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Terrorism With Weapons Of Mass Destruction

Analysis: Terrorism With Weapons Of Mass Destruction

(c) Felipe Rodriquez 17 September 2001


The terrorist network around Osama Bin Laden has been trying to acquire nuclear weapons and nuclear materials since about 1993. There are various reports that he has succeeded in obtaining nuclear weapons and material. Any form of retaliation against Bin Laden and his network should take this information into account. It is possible that the WTC bombing was a trap, with the intention to provoke the United States and NATO into retaliation. Retaliation could be a trigger that provokes terrorist attacks with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.


In May 1998 US congressman Curt Weldon met with General Alexander Lebed, former Secretary of the National Security Council in Russia (1). In that meeting Lebed mentioned that the Soviet Union had manufactured 132 suitcase nuclear explosive devices, and could locate only 48 of them. These devices have an explosive charge of about 1 kiloton. They where allegedly created for the KGB, to be used around the world in the event of a conflict with Russia. A 1 kiloton nuclear device has a blast radius of about 500 meters, and is capable of destroying part of a city center, or any landmark building. Lebed said one person could detonate such a bomb by himself.

In an article in the Jerusalem Report(2) in 1999 Yossef Bodansky says that Bin Laden has acquired portable nuclear devices. Bodansky reports that Bin Laden’s associates acquired the devices through Chechnya, paying the Chechens $30 million in cash and two tons of Afghan heroin. Bodanksy is Director of the US House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Senior Editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs publications and director of The International Strategic Studies Association (3).

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Israeli military intelligence sources reported that Bin Laden paid over 2 million pounds sterling to a middle-man in Kazakhstan, who promised to deliver a “suitcase” nuclear bomb to Bin Laden within two years. (4)

The Arabic news magazine Al-Watan Al-Arabi reported that Usama Bin Laden was engaged in a comprehensive plan to acquire nuclear weapons.(5) In 1993, Bin Laden instructed some of his aides to obtain weapons-grade uranium that could be used to develop small nuclear weapons.(6)

Bin Laden wrote a document that was titled the endorsement of the nuclear bomb of Islam, in it he says that a nuclear bomb is needed to terrorize the enemies of God, and that it is the duty of the Muslims to prepare as much force possible to terrorize the enemies of God (7). This document was found in the residence of Khalid al Fawwaz. A US indictment against Fawwazz charges that he acted, together with others of the Al Qaeda group, in a conspiracy to murder United States nationals.

Jamal Ahmad al-Fadl is a Sudanese national and the star witness for the prosecution in the United states v. Bin Laden trial in the US. Al-Fadl alleged that Bin Laden and his associates sent him to Sudan to buy uranium from Sudanese black marketeers in 1994/95.(8) Bin Laden’s aide Mamdouh Mahmud Salim reportedly attempted to obtain highly enriched uranium in the mid-1990s.(9)

Even if terrorists did not acquire nuclear explosive devices, they could build a so-called 'dirty bomb', a conventional weapon that would shower lethal radioactive material over a wide area. There is a long history of nuclear smuggling incidents, most of these involve Russian radioactive material. A former greenpeace President said in 1995 that the organization had been offered a 800 kg nuclear Scud warhead by a former Soviet officer in 1991 (10).

There are also reports available that suggest that Bin Laden has obtained, or is trying to obtain, chemical and biological weapons.

In an interview with Frontline Samuel R. Berger, former U.S. National Security Advisor, says that the US has information that Bin Laden sought to attain chemical weapons, and that he wanted to use those chemical weapons against the United States (11). On March 4 2000 APBnews.com ran an article that said that bin Laden's trainees learn to use chemical weapons, and that there where chemical engineers present.

