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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bioterrorism 'a clear and present danger'

The threat of an al-Qaeda bioterrorism attack was a "clear and
present danger of the highest order", secretary general of
international policing organisation Interpol Ronald Noble said on

He was speaking in Cape Town at the opening of an Interpol-organised workshop for African police departments on bioterrorism -- an attack using biological weapons such as anthrax, smallpox or plague.

"The threat of bioterrorism is real because the threat of terrorism is real, and the damage that terrorists seek to inflict on us defies one's imagination, as we saw on 11 September 2001," he told about 90 delegates, including 16 police chiefs, from 41 countries.

"Therefore the bioterrorist threat must be confronted and reduced on all fronts."

He said al-Qaeda had "openly claimed the right to kill four million
people" using biological and chemical weapons, and had posted
instructions on how to make these weapons on its website.

"In my view, al-Qaeda's global network, its proven capabilities, its
deadly history, its desire to do the unthinkable and the evidence
collected about its bioterrorist ambitions, ominously portend a
clear and present danger of the highest order that al-Qaeda will
perpetrate a biological terrorist attack."

No region in the world was safe.

Noble said state agencies in the United States and Europe had fared
poorly in a series of simulated attack exercises over the past few
years, partly because of their lack of experience and training in
this field and their lack of understanding of the
nature of the threat.

Unfortunately, the police and public health communities had a "very
limited" history of working together internationally in a non-
emergency or not-crisis context.

"Interpol strongly believes that the risks of bioterrorism are so
momentous that the police and the public health communities must
break down the barriers currently preventing close collaboration,
locally, nationally and internationally," he said.

National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, who is president of
Interpol, told journalists after the opening ceremony that though
South Africa had "received" people associated with al-Qaeda, and
that there might be a few in the country who sympathised with the
organisation, the police dealt with them ably and capably.

"It isn't a big problem. It is a problem that we must be alive to at
all times," he said.

"So we are no staging platform, or a conduit or a platform for
attacks. We do receive and we do react to those that we receive

One of the men arrested after the July 7 bus and subway bombings in
London, Haroon Aswat, was in South Africa weeks before the attacks.

Selebi said delegates to the workshop had no doubt that they had the
capacity and the willingness, though "we may not have the
resources", to deal with any threat.

Africa, like any other continent, could be the target of
bioterrorism attack, or could be used by terrorists as a springboard.

"If it is not if, but when, then we need to be ready today, not
tomorrow. In fact we should have been ready yesterday," he said.

Noble said the workshop, which will be held behind closed doors,
followed a global conference for police chiefs at Interpol
headquarters in Lyon, France, in March this year.

The African workshop would be followed by other regional workshops in Singapore and Chile.

South African delegates include members of the police's intelligence, forensic and bomb disposal units, and a representative of the office of the surgeon general.

Interpol has set up a dedicated unit at the Lyon offices to build national and international capacity to counter the threat of bioterrorism.

Interpol hopes to raise awareness of the threat, develop police training programmes, promote new legislation and encourage inter-agency co-operation on bioterrorism.
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