Terrorism and the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction: Al-Shabaab

Master's Thesis, 2012

97 Pages, Grade: 95



Statement of the Problem
Background of the Problem
Purpose Statement

Literature Review
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Minimizing and Preparing for Attacks
Terrorism Threat

Research Design
Appropriateness of Design
Data Collection Procedures
Data Analysis
Tracking Terrorist Attacks

Designated Terrorist Organizations
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Chemical Weapons
Biological Weapons
Radiological Weapons
Nuclear Weapons
Organizational Origin
Affiliations or Links to other Groups
Logistical, Financial, and Infrastructural Support
Trend of Threats and Attacks

The Problem
Literature Review
The Methodology
The Results
Future Research



In 2008, the then Director of National Intelligence, J. Michael McConnell, told the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the safety of the United States was threaten by the “ongoing efforts of nation-states and terrorists to develop and/or acquire dangerous weapons and delivery systems” (Spiers 2010, 90). Mr. McConnell was right to be concerned; some chemical and biological weapons can be produced easily and inexpensively, hence the reference “poor man’s atomic bomb” (Spiers 2010, 96). There is some suspicion that some countries are secretly pursuing nuclear capabilities while others are openly seeking these capabilities.

Many chemicals are dual-use, that is to say, they have valid commercial purposes in addition to being deadly. Fermentation is a method used to produce biological pathogens and toxins rapidly, such as Anthrax. Radiological weapons offer an attainable combination of radioactive materials with explosive devices to create “dirty bombs” that will not only create mass panic but will also give the perpetrator the glory of the attack. Nuclear weapons are of high caliber and require high levels of expertise, access to equipment and laboratories. What these weapons offer in return for overcoming all obstacles is glory to the terrorist and utter shame and helplessness to the victims, including its government.

Terrorist organizations vary as much as the types of weapons and attacks they could potentially employ. This research used a case study research method to explore the potential capabilities of Somalia’s predominant terrorist organization, al-Shabaab, as it relates to the acquisition and deployment of weapons of mass destruction. This study focuses on this organization and explores the following factors: in-depth review of characteristics of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials; al-Shabaab’s organizational origin; al-Shabaab’s organizational links or affiliations; its logistical and/or financial supporters; access to facilities; and trend of threats and attacks.

The limitations of this study are that the accuracy of the data results is limited to the accuracy of the documents. There was also no access available to interview members of al-Shabaab. Therefore, the results are only limited to the second hand knowledge and information available in narrative conducted by other researchers or individuals writing about the group’s activities.

Statement of the Problem

As the War on Terror continues, there is a continuing concern in the U.S. intelligence community (IC) about which other terrorist organizations could potentially, or eventually, cause serious or grave harm to the U.S., whether on U.S. soil or its interests around the world. This concern has lead to the need to have the following question answered: Based on support, probability of attainability, and current capabilities of the Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab, is this organization likely to seek asymmetric methods of attack?

The researcher used the currently assigned area of operation (AOR) to select the organization for this research. The decision on restricting the research into this AOR was a direct result of the need to place a distinct and reasonable limitation to this study. Al-Shabaab became the focus for this particular research after reviewing the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list for organizations in the AOR and after preliminary research. The New York Times named al-Shabaab , “one of Africa’s most fearsome militant Islamist groups” (2012). Consideration must be given to the possibility of the deployment of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by al-Shabaab because not only is it recognized as a prominent terrorist organization but it also operates in an area in which is currently under turmoil. Now more than ever, there is a necessity in researching the probability of a WMD attack.

Background of the Problem

Since ancient times, individuals have used some forms of biological or chemical weapons, to resolve personal disputes or in formal battles. In the last twenty-five years, “only four significant attacks by terrorists using poison, disease, or radioactive material as weapons and a few instances where groups or individuals showed interest in using such weapons have occurred” (Parachini 2003, 39). Due to time limitations and the theme of this research, the historical summary reviews only four examples of threats to use WMD or executed WMD events (whether intentional or not) and ignores the events that have occurred during conventional war. The purpose is to illustrate the power of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) materials.

