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Bin Laden cohorts said in arms quest


Published 9/15/01

Islamic extremists linked to Osama bin Laden are seeking chemical or biological weapons and even nuclear arms that could be used in future attacks, intelligence specialists say. A U.S. intelligence official said yesterday there are reports that bin Laden's organization has acquired some type of nuclear device.

"Osama bin Laden and his network have shown a strong interest in [chemical weapons]," said former CIA intelligence chief John Gannon. Mr. Gannon stated at a recent conference on terrorists' use of weapons of mass destruction that the number of extremist groups seeking biological and chemical arms is increasing.

"We know that bin Laden's organization has attempted to develop poisonous gases that could be fired at U.S. troops in Gulf states," said Mr. Gannon, who now works with Intellibridge, a private firm.

Commenting on future dangers, Mr. Gannon stated: "If you don't get hit by a North Korean ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) over the next five years, chances are you will suffer a horrible, premature death when Osama bin Laden poisons your hometown water supply."

Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism official, said bin Laden and his networks have gone into hiding since Tuesday's attacks, fearing retaliatory strikes from the United States. There have been intelligence reports indicating that bin Laden associates training in Afghanistan have been trying to develop chemical weapons, U.S. officials say. In 1999, bin Laden stated that his followers should "seek to possess the weapons that could counter those of the infidels'" and that doing so was a religious duty.

Other attacks could be in the works, according to U.S. intelligence officials. However, counterterrorism specialists believe it is unlikely that future attacks will be like Tuesday's hijacking-suicide aircraft strikes. Security measures will be increased to make such attacks more difficult, driving terrorists to seek other targets and methods.

Bin Laden's indiscriminate and large-casualty attacks show he is a prime candidate to use weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Cannistraro said. "Is he willing to do that? Obviously, he keeps escalating the terrorist operations he pulls."

Bin Laden-linked terrorists have been blamed for the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and now for three successful attacks and an apparent failed one that involved a total of at least 19 suicide bombers, Mr. Cannistraro said. He added that Bin Laden's method is to never follow exactly the same pattern as the last attack, and that indicates he may move to weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Cannistraro said there are indications an Islamic front group in Chicago tied to bin Laden has invested in a company that produces chlorine for swimming pools. There are concerns the plant also could be used to produce chemical arms, he said.

Mr. Gannon stated that the threat of terrorist attack using biological or chemical weapons is "grave" because the problem has not been defined well and federal authorities have not "joined forces to deal with it."

"We are, as a result, more open to a serious incident and to surprise in general," Mr. Gannon said. Deadly biological weapons, such as anthrax, can be developed with minimal laboratory capabilities. It is more difficult to deploy them as weapons. Chemical weapons also can be produced with relative ease, as shown by the 1995 subway attack with Sarin nerve agent developed by the Japanese group Aum Shinri Kyo.

There is also evidence bin Laden's umbrella organization al-Qaeda, "the Base," is seeking nuclear weapons. A 1998 FBI complaint made public in New York stated that al-Qaeda has tried since 1993 to buy enriched uranium "for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons." The State Department's latest annual report on international terrorism stated that the possibility of terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or large explosive weapons "remained real."

"Most terrorists continued to rely on conventional tactics, such as bombing, shooting, and kidnapping, but some terrorists -- such as Osama bin Laden and his associates -- continued to seek [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] capabilities," the report said. Terrorists willing to inflict large numbers of casualties may be attracted to such weapons, it said.

Former State Department counterterrorism official Larry Johnson said bin Laden may be seeking weapons of mass destruction but that actually getting them and using them in terrorist attacks would be difficult. Still, "if somehow he gets access to a weapon [of mass destruction], there is little to prevent him from using it," he said.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 15, 2001


This is a chilling article, indeed. How much more chilling could it get?

-- Loner (, September 16, 2001.

Yes, I think we've now seen the last of the hijack-type terrorism. Sealed cockpits, armed police-type gun-slingrs riding shotgun, etc., will wipe out this kind of terrorism.

I suspect attention of the terrorists will now be turned to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (small suit case types).

This will be more horrible yet (if that's possible).

-- JackW (, September 16, 2001.

This thought, the whole of it, is so sickening it makes me just want to throw up.

-- Ruth LaMond (, September 16, 2001.

Bill Gertz is the best foreign affairs writer in the business. If he says it, it must be true.

-- Uncle Fred (, September 16, 2001.

Maybe we have "seen the last of the hijack-type terrorism." However, other forms of aircraft terrorism exist. Consider the equipment we provided in supporting the rebels in Afghanistan against the Soviets. The USA gave them about 5 BILLION dollars (which probably is still being used to fund terrorist activities), all kinds of weapons including Stinger missiles. The CIA still can not account for many of these missiles. I wonder how many are in this country just waiting to be used against some aircraft taking off or landing?

-- Joe (, September 16, 2001.

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