Manufacturing chemical weapons is not rocket science. One can obtain the relevant information from open literature, acquire the necessary chemicals, and prepare the agent. Formulas for manufacturing nerve agents, mustard gas, LSD, and herbicides are readily available in various scientific texts. (12)

In July 1999 the Pentagon considered a suspension of public tours because of heightened concerns of a possible terrorist attack with biological weapons by the followers of Osama bin Laden (13). Biological weapons are any infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus when used intentionally to inflict harm upon others. Biological weapons are immensely destructive. For example, botulinum toxin has been described as 3 million times more potent than the chemical nerve agent sarin. (14)


Current US policy to counter international terrorism rests on the following principles; make no concessions with terrorists and make no deals, bring terrorists to justice for their crimes, isolate and apply pressure on states that sponsor terrorism and force them to change their behavior, and bolster the counter terrorist capabilities of those countries that work with the US and require assistance (15). This is official US defense doctrine, and it is exactly how the US has reacted to the WTC attack in New York. The question is if this doctrine is still valid today, when dealing with terrorist organizations that have access to weapons of mass destruction.

A terrorist attack such as the WTC bombing takes a long time to prepare. The flight training of the terrorists itself takes months. It is unlikely that the attack on the WTC is a standalone activity. A hint in this direction is the assassination of the leader of Afghanistan's opposition to the ruling Taleban, Ahmed Shah Massoud two days before the attack in New York. Massoud's Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban alliance in northern Afghanistan, was the only potential US ally in a confrontation with the Taleban.

The WTC attack could well be part of a larger strategy with the aim of provoking the US and NATO into a full scale offensive. Such an offensive could give cause for further retaliation in the form of terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction. There are many indications that groups affiliated with Osama Bin Laden have obtained weapons of mass destruction.

Because article 5 of the NATO alliance was invoked, the WTC attack is considered to be an attack on all NATO members. Once a military campaign against Bin Laden and other terrorist organizations gets going, NATO members should be aware that they become targets for terrorist attacks, possibly with weapons of mass destruction. Europe is in many ways a more open society than the US, and its intelligence capabilities are much less developed than those in the US. Europe is therefore more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Retaliation of the WTC bombing could have catastrophic consequences for the US and all NATO members, because the US and NATO are vulnerable societies; they have a lot to lose, whereas the terrorist organizations have nothing to lose.

The rules of military engagement have changed. The US and NATO are not fighting a well known enemy, that can be defined in terms of infrastructure, its leaders and its military capabilities. The NATO military apparatus and doctrine is not adequate to fight an enemy that is global and dispersed, and that has access to a large pool of funds, human bombs, and weapons of mass destruction. Military retaliation will not achieve results, but will provoke a counter reaction.

Taking the well organized attack on the WTC and the African embassies as example, and considering the fact that these groups have obtained weapons of mass destruction, a horrible scenario comes to mind. Every attack that was credited to the Al Qaeda network was bigger than the last, and some of these attacks involved multiple targets that where hit simultaneously. A doomsday scenario would be an attack on multiple city center targets, with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Such an attack would be devastating enough to destroy the economic and cultural infrastructure of Europe and the US. It would destroy the foundations of the society that we live in and treasure. Retaliation is a mistake, because it could trigger this destruction.



(1) Report of meeting between Lebed and Curt Weldon

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/russia/suitcase/comments.htm l

(2) Jerusalem Report: October 25th, 1999


(3) Background of the International Strategic Studies Association


(4) Marie Colvin, “Holy War with US in his Sights,” Times, August 16, 1998.

(5) Report Links Bin-Laden, Nuclear Weapons,” Al-Watan Al-Arabi November 13, 1998



(7)UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. USAMA BIN LADEN, et al court transcript of Day 38 of the trial, May 2, 2001.


(8)UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. USAMA BIN LADEN, et al court transcript of Day 3 of the trial, February 7, 2001


(9) Benjamin Weiser, “U.S. Says Bin Laden Aide Tried to Get Nuclear Weapons,” New York Times, September 26, 1998.



(11) Interview with Samuel R. Berger




(13) CNN: Pentagon may cancel public tours amid fears of germ warfare


(14) Texas Department of Health; Bioterrorism FA

q http://www.tdh.state.tx.us/bioterrorism/faqs.htm

(15) US Office of the secretary of defence publication Proliferation: threat and response, januari 2001, page 61


(C) Felipe Rodriquez

Copryright Notice; You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of this article for non-commercial use without permission from the author. Distribution to policy makers is encouraged.

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