In December 1984, there was a leak at the Union Carbine chemical plant (namely pesticide) in Bhopal, India. The chemicals methyl isocyanate (MIC), hydrogen cyanide, and “at least 65 other gases” were released because a “safety device…had been turned off three weeks prior” (Global Focus: Intelligence Open Source 2012; Broughton 2005). In reviewing available literature, there seems to be contentions of whether or not this incident this was an act of sabotage. The cloud of gas mixture spread throughout the area and was responsible for claiming almost 4,000 lives immediately and killing over 5,000 people within three days (Global Focus: Intelligence Open Source 2012; Kaplan 2006; Broughton 2005). It has been determined that over 20,000 people died because of this accident/incident.

Almost ten years later, on the other side of the world, Nidal Ayyad (one of the World Trade Center bombers), used his position at a New Jersey chemical company to procure chemicals and make the explosive device in 1993 (Kaplan 2006). He and his partners also planned to release cyanide in the office ventilation system (Kaplan 2006). They drove and detonated a van into the Tower’s garage filled with over 1,200 pounds of “urea nitrate and hydrogen-gas cylinders” (Whitlock 2007). Over one thousand people were injured and six people died; additionally, the World Trade Center itself “suffered more than $500 million in damage” (Unknown 2003).

In 1995, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo used sarin in an attack at a subway in Tokyo, Japan. Shoko Asahara, the cult’s leader, preached on ruling the world by first destroying the current Japanese government (Parachini 2003). WMD were what would “spark an apocalyptic change” and bring them to their goal (Parachini 2003, 42) . The cult members punctured plastic bags containing sarin as they exited the trains (Unknown 2001; Hongo 2011). The attack “ultimately claimed 13 lives and left more than 6,300 people wounded” (Hongo 2011).

In 2001, very shortly after the 9/11 attacks, several letters laced with anthrax spores were sent to individuals throughout the U.S., including two U.S. Senators. This attack killed five people and injured seventeen others. As of today, the attacker(s) has not been positively identified and because of legal technicalities, the case will never truly be closed (Spiers 2010). The main suspect Bruce Ivins, an Army microbiologist, committed suicide before he could be fully tried in a court of law (UCLA 2008; Ryan 2011). The suspect had the expertise and opportunity to carry out the attacks, as he had been working on a vaccine against anthrax (Ryan 2011; UCLA 2008).

Many other attacks, or threats to attack, have occurred throughout the years making hundreds of people ill because of intentional introduction of either chemical agents or biological pathogens or toxins. A religious cult in Oregon contaminated restaurant salad by using salmonella in 1984 (Parachini 2003). The intent was to affect local elections by minimizing voter turnouts. As a result, seven hundred fifty-one individuals were sickened. In the 1990s, there were reports of a domestic plot of “an attack on a facility that housed millions of gallons of propane” (Kaplan 2006, 20). Sixty Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) military personnel were injured in 1990 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which used chlorine gas as the chemical weapon of choice (Parachini 2003). By virtue of these actions, each one of these individuals or groups could be designated as a terrorist. However, as this research explains, official designation as a terrorist entails more than just one act.

Purpose Statement

There are three main objectives in this research. First, evaluate al-Shabaab and its supporters to determine if this terrorist organization is likely to seek asymmetric methods of attack. There are legitimate government entities that do not support terrorist organizations nor encourage terrorist actions. However, there are also legitimate government entities that aid and abet terrorist organizations, such as this one, as discretely as possible. However, there are also legitimate government entities that openly support, encourage, and harbor terrorist organizations. In the evaluation of al-Shabaab, these factors are considered. Second, discover the currently known capabilities this terrorist organization possesses as it pertains to WMD. More specifically, this research focused on capability for chemical and biological weapons, but did not discount radiological or nuclear weapons as a possibility as well. Third, ascertain the attainability of the materials required to build WMD and the practicality of use of such weapons.

In summary, this research explores the following generalized assumptions: (1) al-Shabaab, given its current area of operation, control, and affiliations, already possesses the ability and capability of obtaining materials and producing chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. (2) The most common reason these chemical and biological cocktails have not been used is that the best method of delivery has not been ascertained by al-Shabaab. (3) The effectiveness and potential success of the weapons is still undetermined by al-Shabaab.


It is not impossible to fathom the idea of what an attack with a weapon of mass destruction could potentially signify and what kind of damage it could cause. As already mentioned, since ancient times some form of biological or chemical weapons has been used either in formal battles or to resolve personal disputes. Therefore, it is logical to begin a literature review by exploring the history of WMD.

This chapter provides an overview of available unclassified material related to the background of weapons of mass destruction, its effects, fabrication methods/delivery methods, the medical preparedness for handling attacks involving these materials, decontamination methods, detection, and physical protection against agents or toxins.


