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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Al-Qaeda Fascination with Cyanide Called ‘Scary’

Al-Qaeda practiced using cyanide on dogs in preparation of unleashing the lethal gas against humans, the New York Daily News reported today (see GSN, June 19).

Eritrean terrorist Binyam Ahmed Muhammad consulted with one-time U.S. “dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla (see GSN, April 4) and al-Qaeda operations head Abu Zubaydah on “spraying people with cyanide in nightclubs,” according to U.S. military prosecutors. As with the plot to use cyanide in the New York City subway system, the nightclub attack failed to materialize.

U.S. anti-terror experts have worried about cyanide plots since convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam said during a 2001 trial that he saw the gas being used to kill dogs in an Afghanistan training camp, the Daily News reported.

“We all took it very seriously,” a former White House adviser said Monday, referring to the 2003 cyanide subway plot. “The modeling ultimately showed it wouldn’t kill many people in a realistic setting. But it would be really scary.”

In February 2003, the Daily News obtained a CIA report that revealed 15 al-Qaeda operatives were in the United States to “place sodium cyanide in large swimming pools.” The document also said the group had brought a nuclear bomb into the country, a claim doubted by the CIA. The report also said the chemical “blue mercury” was smuggled into the country — a claim the CIA found to be untrue.

The 2003 threat caused New York City hospitals to stock cyanide antidotes, according to Lewis Nelson, a medical toxicologist at New York University School of Medicine.

Cyanide is reportedly easy to obtain, which is why terrorists are attracted to the chemical. Producing a weapon that could kill masses of people, however, would be difficult, officials said.

Nonetheless, terrorists could build mechanisms that pump high levels of cyanide as a gas or mist into a confined area. A 12-ounce soda can of the substance could kill 5,000 people, Nelson said (Gendar/Meek, New York Daily News, June 20).

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