This is the 20th issue of the feature called the IBC Threat Assessment (IBC-TA) that we initiated in November 2014. It is intended to inform our readers about ongoing and emerging CRBNe-threats that need the attention of policymakers, experts and ordinary citizens. If left unattended these threats may result in grave consequences for different sectors of our societies and/or the security of ordinary citizens. As the threat environment is constantly changing existing regulations, crisis plans or security protocols are often insufficient and in need of adaptation or review. Every TA will cover a threat for each CBRNe category.
Topics covered in this Threat Assessment:
- Escalating violence in Aleppo increases risk of renewed chemical attacks as UN Security Council extended JIM mandate to October 31
- International investigation finds proof of causal link between outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and bird migration patterns
- The United States has been using toxic Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions more indiscriminately than previously acknowledged and possibly continues to use them in anti-Daesh operations in Syria
- Conference on the challenges of knowledge management (KM) in the nuclear sector
- Increased risk of the use of pressure cooker bombs in US and Europe based on instructions from Inspire magazine
The Threat Assessments are based on open sources. End date of collection: October 20, 2016
Escalating violence in Aleppo increases risk of renewed chemical attacks as UN Security Council extended Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) mandate to October 31
- The JIM’s mandate has been extended to October 31 to allow it to identify the perpetrators of the investigated chemical attacks.
- As the military situation escalated in Aleppo new chlorine barrel bomb attacks by the Syrian government have been reported.
- Even if the UN Security Council succeeds in passing a resolution allowing for punitive sanctions against the identified perpetrators, they will not have an immediate effect on the battlefield.
The UN Security Council has extended the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) until October 31. This extension will allow the JIM to complete its final report and identify those who have been responsible for chemical attacks in Syria. The JIM has identified two Syrian Air Force helicopter squadrons and two other military units it holds responsible for chlorine attacks. After submission of the final report it is expected that several council members will push for a UN resolution to take actions against the perpetrators. The UN could issue targeted sanctions (i.e. a travel ban and asset freeze) on people or entities linked to the attacks.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian government of using barrel bombs with toxic chemicals on rebel held areas in Aleppo on August 10 and September 6. Five civilians died and several dozen people were treated in hospital. Witnesses saw signs near the impact sights that would indicate the use of chlorine. Remnants of the gas cylinders used in the two attacks are of the same type suggesting a consistent design of barrel bombs.
In late September the Russian Defense Ministry stated it had information that terrorist groups had plans to execute chemical attacks in Aleppo and blame them on the Syrian government. An Iranian media report citing Arab sources warned the Ahrar al-Sham, one of the terrorist groups, has phosphorous munitions in Idlib, and could use them in a false flag operation.
Under the current circumstances it is likely that the punishment issue could be sidelined. A truce that would allow a humanitarian convoy to reach Aleppo did not hold very long. An accidental American bombardment of Syrian and Russian military position has resulted in a deterioration of relations between the US and Russia. The situation has further escalated with the continued Syrian/Russian bombardment of Aleppo. While Russia has been deploying more military assets in the region the US has been developing plans for a no-fly zone. These developments increase the risk of accidents and further escalation. This could also imply more chemical attacks.
International investigation finds proof of causal link between outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and bird migration patterns
- Researchers have found strong proof of a causal link between the outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and patterns of bird migration.
- A better understanding of the circulation of influenza viruses in migratory water fowl will help provide early warning of threats to the poultry industry and potentially human health.
- As the infectious H5N8 virus strain has been detected among waterfowl in Russia/Mongolia this summer, new outbreaks can be expected this fall in several regions depending on the bird migration patterns.