The literature reviewed herein is a qualitative literature review. Its purpose is to explore the research that has already been conducted in order to determine what information gaps still exist. The following electronic databases and search engines were utilized: ProQuest Suite, EBSCO Suite, Jane’s Military Magazine, Disaster Medicine & Public Health Preparedness, Google, and Google Scholar. Books relevant to the topic of study and research methodology were acquired from local libraries and from American Public University Systems’ Online Library.

Combinations of the following keywords using Boolean and Advanced Query Syntax were included in the searches: WMD, weapons of mass destruction, al-Shabaab, chemical [\weapon; \production; \fabrication; \effects; \preparedness; \availability], biological [\weapon; \production; \fabrication; \effects; \preparedness; \availability], nuclear [\weapon; \production; \fabrication; \effects; \preparedness; \availability], radiological [\weapon; \production; \fabrication; \effects; \preparedness; \availability].

The ProQuest library contains a total of 27,671 articles on all the chemical search syntaxes, including 26,714 peer-reviewed journals; a total of 31,542 articles on all the biological search syntaxes, including 30,846 peer-reviewed journals; a total of 2,481 articles on all the radiological search syntaxes, including 2,384 peer-reviewed journals; and a total of 45,600 articles on all the nuclear search syntaxes, including 43,795 peer-reviewed journals. The ProQuest library search included the following databases: ABI/INFORM Global‎; ProQuest Criminal Justice‎ (1981 - current); ProQuest Military Collection‎; ProQuest Religion‎ (1986 - current); ProQuest Research Library‎; PsycARTICLES‎ (1894 - current); PsycCRITIQUES‎ (1995 - current); and PsycINFO‎.

EBSCOhost contained the full text of a total of 1,534 peer-reviewed articles on all the chemical search syntaxes; a total of 1,696 peer-reviewed articles on all the biological search syntaxes; a total of 780 peer-reviewed articles on all the radiological search syntaxes; and a total of 5,146 peer-reviewed articles on all the nuclear search syntaxes. The EBSCOhost library search included the following databases: Academic Search Premier; International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center; Education Research Complete; GreenFILE; Business Source Elite; and CINAHL Plus with Full Text.

Jane’s Military Magazine database contains the full text of 1,688 news, analysis, and third-party resources on chemical weapons; full text of 1,141 news, analysis, and third-party resources on biological weapons, full text of 247 news, analysis, and third-party resources on radiological weapons; and full text of 3,855 news, analysis, and third-party resources on nuclear weapons.

Disaster Medicine & Public Health Preparedness contains the full text of 132 articles on chemical weapons; the full text of 136 articles on biological weapons; the full text of 100 articles on radiological weapons; and the full text of 106 articles on nuclear weapons. General Google searches of the internet, including Google Scholar, with the above keywords were also conducted to identify germinal literature and general background information.

Literature Review


To predict the future, one must first understand the past. Spiers (2010) describes the evolution of proliferation and the developmental process of chemical agents and biological toxins as tools of warfare. Having a fundamental understanding of history, as it pertains to WMD, puts this topic into a realistic perspective demonstrating the practicality of their use by those who intent on causing harm to others.

As described by commentators, poisonous chemicals have been used in ancient warfare dating back as early as the fifth century BC, when Peloponnesians attempted to destroy the town of Plataea. The Peloponnesians doused wood with sulfur and pitch, creating an immense fire that excreted poisonous smoke into the atmosphere, preventing the Plataeans from approaching the site of the fire. Although the result of this use of chemical warfare was unsuccessful, this incident demonstrates that incorporating the use of chemicals in the battlefield was considered advantageous.

The value of biological warfare could be seen by the use of biological toxins as early as 600 BC when the Athenians purposefully infected a river that supplied water to Kirrha with the poisonous plant, hellebore. “The contaminated water induced violent diarrhoea [sic], incapacitating so many defenders that the Athenians were able to overrun the city and slaughter its inhabitants” (Spiers 2010, 28).

