Why Senator Lugar is worried about bioterrorism in East Africa
Pentagon and congressional officials who toured a Kenyan medical laboratory are concerned that terrorist groups could get their hands on disease samples stored there.
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“You shouldn’t make it easy to find this stuff, but if you really want it, there are plenty of places to get it,” she says, cautioning that it also takes some expertise to use disease samples as a tool to harm others. “It is a lower-tech option than making a nuclear weapon, sure, but it’s not as simple as stealing it and then infecting yourself. To then infect others, you would have to know a little bit about what you are doing.”Skip to next paragraph
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Spreading disease a bigger threat than bio-weapons
In East Africa, where Al Qaeda is gaining an increasingly secure toehold, Lugar says “it’s less bioweapons – they are too expensive and sophisticated – than, unhappily, simply the malicious spread of viruses and diseases that would be injurious to whichever population terrorists would want to afflict.”
Stolen pathogens, he suggested, could be used by attackers who would circulate in populated areas and try to spread the disease.
Waste from experiments was poorly stored before being incinerated. Cooler boxes of disease samples (although not the most deadly) were stockpiled in corridors. And then there was the cheek-by-jowl proximity of homes just beyond Kemri’s basic perimeter.
“People are literally living up against the wall,” said Lugar, adding that such sensitive facilities are usually far from towns and cities.
“I won’t try to describe all the scenarios which could follow if a malicious human being seized a container of whatever is stored here, but it would not take enormous imagination," he said. “Al Shabab, or Al Qaeda, clearly has a few persons who are specialized in this malice but still lack the raw material to carry out this mission.”
Facilities, security are spread thin
Solomon Mpoke, Kemri’s director, conceded that security at his laboratories was “average” and that at times incineration and storage facilities are “overwhelmed."
“To date we’ve not had any threat,” he said. “But what we’re hearing all over the place here, bombs being released here, who knows, the next thing could be a biological threat. We should be worried about that.
There have been a series of recent warnings that Islamic terrorists with Western targets in their sights are increasing their influence – and recruiting – in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, and Yemen.
Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgent group, Al Shabab, this year launched its first deadly attack in another country with twin suicide bombings that killed almost 80 people in Kampala, Uganda. Nairobi could also be a target, for its support of Somalia's government, Al Shabab has warned.
“[The Kampala bombings] certainly caused us to place a higher priority in this part of the world than, for example Latin America,” said Weber, the defense secretary's assistant.