Italy), Feb. 12, 2003, FBIS, EUP20030212000044.

54. Jeffrey Bale, Anjali Bhattacharjee, Eric Croddy, and Richard Pilch, ‘‘Ricin Found in London:

An al-Qa’ida Connection?’’ Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Jan. 23, 2003; Richard

Norton-Taylor, Nick Hopkins, and Jon Henley, ‘‘Poison suspect trained at al-Qaida camp,’’

The Guardian (London), Jan. 10, 2003; Vasiliy Sergeyev, ‘‘London Poisoners Came from

Chechnya,’’ Gazeta (Moscow), Jan. 10, 2003, in FBIS, CEP20030110000097; ‘‘France, UK

security follow trail of new terrorist structures with Chechen cell,’’ Itar-Tass News Agency

(Moscow), Jan. 13, 2003, in FBIS, CEP20030113000116; ‘‘Domestic Minister Says Ricin


Laboratories Found in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge,’’ Moscow Interfax in Russian, Feb. 8, 2003,

in FBIS CEP20030208000036.

55. Bale et al. , ‘‘Ricin Found in London: An al-Qa’ida Connection?’’; ‘‘Terror Police Find Deadly

Poison,’’ BBC News, B/�/. 56. Duncan Campbell, ‘‘The Ricin Ring That Never Was,’’ The Guardian (London), April 14,

2005; ‘‘Ricin Plot Triggers UK Asylum Row,’’ CNN News, April 14, 2005.

57. Campbell, ‘‘The Ricin Ring That Never Was.’’

58. Walter Pincus, ‘‘London Ricin Finding Called a False Positive,’’ Washington Post , April 14,

2005; ‘‘Police Murderer Appeal Dismissed,’’ BBC News, July 19, 2005, B/�/. 59. Duncan Campbell, Vikram Dodd, Richard Norton-Taylor, and Rosie Cowan, ‘‘Police Killer

Gets 17 Years for Poison Plot,’’ The Guardian (London), April 14, 2003.

60. Eliza Griswold Serget, ‘‘Makeshift Ricin Labs Linked to bin Laden’s Men,’’ The Times

(London), April 6, 2003.

61. William Safire, ‘‘Saddam and Terror,’’ New York Times , Aug. 22, 2002.

62. ‘‘US Knew of Bioterror Tests in Iraq,’’ BBC News, Aug. 20, 2002; Isam’il Zayir, ‘‘Ansar al-

Islam Group Accuses [Jalal] Talabani of Spreading Rumors About its Cooperation with al-

Qa’ida,’’ Al-Hayah , Aug. 22, 2002.

63. Jonathan Schanzer, Al-Qa’ida’s Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation

of Terror (New York: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2005), citing Bart Gellman,

‘‘U.S. Suspects Al Qa’ida Got Nerve Agent from Iraqis; Analysts: Chemical May be VX, and

Was Smuggled Via Turkey,’’ Washington Post , Dec. 12, 2002.

64. Jason Burke, ‘‘Al Qa’ida.’’

65. ‘‘Ansar al-Islam,’’ Federation of American Scientists, April 30, 2004.

66. Schanzer, citing ‘‘Terror Handbook Found at Ansar al-Islam Camp: Report,’’ Associated

Foreign Press, April 9, 2003.

67. Schanzer, citing Isma’il Zayir, ‘‘Ansar al-Islam Group Accuses Talabani of Spreading

Rumors About its Cooperation with al-Qa’ida,’’ Al-Hayat , Aug. 22, 2002; Robin Wright,

‘‘Wanted Iraqi May be Al-Qa’ida Link, Los Angeles Times , Dec. 9, 2002; Schanzer, interview

with Barham Salih, Jan. 10, 2003.

68. ‘‘Afghan Alliance*UBL Trying to Make Chemical Weapons,’’ Parwan Payam-e-Mojahed , Dec. 23, 1999.

69. John McWethy, ‘‘bin Laden Set to Strike Again?’’ ABC News, June 16, 1999.

70. Dominic Evans, ‘‘U.S. Troops Found Afghan Biological Lab,’’ Reuters, March 22, 2002;

Michael R. Gordon, ‘‘U.S. Says it Found Qaeda Lab Being Built to Produce Anthrax,’’ New

York Times , March 23, 2002.