Understanding that the use of chemical agents and biological toxins is not a new concept is important because it puts into perspective the evolution of proliferation. Spiers’ findings are instrumental in understanding how both biological toxins and chemical agents can be used as weapons.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is responsible for maintaining a list of chemicals that are a cause of concern if used as a weapon. Of the five hundred chemicals on this list, sixty-four have been labeled as Priority 1 chemicals based on the chemical’s availability, “explosivity range in air, toxicity, and prior use as weapons” (Ruckart and Fay 2006, 9-10). To validate this selection, Ruchart and Fay conducted research of these Priority 1 chemicals. The research aimed to “provide supporting evidence that these chemicals should be of major concern to industry, responders, and health care providers in the development or revision of their chemical-event response plans” (10).

The researchers grouped these Priority 1 chemicals into sixteen groups based upon basic categories (such as acids, ammonia, chlorine, and organic and inorganic substances). The researchers also analyzed incidents over a ten-year span in over fifteen states, as recorded in the Hazardous Substance Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES). The release of Priority 1 chemicals was then compared to the release of non-Priority 1 chemicals to identify differences and similarities.

The researchers found that forty-eight of the sixty-four Priority 1 chemicals were released during this period. These chemicals represented 2% of all chemicals identified in HSEES released (intentional or unintentional) over that period combined (the chemicals identified in HSEES also include all non-Priority 1 chemicals) (12). Concluding that, overall, 2% of these chemicals accounted for 20% of the releases reported to HSEES during this period; 81% of these releases occurred in fixed facilities (12). Overall, these Priority 1 chemical releases resulted in twice as many victims as any other chemical category.

Of all releases entered into HSEES, the data appeared weighted heavily towards airborne releases, hence giving the research biased results. Nonetheless, these findings are important to first responders and hospitals so they can adequately respond to Priority 1 chemical releases. The volatility and disproportionate attributes of these Priority 1 chemicals demonstrate the possibility of them being chosen by terrorist organizations as a chemical weapon of choice.

Thakur and Haru (2006) explored the effectiveness of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) treaty of 1993—enforced since 1997—and its implementation. To handle non-compliance issues, the CWC has two mechanisms: “the clarification procedure and the challenge inspection system” (76). The clarification procedure addresses concerns, disputes, or misunderstandings either bilaterally or by consulting the Executive Council of the Organisation [sic] for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The inspection system allows for short-notice on-site inspections of locations that may be suspected of non-compliance by State Parties.

Short notice inspections, along with sanctions, are intended to serve as deterrents. However, the researchers discovered that the ineffectiveness of this provision is its lack of use (88). At the heart of CWC is the destruction of all chemical weapons and direct public involvement. While public involvement was meant to aid the process of chemical weapon destruction, according to the researchers, so far it has hindered the process instead of helped (136). It is projected that over the course of time, if public involvement becomes pro-destruction, it will be what makes total chemical weapon destruction a reality.

While the CWC is not considered to be a counter-terrorism treaty, it “contributes to the global fight against terrorism within the mandate of the Convention” (157). Countries that have agreed to the terms of CWC are less likely to aid and abet terrorist and their activities. For those countries that choose to still support terrorism, understanding the challenges the countries will face is crucial to determine the level of dedication or belief the country possesses towards terrorists goals.

Argonne National Laboratory (2005) provides a rudimentary and crucial understanding of radiological materials and the devices required to weaponize these materials. The literature describes the elements that are used as radioactive materials, where they can be found, how they can be extracted, how effective these materials can be, and their shelf life. Radiological Dispersal Device is the method by which the radioactive material is delivered. Of the materials listed in the literature, only some “are considered likely [Radiological Dispersal Device] candidates, based on portability coupled with relatively high levels of radioactivity” (1).

Because the distinction between radiological and nuclear is not as obvious as the distinction between biological and chemical agents/toxins, it is imperative for the research to provide a concise and intelligible understanding of the difference between radiological and nuclear materials. The activity level of a radionuclide is “inversely proportional to its half-life” (Argonne National Laboratory 2005, 2), meaning, the rate at which the radioactivity decays. A half-life refers to the loss of radioactivity over a specified period of time (which is dependent upon the material). After the specified period elapses, the material loses one-half of its radioactivity; after the next specified period elapses, the material loses one-half of its current radioactivity, and so on. This means that some materials remain radioactive for as little as 79 days but could remain radioactive for as long as 1,600 years. This is an indication of which radioactive materials are more likely to be considered as a weapon of choice by terrorist.

