MI5: Al Qaida found 'renegade scientists' to develop WMD

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

LONDON The head of Britain's MI5 has warned that an "unconventional attack" on a major Western city is "only a matter of time."

Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director of Britain's domestic intelligence agency said Al Qaida has recruited what she termed "renegade scientists" to develop either biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

"We know that renegade scientists have cooperated with Al Qaida and provided them with some of the knowledge they need to develop these CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] weapons," Ms. Manningham-Buller told the Royal United Services Institute in London on Tuesday. "My conclusion, based on the intelligence we have uncovered, is that we are faced with the realistic possibility of some form of unconventional attack."

Officials said Al Qaida has obtained services from scientists who had worked in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the Islamic insurgency group has also purchased a large amount of dual-use command and control systems from the West, particularly Japan.

"Sadly, given the widespread proliferation of the technical knowledge to construct these weapons, it will only be a matter of time before a crude version of a CBRN attack is launched at a major Western city and only a matter of time before that crude version becomes something more sophisticated," she said.

In January, British authorities discovered traces of ricin, a toxin used in chemical weapons. The poision was found in a police raid in London.

Britain has been on high alert of an Al Qaida attack since September 2001. Ms. Manningham-Buller said the British intelligence community, called the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, was examining 150 alerts a day related to an insurgency attack.

"The threat from international terrorism is with us for a good long time," Ms. Manningham-Buller said. "If this is a war that can be won, it is not going to be won soon. Breaking the link between terrorism and religious ideology is difficult."

Ms. Manningham-Buller told the strategic center that Al Qaida has access to numerous people who are willing to die in a conventional or nonconventional weapons attack against Western targets. She did not envision a drop in the pool of suicide volunteers.

"The bomb and the suicide bomber remain the most effective tool in the terrorist arsenal," the MI5 chief said. "Terrorist attacks by Al Qaida have inflicted large-scale civilian casualties and they have deliberately attacked soft targets. In the front line, alongside military forces, diplomats and government targets, are tourists and people going about their normal business. Al Qaida's targeting demonstrates the vulnerability of sophisticated Western societies."

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