Interpol chief says threat of bioterrorism is real27/03/2006 - 10:02:02
Police forces around the world are beginning to recognise bioterrorism as a serious threat despite sceptics who doubt that preventive measures are needed, the head of Interpol said in Singapore today.
Ronald Noble, secretary-general of the international police agency, warned of the danger of biological weapons during a workshop for police and other officials from across Asia.
Experts say a bioterrorist attack could be difficult to immediately detect and germs could be carried unnoticed by infected victims across continents.
“Some people still question whether the threat of bioterrorism is real, they question whether it is truly necessary to prepare for it. I have no doubt that the threat is real,” Noble said.
“If we have the chance to take measures to protect the citizens of our nations, to help reduce the chances of our countries of becoming a target, then we have a duty to do so,” he said.
“Police around the world are now also beginning to recognise and respond to this threat.”
Interpol, based in Lyon, France, is hosting the three-day workshop on lab security, forensic work and laws to prevent bioterrorism.
Nearly 80 delegates from 26 countries in Asia will also assess how to respond to a simulated bioterrorist attack.
At a separate seminar, a US official said Washington considered naturally occurring or genetically engineered pathogens – micro-organisms or viruses that cause disease – one of the greatest global threats because they could kill hundreds of thousands of people.
“Terrorists or hostile states intentionally changing the genetic design of a pathogen such that it can defeat our current defences, this was seen as a major threat,” said James Thomas, principal author of the Quadrennial Defence Review, a key US Defence Department policy paper.
Thomas said the Defence Department might invest in defences against genetically engineered pathogens, with the possibility that these solutions could also stem broader health problems such as bird flu.
At the Interpol event, Ho Peng Kee, Singapore’s senior minister of state for law and home affairs, urged law enforcement agencies to co-ordinate efforts to ward off the threat of an attack with biological agents or toxins.
“We may not realize that a biological attack has occurred until perhaps days or even weeks later,” Ho said. “By that time, the terrorist may already have fled the country or succumbed to the biological agent, and all the valuable investigative leads may have disappeared.”
So far, militants in Southeast Asia have used conventional terror weapons. Jemaah Islamiyah, a group linked to al-Qaida, is accused of deadly bombings. The Abu Sayyaf group has carried out bomb attacks and kidnappings in the Philippines.
But detained suspects include Yazid Sufaat, a former Malaysian army captain and a U.S.-trained biochemist linked to al Qaida’s attempts to produce chemical and biological arms.
A Jemaah Islamiyah manual discovered in the Philippines in 2003 indicates interest in acquiring chemical and biological agents for use in a terrorist attack, terrorism experts say.
Singapore, a close US ally, views its 2003 fight against Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, as preparation for a bioterrorist attack. The city-state carried out temperature tests on citizens as well as measures such as home quarantine. The disease spread from Asia across the world, killing nearly 800 people.
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