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Terrorism's New Breed: Are Today's Terrorists More Likely To Use Chemical and Biological Weapons?

NCJ Number
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist Volume: 54 Issue: 2 Dated: March/April 1998 Pages: 1-8
Jose Vegar
Date Published
8 pages
This paper examines whether today's terrorists are more likely than the terrorists of the recent past to use chemical and biological weapons.
According to experts interviewed by the author, the 1990's have seen the emergence of terrorists who use violence in the name of principles and goals different from those that inspired most past acts of terrorism. In a rudimentary scheme, this "new breed" can be divided into three groups: cults and religious sects, racists and anti-government groups, and fundamentalist and extremist organizations. Ron Purver, a strategic analyst for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, cautions that a number of cults and hate groups have already shown an interest in using, or have threatened to use, chemical and biological agents. He advises that these groups may not be constrained by some of the political disincentives that may have deterred more traditional terrorist groups from using chemical and biological agents. These terrorists operate within a closed world of thinking based in an other-worldly view of reality that disregards ethical and religious views on the sanctity and quality of life of all humans in the course of their earthly existence. Their acts have the goals of exterminating people they consider their inferiors or who pose a threat to their belief system and vision of a religious hegemony. Experts do not agree, however, about the chances for these new terrorist groups to actually acquire the production capacity to create weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Although there is general agreement that WMD are more accessible today than in the past, many experts believe that delivering them efficiently to achieve catastrophic results still requires a high degree of technical competence that is generally lacking. Many experts argue that any nation that supports terrorism and may have the ability to deliver WMD would be careful not to give such a capability to terrorists for fear that their contribution would be detected and massive retaliation would follow. The majority of analysts advise that the bulk of anti-terrorism resources should be devoted to intelligence-gathering and law enforcement agencies.