In the first issues of the IBC Threat Assessment attention was paid to the outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Europe and North America in 2014 and 2015. It was assumed that the outbreaks were related to patterns of bird migration. An international investigation has found proof of a definite causal relationship. Another finding of the research was that the H5 segment common to the HPAI viruses readily reassorts with other influenza viruses. This means that the H5 segment is a continuous source of new pathogenic variants of the virus. This summer there was an outbreak of the H5N1 variant in India. In September, the Indian government notified the WHO that the country is now free of the contagious virus. Also this summer, the H5N8 variant was found in water fowl in the Ubsu-Nur lake on the border between Russia and Mongolia. This could mean that the virus will be transported this fall by migrating birds to other regions causing new outbreaks. One effective countermeasure is a complete separation of poultry from water fowl. Road shows organized by the poultry industry may contribute to a greater awareness of the risks of new outbreaks and the measures that can be taken to counter them.
The new research findings indicate that virus surveillance in wild birds could offer an early warning system that, combined with adequate forms of hygiene, would lead to effective influenza control in the poultry industry. Culling of poultry has not been an effective control measure. Awareness programs initiated by the government and poultry industry may result in a greater willingness by poultry farmers to cooperate and comply with hygiene standards. A complete separation of poultry and water fowl has shown to be an effective countermeasure.
The United States has been using toxic Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions more indiscriminately than previously acknowledged and possibly continues to use them in anti-Daesh operations in Syria
- A much higher number of DU munitions were used in Iraq in 2003 than previously acknowledged, and they were used against a wider array of targets, including soft targets and buildings.
- The newly released information about the amounts used and the locations of the use of DU munitions are important to determine a baseline for research on the human health and environmental effects.
- In the absence of a more effective regulation there are strong indications that the US will continue the use of DU munitions in its ongoing operations against Daesh in Syria.
An analysis of newly released strike logs of American A-10 bombing raids in the spring of 2003 in Iraq confirms that the munitions with toxic depleted uranium (DU) were used more indiscriminately than previously acknowledged. Not only were many more DU munitions used than previously admitted, they were also used on a much wider array of targets, including soft targets and buildings. Many of these targets were unarmoured and a substantial amount of those targets were near populated areas.
Several towns and cities in Iraq, including Fallujah, have reported congenital birth defects that locals suspect may be linked to DU or other war materials. It is of utmost importance that all data on toxic munitions should be released so that authorities can conduct remediation of toxic sites to protect future generations of Iraqis and provide necessary medical care to those harmed by the use of these materials. The United States still has to provide more details about other military operations in the Middle East.
In 2003, the United States violated its own formulated restrictive policy for the use of DU munitions. More recently officials have indicated that there is no restriction on the use of DU in the operations against Daesh in either Iraq or Syria. There are indications that DU munitions possibly were used during the Tidal Wave II operation in Syria in November 2015.
DU is a toxic chemical and a radiation health hazard when inside the body. Inhalation and ingestion of DU particles may have negative health effects. Insufficient information about the use of DU munitions has hindered medical research to determine the harmful effects. The new research findings are likely to renew calls for scientists to look deeper into the health effects of DU on civilian populations in conflict areas. The new information that has become available about the American operations in 2003 can be used to construct a meaningful baseline that will be helpful to focus medical research and clean-up operations.
A better understanding of the immediate and long-term effects of DU on human health and the environment may strengthen the call for a treaty regulating the production or use of DU weapons. In 2014, the UN has called on countries that have used weapons with DU to provide local authorities with detailed information of the areas of use and amounts used in order to assess and potentially contain contamination. In the absence of a more effective regulation the United States can continue the use of DU weapons in its ongoing operations in the Middle East, with harmful effects for humans and the environment.
Conference on the challenges of knowledge management (KM) in the nuclear sector
- A wide variety of problems necessitates reflection on the growing importance of knowledge management (KM) in the nuclear sector.
- Eight thematic tracks have been formulated to discuss experiences and exchange knowledge.
- The conference will give member states the opportunity to strengthen their capabilities in KM by learning from the experiences of other member states and other stakeholders in the hope this will contribute to a safe and sustainable application of nuclear technology.