During a congressional testimony as a subject matter expert in the field of chemical and biological weapons proliferation by terror groups, Zilinskas (1999) indicated (to the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives), that the “specter of terrorists enhancing their already formidable arsenals by acquiring these weapons of mass destruction is truly a horrendous one, one that we all must do our best to prevent” (Zilinskas 1999, part 1). Using a mixed-method approach, he analyzed the following: types of biological attacks by terrorists and criminals, scenario of likely biological attacks, scenario of low probability biological attack, possible applications of advanced biotechnologies for terrorism and criminality in the next five years, and possible applications of advanced biotechnologies for terrorism and criminality in the more distant future.

Zilinskas’ (1999) research on types of biological attacks by terrorists and criminals led him to conclude that there are three methods in which biological attacks could be executed: direct injection, contamination of resources and/or fomites, and dispersion over targets. He concluded the scenario of likely biological attacks would be considered highly probable within the next five years likely causing casualties in the hundreds. This would be mainly due to the lack of adequate monitoring of easily accessible items for consumption (i.e. salad bars, buffets, etc.) and the lack of individuals with “at least a modicum of training in microbiology” (Zilinskas 1999, part 2, C). His research led him to conclude the probability of a biological attack was low within the next five years because of technical challenges of dispersal for these pathogens and toxins; and the uncontrollable or unpredictable meteorological conditions that would always be beyond human control.

He predicted that the possible applications of advanced biotechnologies for terrorism and criminality in the next five years are unlikely for two reasons. First, the research that must be undertaken to weaponize these toxins and agents is more likely to fail than succeed. The reason for this is, if the researcher is “unskilled and/or unlucky, he or she might have to undertake several subsequent research, development, and testing cycles before being able to field a strain of pathogen that had improved weapons capabilities over the parent strain” (Zilinskas 1999, part 2, D). In other words, even if the scientific endeavor is successful to a degree, the “newly developed organism might simultaneously present a weakness to environmental stresses and/or decreased virulence” (Zilinskas 1999, part 2, D). The second reason is, the understanding of the applied sciences of “infectivity, pathogenesis, host-parasite relationships, and others”, is still rudimentary; that is why research is continuous (Zilinskas 1999, part 2, D).

Possible applications of advanced biotechnologies for terrorism and criminality in the more distant future were determined to be far more probable after the year 2010 because much of the research conducted (in 1999) pertained to mechanisms of pathogenesis hence filling many gaps identified during the earlier part of his research. Advances in science and technology as of today will determine if Zilinska’s research and findings were accurate and if his predictions manifested. If his predictions were manifested, it means that bioweapons are practical and attainable by terrorist organizations today.

Minimizing and Preparing for Attacks

Vijayaraghavan, Ganesan, and Raza (2010) provide a comprehensive account of chemical agent categories, which include: “nerve agents, vesicants (blistering agents), bloods agents (cyanogenic agents), choking agents (pulmonary agents), riot-control agents (tear gases), psychomimetic agents, and toxins” (167). Most agents are cost-effective; therefore, these agents can be created or acquired, even by small terrorist organizations. For each above named agent, the researchers include a review of the “current status of protective equipment available, detection and decontamination methods” (167). The researchers concluded there are no prophylactic antidotes available for most chemical agents to prevent poisoning. Some post-exposure antidotes are available for blood agents (mainly cyanide), sulfur mustard (blistering agent), and nerve agents. The lack of antidotes makes many of these agents enticing to terrorists as a weapon of choice.

Detection of the presence of these chemical agents can occur by either a handheld devices such as “Three Color Detector (TCD) paper, Residual Vapor Detection (RVD) Kit, Water Poison Detection Kit (WPDK) and chemical agent monitors” or, by the clinical symptoms of those who were exposed (174). The researchers noted that all of the detection methods described and explored, are susceptible to interferences, or may at times provide false-positive results. The best method of detection is to use two different types of detectors “working on different principles to obtain accurate data” (174). This is provided that there are two detectors readily available. Because of the rapid onset of some of these agents, the delay in ascertaining the chemical deployed via equipment could result in the individuals exposed providing the answer of which agent may have been used by observing their symptoms; by then, it could be too late.

Two ways of providing physical protection were explored by Vijayaraghavan, Ganesan, and Raza (2010). It was determined that “the creation of an artificial barrier between the toxic agent and the individuals and the provision of ‘breathable air’” are the best methods of providing protection against liquids, aerosols, or gaseous agents (174). More importantly to the topic of this research regarding plausibility of chemical weapons use, “the use of a respirator can cause physiological discomforts…resulting in the loss of efficiency” (175). Terrorists or terrorist organizations may depend on this inhibitor when considering deploying a chemical agent as a weapon.

