Europe facing chemical weapons threat, risk analyst warns
London - Following attacks in Paris and Brussels, Europe can expect to see more of the same from the Islamic State (ISIS), a senior risk analyst warned.
“Europe is the low-hanging fruit for these kinds of attacks. You have the highest Western impact at the lowest cost to making them happen. They [ISIS] have 300 to 1,000 operatives who speak the local language and carry passports — more foot soldiers that can be taken in and operate in that environment than ever before,” IJet International Chief Executive Officer Bruce McIndoe said.
An expert on the travel industry and risk management, McIndoe established IJet International in 1999, offering intelligence-driven risk management to the travel industry. IJet was working with its partners and clients on the ground during the Paris and Brussels attacks, keeping them informed of developments and working to ensure their safety.
“Look at what happened in Brussels or Paris… Attacks of this scale were carried out by just dozens of people. But the biggest issue is the ability for one of these organisations to obtain chemical, biological or nuclear capabilities,” McIndoe said.
“They are pushing to see if they can acquire those kinds of material but the capability right now to deliver it is man-borne. What can they obtain and deliver to cause the most havoc? The number one [threat] is from chemical weapons, from failing states like Syria.”
His comments echo warnings from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is involved in monitoring the destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons and production capabilities following a 2013 UN deal. Syria had a 1,300-tonne chemical weapons stockpile and 14 production facilities.
The threat is not just from weapons secreted out of failing states; terrorists have the ability to make crude, but deadly, chemical or biological weapons.
“They are investing time and effort… As we’ve overrun training locations and seized intelligence, there’s no question that they are experimenting and trying to build more and more capability in chemical and biological weapons,” McIndoe said.
It is often the human component where these plans fail, he added. “In order to project that capability into Europe or the US they have got to project it into someone who can actually carry it out and that’s where it falls down,” he said. “They don’t have the trained individuals for managing [chemical and biological weapons]… They don’t have the ability to deliver it. Delivery of chemical and biological weapons is very difficult.
“They don’t want to kill just 30 people. They want to kill 300, or 3,000 or 30,000 and with chemical and biological weapons that requires a much wider dispersal area. The likelihood is incredibly high if you are looking at chemical or biological capability… but enough to create a significant event? That is very low right now.”
McIndoe did not discount the possibility of terrorist groups obtaining nuclear material, although he said this was not very likely.
“There is constant desire in the nuclear realm. It is more difficult for them to get fissionable material and, even if they do, it is hard to obtain all the trappings to be able to do something with this because of how much we monitor that environment,” he said.
It is the nature of governments and leadership to react to the worst-case scenario, doing everything that can ensure that these do not come to pass.
“When a nation or a group of nations, whether it is EU or UN, they tend to look at this holistically. So when they’re deciding to allocate resources to a problem, they want to see the full scope of that problem,” McIndoe said. “So when talking about border control of surveillance and monitoring, it is these bigger issues that we are talking about — chemical and biological and nuclear threats.
“This is what ultimately drives these leaderships to say we need to keep investing because if we don’t invest in this we’re going to see 500,000 people in London killed. That is the motivation for the level of expenditure which exceeds trillions plus dollars in the last 15 years.”