71. ‘‘Ricin Found in Afghanistan,’’ Global Security Newswire, Jan. 8, 2003, B/

d_newswire/issues/thisweek/2003_1_8_chmw.html�/. 72. Judith Miller, ‘‘Lab Suggests Qa’ida Planned to Build Arms, Officials Say,’’ New York Times ,

Sept. 14, 2002.

73. ‘‘Al-Qa’ida Operatives Discussed WMD Attacks While Training Prior to 9/11, Report Says,’’

Global Security Newswire, June 16, 2004.

74. ‘‘Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects (U),’’ Central Intelligence Agency, May 2003.


75. Alan Culluson and Andrew Higgins, ‘‘Computer in Kabul Holds Chilling Memos,’’ Wall

Street Journal , Dec. 31, 2001; ‘‘Report: Al Qa’ida Computer Had Plans For Bio-Weapons,’’

Reuters, Dec. 21, 2001.

76. Jason Burke, Al-Qa’ida Casting a Shadow of Terror (London: I.B. Tauris, 2003), p. 187.

77. Gunaratna, Inside Al Qa’ida Global Network of Terror , p. 49.

78. Burke, Al-Qa’ida Casting a Shadow of Terror , p. 187.

79. U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, United States of America Vs. 0sama bin

Laden: Testimony of Jamal Ahmad al-Fadl , Feb. 6�13, 2001, pp. 292, 366, 524�26. 80. Gunaratna, Inside Al Qa’ida Global Network of Terror, p. 36.

81. Ibid.

82. Ibid, p. 34.

83. ‘‘Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders � World Islamic Front Statement,’’Federation of American Scientists , Feb. 23, 1998, B/ htm�/.

84. Recently, the London-based Arabic newspaper, al-Sharq al-Awsat , obtained a manuscript

authored by Abu Walid al-Masri, a leading al-Qaeda ideologue and a member of bin

Laden’s inner circle. In this manuscript, ‘‘The Story of the Afghan Arabs: From the Entry to

Afghanistan to the Final Exodus with Taliban,’’ the author reveals many of the internal

dynamics that led to the al-Qaeda decision to pursue a WMD capability. Through his

membership in the Majlis al-Shura (al-Qaeda’s ruling body), the author participated in the

meetings in which al-Qaeda leadership debated the benefits of pursuing a WMD

capability and the impact such a move would have on the global Jihadi movement and

the actions of the United States in the region. ‘‘Book: The Story of the Arab Afghans,’’

Asharq Alawsat , Dec. 8, 2004, B/�/8&book- id�/2&secid�/3�/; Nick Fielding, ‘‘bin Laden’s dirty bomb quest exposed,’’ The Times Online, Dec. 19, 2004.

85. ‘‘Book: The Story of the Arab Afghans,’’ Asharq Alawsat .

86. Ibid.

87. Ibid.

88. Ibid.

89. Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania

Press, 2004), p. 22.

90. Anonymous, Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror (Dulles: Brassey’s,

2004), p. 153.

91. Ibid, p. 156.

92. Ibid.

93. Ibid.

94. ‘‘Al-Qa’ida Denies Jordan WMD Plot,’’ BBC News, April 30, 2004, B/�/. 95. Peter Bergen, ‘‘Reading al-Qaeda,’’ Washington Post , Sept. 11, 2005.

96. Reuven Paz, ‘‘Global Jihad and WMD: Between Martyrdom and Mass Destruction,’’ in

Hillel Fradkin, Husain Haqqani and Eric Brown, eds., Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

(Washington D.C.: Hudson Institute, 2005), p. 82.

97. Ibid.

98. ‘‘NYPD Officials Reveal London Bombing Details,’’ Associated Press, Aug. 4, 2005.


99. Stephen Ulph, ‘‘For Mujahideen, Bomb-Making Information Readily Accessible Online,’’

Jamestown , Aug. 2, 2005.

100. ‘‘Military Preparation � Peroxide Acetone,’’ Mausu’at al-Aqsa al-Jihadiya – the Aqsa Jihadi Encyclopedia Website.

101. ‘‘Table of Contents,’’ Mausu’a al ‘Aidad, The Preparation Encyclopedia Website.

102. Ibid.

103. ‘‘Biological Weapons,’’ al Tawhid Wal Jihad Website.

¯104. Ibid.

