Much has been said about al-Qaeda’s quest to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as a means of striking at the heart of their number one enemy, the United States. The latest example of these ongoing efforts to acquire WMD capabilities is a recent posting in a jihadi internet forum entitled: “Good News – Anthrax Production Technique” (al-ekhlaas.net, March 3).
A forum participant, nicknamed al-Faz, posted a detailed description of anthrax production techniques dedicated to jihadis everywhere: “Long awaited good news for you, God’s soldiers. It’s time to use biological weapons against God’s enemies.” Al-Faz commences his posting with an introduction to anthrax and the pathology of the disease, including symptoms, parts of human body infected when exposed to anthrax and fatality percentages. Al-Faz notes that anthrax bacteria can be found in Africa, Asia and in some parts of Europe where the soil contains 10 anthrax bacteria per gram.
According to the jihadi forum, the following factors make anthrax the weapon of choice:
• Anthrax is powerful, lethal, cheap and easy to prepare.
• 50 grams of anthrax, when dispersed in a 2-kilometer line, forms a deadly cloud that can cover 20 kilometers.
• One kilogram of anthrax can be produced in a small laboratory in 96 hours.
• Anthrax bacteria spores are available worldwide and can be easily extracted.
• Production costs are low; one kilogram of anthrax bacteria costs about $50 even though a lethal dose can be as little as one millionth of a gram.
• Colorless and odorless anthrax is easily concealed.
• Anthrax is a stable and dry substance that can be easily transported and used.
Before proceeding to anthrax production, al-Faz includes in his posting a picture of one of the anthrax-contaminated letters used in the 2001 U.S. anthrax attacks that killed five and infected 17 others. Undoubtedly included in an effort to encourage jihadis to try anthrax as a weapon, the letter reads: “You cannot stop us. We have this anthrax. You die now. Are you afraid? Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.” The photo of the letter in no way establishes a jihadi connection to the still unsolved anthrax attacks—it is one of several released by the FBI and is easily available on the internet. Nevertheless, anthrax continues to be a feared weapon—only last week an Albany, Oregon courthouse was closed and the National Guard called in to deal with threats of anthrax contamination, which later proved to be a hoax (Albany Democrat Herald, March 4).
The second part of al-Faz’s posting elaborates on two methods of anthrax production. Photos are included of the microscopic phases of the process, including the extraction of anthrax bacteria from a sample of dirt that contains the infected remains of dead goats or other grazing animals’ remnants. A sample of a dead animal’s blood or tissue can also be used by cultivating it in a blood agar substance containing 0.7% sodium bicarbonate.
The attached pictures illustrate bacilli bacteria, spirochetes and bacteria clusters. The posting further includes precautionary instructions for the different phases of production. “Agar is a nutrient environment for cultivation that can be bought without drawing any suspicions from research centers for 70 Riyals or $20 per one kilogram,” says al-Faz.
The second method of producing anthrax involves cultivating the anthrax in horse
blood and bentonite clay for five hours. Bentonite clay, an absorbent form of clay with multiple industrial uses, can be found in Iraq and two other countries in the region.
In conclusion, al-Faz says, “I wanted to contribute in the preparations against enemies of God. Consider me the servant of the mujahideen. I closely follow your news. May God reward you for your sacrifices. It would make me very happy to see you use biological weapons against God’s enemies. Wait for my next detailed posting on how to build a Cessna 128 aircraft,” which is an easily maintained agricultural aircraft designed to carry and spread a chemical load of 200 to 280 gallons.
Although there is no tangible evidence to confirm that jihadis have produced or procured mass quantities of biological weapons, the use of anthrax spores in bioterrorism has been discussed by jihadis for some time now. In theory, at least, cultivating anthrax spores can be achieved with minimum know-how and equipment, suggesting it is only a matter of time until jihadis succeed in producing some kind of biological weapon. There are, however, many dangers involved in the process and the development of a weaponized aerosol version of the bacterium requires scientific skills and equipment unavailable to most jihadis.