The IAEA in cooperation with the OECD will organize the third international conference on nuclear knowledge management (KM) –challenges and approaches, in Vienna on 7-11 November, 2016. The nuclear sector is facing a series of challenges that have to be solved in the coming years. The world is still facing the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster with almost unsolvable decontamination and decommissioning problems. Quickly changing circumstances force governments and industries to decide on the role of nuclear power in their energy policies. Several countries are facing decommissioning problems of nuclear reactors or problems dealing with nuclear waste. Nuclear industries face severe economic and/or technological problems.
The aim of the planned conference in Vienna is to improve awareness of the importance of knowledge management in the nuclear sector. The conference will address various issues related to specific competencies, methodological or process knowledge and technology related knowledge, that are needed to support the safe and sustainable application of nuclear technology. The presentations are divided in eight thematic tracks dedicating attention to topics as operations, new construction plans, decommissing, regulatory compliance, R&D, information and records management, and innovation.
The planned conference will identify key KM challenges, raise awareness and improve understanding of these issue, priorities and solutions related to nuclear KM. Member states will have the opportunity to strengthen their capabilities in this area by learning from the experiences of other member states and other stakeholders. With a higher and more effective level of KM governments and other stakeholders will be able to contribute to a safe and sustainable application of nuclear technology.
Increased risk of the use of pressure cooker bombs in US and Europe based on instructions from Inspire magazine
- A recent test illustrated that a lone wolf attacker with some basic chemical skills must be able to construct powerful explosive devices on the bases of instructions in the 2010 issue of Inspire magazine.
- Overseas explosives training would decrease the risk of failure because some basic chemistry skills are needed as well as experimentation.
- In the case of the recent Chelsea attack it is still unknown whether the main suspect had contact with a terrorist organization and whether he did receive an overseas explosives training.
On September 17, an explosive device exploded in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan, injuring 29 people. The device was placed in a heavy metal dumpster. This may have prevented significant loss of life by containing the force of the blast. In a nearby street a second unexploded device was found. This pressure cooker bomb was placed in a bag and it was found by two EgyptAir security officials. They were only interested in the bag and left the pressure cooker in the street.
The devices consisted of a mixture of aluminum powder and ammonium nitrate and a small amount of HMTD. The HMTD probably was intended as a detonator for the main charge. The design of the bombs tracked closely with a bomb instruction in a 2010 issue of Inspire, a magazine of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). A test of a device on the basis of the instructions in Inspire indicated that the explosion was more powerful than the devices used in the Boston marathon attack.
Ahmad Khan Rahami, one of the suspects arrested in the Chelsea attack, had a notebook with references to Anwar al-Awlaki, an AQAP ideologue who has been killed in a US drone strike in Yemen. Rahami reportedly had lengthy stays in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2011 and 2014. It is not certain yet whether he had contact with a terrorist organization in these countries and whether he did receive explosives training and was tasked to return to the US to prepare and execute an attack.
In August, British intelligence services had warned for an attack directed against the Royal Family during the celebrations in London of the 70th anniversary of VJ Day-Victory in Japan. According to their information the plot involved a pressure cooker bomb.
The Chelsea pressure cooker bombs illustrate that the instructions taken from the Inspire magazine may result in powerful and lethal devices. Al-Qa’ida and Daesh have both attempted to inspire extremists abroad to engage in lone wolf attacks. Both organizations have developed bomb manuals with instructions for bomb designs based on materials that are relatively easy to acquire in Western countries. Daesh seems to give preference to TATP suicide bomb vests. HMTD detonators have been used in multiple al-Qa’ida plots against the West.
In the case of the Chelsea bombs it is still unknown whether the operative had overseas training. One expert indicated that some knowledge of chemistry was needed and the design could not be perfected without experimentation. The HMTD detonator could be build on the basis of online instructions. Overseas explosives training would decrease the risk of failure.
While the American attack was an indiscriminate attack on the general public, the preceding British plot in August was directed against a symbolic target. More of these attacks can be expected in the future in the US and in Europe. In Europe there are strong indications that these attacks are the result of a deliberate plan of an organization using foreign fighters returning to Europe after having received an explosives training.