105. Reuven Paz, ‘‘Global Jihad and WMD: Between Martyrdom and Mass Destruction,’’ p. 83.

106. Ibid.

107. Layth al-Islam, ‘‘Nuclear Preparation Encyclopedia,’’ al-Firdaws , Oct. 6, 2005.

108. ‘‘Biological Weapons,’’ al Tawhid Wal Jihad Website.

109. Ansar al-Qa’ida, ‘‘Encyclopedia of Poisons,’’ Mausu’a al ‘Aidad � The Preparation Encyclopedia Website; ‘‘All That Relates to Chemical Weapon (Mustard Gas) A Lot of

Important and Rare Information for the First Time,’’ al-Ma’asada al Jihadiya � The Jihadi Lion’s Den Website.

110. ‘‘The Camera Complains, Carry Me and Embarrass the Tyrants,’’ Manbar Suria al-Islami � The Syria Islamic Website, May 2005.

111. Dr. Raymond Zilinskas, Director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation

Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Interview by author, Monterey,

California, Aug. 4, 2005.

112. ‘‘Declaration of Jihad Against the Tyrants � Lesson Sixteen,’’ The Smoking Gun Website; Abu Hadhifa al-Shami, ‘‘A Course in Popular Poisons and Deadly Gases,’’ Islamic Media

Center, Mausu’a al ‘Aidad � The Preparation Encyclopedia Website; Abdel-Aziz, ‘‘The Mujahideen Poison Handbook,’’ Feb. 7, 1996; Ansar al-Qa’ida, ‘‘Encyclopedia of Poisons,’’

Mausu’a al ’Aidad � The Preparation Encyclopedia Website. 113. Ansar al-Qa’ida, ‘‘Encyclopedia of Poisons;’’ ‘‘All That Relates to the Chemical Weapon

(Mustard Gas) a Lot of Important and Rare Information for the First Time,’’ al-Ma’asada al

Jihadiya � The Jihadi Lion’s Den Website. 114. al-Shami, ‘‘A Course in Popular Poisons and Deadly Gases;’’ Abdel-Aziz, ‘‘The Mujahideen

Poison Handbook;’’ Ansar al-Qa’ida, ‘‘Encyclopedia of Poisons.’’

115. al-Shami, ‘‘A Course in Popular Poisons and Deadly Gases;’’ Abdel-Aziz, ‘‘The Mujahideen

Poison Handbook;’’ Ansar al-Qa’ida, ‘‘Encyclopedia of Poisons.’’

116. ‘‘The Biological Weapon,’’ Mausu’a al E’adad � The Preparation Encyclopedia Website. 117. Ibid.; Michael Pelczar, Roger Reid, and E.C.S. Chan, Microbiology (New York: McGraw-Hill,

1977), pp. 97, 108�10, 114, 129�30, 136�40, 145, 217, 224, 644�45, 659. 118. ‘‘The Nuclear Bomb,’’ al-Khayma � the Tent Website; ‘‘Documentation and Diagrams of

the Atomic Bomb,’’ Outlaw Labs (No publication or posting date provided).

119. Abu al-Usood al-Faqir, ‘‘Instances of Radiation Pollution from 1945�1987,’’ al-Farouq Website.

120. ‘‘How to Build Your Own H-Bomb at Home,’’ al-Ma’asada al Jihadiya � The Jihadi Lion’s Den Website, March 2005.

121. Layth al-Islam, ‘‘Nuclear Preparation Encyclopedia,’’ al-Firdaws Website , Oct. 6, 2005.

122. Ibid.


123. Ibid.

124. Richard Pilch and Raymond Zilinskas, eds., Encyclopedia of Bioterrorism Defense (Hoboken,

NJ: Wiley-Liss, 2005), p.76.

125. Eric Croddy, Chemical and Biological Warfare: A Comprehensive Survey for the Concerned

Citizen (New York: Copernicus, 2002), p. 14.

126. Ibid., pp. 17�18. 127. John Mintz, ‘‘Technical Hurdles Separate Terrorists From Biowarfare,’’ Washington Post ,

Dec. 30, 2004; Dafna Linzer, ‘‘Nuclear Capabilities May Elude Terrorist, Experts Say,’’

Washington Post , Dec. 29, 2004.

128. ‘‘Learn my Mujahid Brother How to Manufacture Poisons,’’ al-Ma’asada al Jihadiya � The Jihadi Lion’s Den Website, Nov. 13, 2004.

