DOES INTENT EQUAL CAPABILITY?
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
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
616 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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)
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 617
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.
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
618 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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.
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 619
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.
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
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
620 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 621
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.
622 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 623
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
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
624 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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,
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 625
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
626 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
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
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 627
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
628 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 629
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
630 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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-
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.
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
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 631
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
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
632 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 633
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
Outlines for the
manufacture of munitions
Instructions for delivery
Mass casualty potential of this agent if produced following
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
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
634 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
Outlines for the
manufacture of munitions
Instructions for delivery
Mass casualty potential of this agent if produced following
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 635
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
636 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 637
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
638 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 639
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
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,
640 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 641
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
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
642 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 643
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
644 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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/www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2000/ 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/www.ict.org.il/inter_ 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/www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID�/6�/. 7. Federation of American Scientists, Intelligent Resource Program, ‘‘Al-Qai’da-The Base,’’
B/www.fas.org/irp/world/para/ladin.htm�/. 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/www.dawn.com/2001/11/10/ 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,’’
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 645
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.
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/http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/week/040413.htm�/; ‘‘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.
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.
646 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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/www.trackingthethreat.com�/. 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.
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.
43. ‘‘Pakistani Told al-Qaeda Operatives to Acquire Nuclear Weapons, U.S. Investigators Say,’’
Nuclear Threat Initiative, Feb. 11, 2005, B/www.nti.org/d_newswire/issues/2005/�/;
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 647
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/http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/reports/ binladen.htm�/.
46. ‘‘Al-Qaida Said to Possess Nuclear Arms,’’ Associated Press, Feb. 9, 2004; ‘‘Al-Qaida May
Have Nuclear Weapons,’’ Aljazeera.net, Feb. 8, 2004, B/http://english.aljazeera.net�/; ‘‘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/http://www.cns.miis.edu/�/; 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/www.facts.com/online-wnd.htm�/; ‘‘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.
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
648 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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/www.news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2636099.stm�/. 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/http://news.bbc.
co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4695447.stm�/. 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/www.nti.org/
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.
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 649
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.
82. Ibid, p. 34.
83. ‘‘Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders � World Islamic Front Statement,’’Federation of American Scientists , Feb. 23, 1998, B/www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa. 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/http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section�/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 .
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.
94. ‘‘Al-Qa’ida Denies Jordan WMD Plot,’’ BBC News, April 30, 2004, B/www.bbc.co.uk�/. 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.
98. ‘‘NYPD Officials Reveal London Bombing Details,’’ Associated Press, Aug. 4, 2005.
650 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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.
103. ‘‘Biological Weapons,’’ al Tawhid Wal Jihad Website.
105. Reuven Paz, ‘‘Global Jihad and WMD: Between Martyrdom and Mass Destruction,’’ p. 83.
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.
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 651
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.
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
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.
nrc.gov�/. 143. ‘‘Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects (U),’’ Central Intelligence Agency, May 2003.
652 SAMMY SALAMA AND LYDIA HANSELL
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.
147. ‘‘Are ‘Dirty Bombs’ a Major Terrorism Risk?’’ Nuclear Control Institute, Washington, D.C.,
Website, B/www.nci.org/nci-nt.htm�/. 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/www.nti.org�/. 151. ‘‘Russian Government Approves Draft Program to Eliminate Chemical Weapons,’’ Itar-
Tass, July 21, 2005, B/http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/prnt.html?NewsID�/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.
AL-QAEDA AND WMD 653