Decontamination could be accomplished by either removing the agents from the site or by chemically neutralizing them; that is to say, converting the chemicals into “harmless products either by destruction or by detoxification” (175). The researchers concluded that for the most effective decontamination, decontamination must occur within one minute of exposure. Due to the practical rarity of this rapid decontamination, limitations of physical protection, and the unlikelihood of detection until after symptoms are apparent, chemical agents could be considered to the only practical choice as a weapon of mass destruction.

Cannard (2006) reviews the properties of chemical nerve agents and describes how medical and/or emergency responders can minimize nerve agent intoxication or death by recognizing the clinical symptoms of exposure and administering the necessary drugs properly. The ability to recognize symptoms of ‘true’ exposure assists medical and/or emergency responders in screening out “anxious patients who mistakenly believe they have been exposed” (86). Noting that contrary to popular belief nerve agents are liquids and not gasses, the researcher describes the commercial availability of nerve agents (86).

Cannard’s research led him to discover that while most nerve agents are odorless and colorless, some have a faint odor. This is significant because if an individual has inhaled enough to detect its scent, the dose inhaled was “likely several fold the lethal dose and death is imminent” (87). With most nerve agents, signs of clinical symptoms are the first indicators of exposure, and the rapid and accurate treatment will ultimately determine the exposed individual’s fate.

The most dramatic and dangerous side effects from exposure to nerve gasses may include:

…mild to severe behavioral and cognitive changes, impaired consciousness or coma, seizures, or central apnea. Apnea or seizures may develop suddenly and without warning. Status epilepticus may ensue. Irritability, anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, nightmares, and impaired judgment, concentration or memory may be seen acutely, and it may persist to some degree for weeks to months. (89)

These side effects make nerve agents particularly attractive to terrorists because if the attack does not cause death, at a minimum it is guaranteed to cause mass panic among the population. It was concluded in Cannard’s research that

…simple interventions such as quickly covering exposed skin areas, rapidly exiting an area of exposure, holding one's breath or covering the mouth with a partial barrier (cloth), and perhaps even squinting to minimize eye exposure can reduce the level of [nerve agent] intoxication. However, even if one survives an acute [nerve agent] intoxication, residual somatic, cognitive, and psychological effects can persist for years. Given the ease with which [nerve agents] may be made, the large stockpiles that currently exist across many nations, and the potential destructive force they wield, future terrorist attacks using these chemicals seems nearly inevitable. (89)

Geiger (2001) raises critical questions regarding the direct and immediate threat of chemical and biological attacks and how the public could be protected from such attacks. He strongly asserts the notion of a biological or a chemical attack is not likely and if it does occur, it will not cause mass casualties as claimed by the government. The basis for his assertion is based upon his own historical statistics. In the past 16 years only three incidents had been documented; one in the United States and two in Japan, “each with fewer than 20 casualties” (708).

Geiger also contends that the literature that exists on preparedness is based only on these three incidents and the lack of preparedness. To support his contentions, four scholarly arguments were evaluated, compared, and contrasted. In the first argument, Wetter et al. concluded, after a hypothetical anthrax attack, that hospitals were only prepared to treat approximately 50 people out of the possible 32,000 infected. In the second argument, Sidel et al. rebutted there is a “near-zero probability of such terrorist attack” (708). Sidel et al. propose that it is the continued excessive expenditure of hypothetical scenarios and exercises that is the cause for medical personnel and emergency responders not having the manpower or appropriate equipment to handle a biological or chemical attack emergency. In the third argument, Henretig argued that “vast programs for biowarfare preparedness will be a bonanza for public health” and a partnership between public health departments and military medical departments is the answer to handling these types of attacks (709). In the last argument, Fee and Brown remind the public of the exaggerated and useless nuclear preparations of the past with the “false promise of civil defense against the real consequences of a nuclear attack: shelters, duck-and-cover exercises, stockpiles of food and medicine, hypothetical mass evacuations” (709).

In summary, Geiger concludes the public healthcare community needs to reevaluate its priorities in emergency preparedness. After evaluating, comparing, and contrasting these four arguments, he concludes that the leniency afforded to industrial companies in compliance with environmental laws and regulations is a much bigger and realistic threat than bioterrorism. Therefore, because the public healthcare community has limited resources, it needs to stop trying to prepare for a biological or chemical terrorist attack because it is highly unlikely to occur.