129. Ibid.

130. Ibid.

131. ‘‘The Biological Weapon,’’ Mausu’a al E’adad � The Preparation Encyclopedia Website; Abu al-Usood al-Faqir, ‘‘Instances of Radiation Pollution from 1945�1987,’’ al-Farouq Website.

132. Richard Stone, ‘‘Agencies Plan Exchange With Libya’s Former Weaponeers,’’ Science

Magazine , April 8, 2005.

133. John Mintz, ‘‘Technical Hurdles Separate Terrorists From Biowarfare,’’ Washington Post ,

Dec. 30, 2004.

134. David Kaplan, ‘‘Aum Shinrikyo (1995),’’ in Jonathan Tucker, ed., Toxic Terror (Cambridge,

MA: MIT Press, 2001), pp. 207�26. 135. Ibid.

136. U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Governmental Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on

Investigations (Minority Staff), Staff Statement, Hearings on Global Proliferation of

Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo , Oct. 31, 1995, cited

by Kaplan.

137. ‘‘Aum Buildings Yield Evidence of Bio-weapons,’’ Daily Yomiuri , April 2, 1995, p. 1; ‘‘Article

Views Cult Biological Weapons Activities,’’ Shukan Yomiuri (Japan), April 30, 1995, in FBIS,


138. Kaplan, ‘‘Aum Shinrikyo (1995),’’ in Tucker, ed., Toxic Terror , pp. 207�26. 139. Ibid.

140. ‘‘Aum Tied to Anthrax Germ Production,’’ Daily Yomiuri , Oct. 12, 1995, p. 2; ‘‘Aum Leaders

Behind Release of Anthrax Virus in Tokyo,’’ Japan Economic Newswire, July 26, 1995;

‘‘Aum Released Anthrax in Tokyo in 1993: Police,’’ Japan Economic Newswire, July 25,


141. ‘‘Aum Made Devices to Spray Bacterium,’’ Daily Yomiuri , June 17, 1995, p. 2; ‘‘Aum Cult

Was to Spray Killer Bacteria in Tokyo Subway: Report,’’ Agence France Presse, June 17,


142. ‘‘Fact Sheet on Dirty Bombs,’’ U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Website, B/www.�/. 143. ‘‘Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects (U),’’ Central Intelligence Agency, May 2003.


144. Peter D. Zimmerman and Cheryl Loeb, ‘‘Dirty Bombs: The Threat Revealed,’’ Defense

Horizons , Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense

University, Washington, D.C., Jan. 2004, No. 38.

145. Ibid.

146. Ibid.

147. ‘‘Are ‘Dirty Bombs’ a Major Terrorism Risk?’’ Nuclear Control Institute, Washington, D.C.,

Website, B/�/. 148. Zimmerman and Loeb, ‘‘Dirty Bombs: The Threat Revealed.’’

149. ‘‘Terrorists Seeking Weapons of Mass Destruction � Patrushev,’’ Interfax, Aug. 19, 2005. 150. ‘‘Osama bin Laden Seeking to Acquire Russian Nuclear Weapon, Former CIA Analyst

Says,’’ Global Security Newswire, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Washington, D.C., Nov. 22,

2004, B/�/. 151. ‘‘Russian Government Approves Draft Program to Eliminate Chemical Weapons,’’ Itar-

Tass, July 21, 2005, B/�/2251113�/; ‘‘Russia to Destroy Chemical Weapons Arsenal,’’ Agence France Presse, July 21, 2005.

152. Joby Warrick, ‘‘Soviet Germ Factories Pose New Threat: Once Mined for Pathogens in

Bioweapons Program, Labs Lack Security,’’ Washington Post , Aug. 20, 2005.

153. Dafna Linzer, ‘‘Nuclear Capabilities May Elude Terrorists, Experts Say,’’ Washington Post ,

Dec. 29, 2004.

154. Muhammad Salah, ‘‘Bin Ladin Front Reportedly Bought CBW From E. Europe,’’ al-Hayah ,

April 20, 1999; ‘‘US Said Interrogating Jihadist Over CBW,’’ al-Hayah , April 21, 1999.

155. Linzer, ‘‘Nuclear Capabilities May Elude Terrorists, Experts Say.’’

156. ‘‘Insider Notes,’’ United Press International, June 3, 2002.