Terrorism Threat

Gurr and Cole’s (2010) research focuses on motivations and disincentives of the use of weapons of mass destruction to include chemical, biological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. Their work touches upon technical opportunities and constraints to using CBRN weapons and explores motivations and disincentives in five specific sectors: operational, political, theological, psychological, and state-sponsored terrorism.

The technical knowledge required to develop these weapons is easily available through unclassified or open source materials creating vast opportunities for individuals who are determined to find the information. The largest constraint of implementing these technical opportunities once the information is obtained is the degree of expertise required to develop CBRN weapons. The constraints however, may not be sufficient to deter terrorist organizations that recruit highly skilled and intelligent individuals.

Operational motivations and disincentives to using CBRN weapons vary upon the terrorists’ desired result. Gurr and Cole’s (2010) analysis indicated, “whilst CBRN weapons can be used for a wide range of tactics and strategies, they are not necessarily the best weapons for many roles” (87). However, these weapons are more likely to be considered for “causing indiscriminate mass casualties against civilian targets; generating propaganda; scenarios in which they can be used to circumvent defences [sic] against conventional attack; intimidating public opinion; blackmailing governments; and for causing economic damage” (87). Disincentives to using CBRN weapons is the practicality of conventional weapons which are familiar to the terrorist, better suited for a specific task, and/or more readily available whereas CBRN weapons are still unfamiliar and are riskier and more complex which ultimately results in an increase of “the chances of failure, capture, or even death for the terrorist” (88).

It was found that political motivations for using CBRN weapons are at the center of groups that “consider that the best way to build additional support within their constituency is through acts of extreme violence, and those that are threatened with destruction by the security forces” (111). Another attractive political motivation is the propaganda value gained from using CBRN weapons (112). Political disincentives to using CBRN weapons include loss of public support. Terrorist organizations that aim for political regime change or political status change depend on public support to legitimize their goals. Using CBRN weapons in conflict adds a level of uncertainty meaning the group’s attack must be conducted while avoiding killing its own people. The researchers found that it is “extremely doubtful that terrorists would irradiate the land that they ultimately seek to inherit” (109).

Theological motivations are among the strongest motivating factors in using CBRN weapons. In some groups, theological motivations are considered to “establish a moral imperative and a strong justificatory mechanism for perpetrating indiscriminate attacks against certain categories of civilians” (118). It was concluded during Gurr and Cole’s (2010) research that millenarianism—“the belief in an impending violent upheaval which will tear down the existing political and social structures which are considered to be corrupt and unjust”—is a key theme in religious terrorist organizations (119). On the other hand, some religious groups maintain that this struggle has already begun. Genocide was also determined to be among the primary theological motivations for religious terrorist organization’s use of CBRN weapons. Because theological motivations are so strong, the disincentives are few and weak by comparison. One of the few disincentives is the potential alienation the use of CBRN weapons can cause among the organization mainly due to the “role that militant religious figures play in legitimizing their violence” (131).

Psychological motivations and disincentives are based around the terrorist personality and group decision-making dynamics. These dynamics can determine how the above explored motivations and disincentives are balanced within a terrorist organization. The researchers concluded that the “nature and consequences of using CBRN weapons suggest that moral and psychological factors might be amongst the most powerful influences shaping terrorist decision making” (158). However, understanding each individual’s psychology and how each individual affects the group dynamics is a near impossibility therefore this will continue to remain an unknown factor in determining motivations and disincentives. Alternately, the researchers present “that the psychological justificatory mechanisms of ‘religious’ terrorists are stronger than the psychological disincentives which might influence them” (158).

The last area explored by Gurr and Cole (2010) is what adds to state-sponsored terrorism motivations and disincentives. The motivating decision behind states supporting terrorism was determined by the researchers to be “national self interest, ideology, and revenge” (161). When exploring state-sponsored motivations and disincentives, it was assessed there are far more disincentives than incentives, mainly because state sponsors “fear that they will be implicated in the attack and hence dragged into unwinnable wars with the USA or powerful regional neighbours [sic]” making support of terrorist groups the last resort (176).


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Terrorism and the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction: Al-Shabaab
Master's Capstone in Intelligence Studies
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weapons of mass destruction, al-shabaab, biological weapons, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, radiological weapons
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Maria Kelley (Author), 2012, Terrorism and the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction: Al-Shabaab, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/230939


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