Over the recent months, we have witnessed the barbaric acts of violence and terrorism committed by the dangerously radical, militant Islamic organization, ISIS. While, this extremist organization has committed vile acts reminiscent of ancient times, such as beheadings and crucifixions, as well as terrorist bombings, armed assaults and the use of conventional weaponry against resistant counterinsurgency efforts and non-combatants, ISIS has resorted to the use of chemical weapons, such as the recent use of chlorine gas in Iraq.
With the growing threat of ISIS acquiring and deploying CBRN weapons, and the proliferation of radicalization and jihadism expressed by non-traditional actors from around the world, terrorism and asymmetric warfare utilizing toxic, etiologic and radiological-nuclear agents by ISIS and related actors on a wider scale is not only possible, but probable.
The ubiquitous availability of toxic industrial chemicals and materials (TICs/TIMs) and radionuclides in commerce and industry is especially problematic, as these sources are not well secured despite upgraded mandates and some improvements in security countermeasures. Low-tech dispersal methods of these agents is not difficult to achieve, and even crude dissemination of biotoxins, microbial agents, and TICs/TIMs, may be accomplished by contaminating foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals or other commodities. These methods could result in mass casualties, logistical-supply chain disruptions, gross economic adversity, even collapse, profound psychosocial impacts, civil disorder and environmental health and safety concerns.
Intelligence sources have indicated that ISIS may have the capability of creating or gaining access to existing biological laboratories in Syria or Iraq, or acquire foreign talent and dual use technology to cultivate pathogenic microbial agents. Recently, a laptop computer containing 35,347 files was recovered by a moderate Syrian rebel group which belonged to a Tunisian national who joined ISIS. Among the files perused, were several documents related to radical Islamist ideology and tactics, including speeches by jihadi clerics, videos of Osama bin Laden and detailed instructions for developing bioweapons.
To facilitate a weapon of mass effect which incorporates explosive blast trauma with the dissemination of biohazardous /infectious material may be a more field expedient method. The suicide bomber who harbors a deadly infectious disease, such as HIV-AIDS or Hepatitis C, has been used in the past and is another potential threat against civilians and warriors alike, and poses challenges to the fields of emergency, disaster and tactical/terror medicine.
Given that ISIS has also amassed substantial financial assets through various illegal activities, such as bank robberies, smuggling and kidnapping-ransom operations, the acquisition of intellectual assets, supplies and equipment to research, develop and operationally deploy CBRN weapons would certainly be within their grasp. Additionally, ISIS has obtained an impressive array of sophisticated weaponry by seizing US military equipment abandoned by Iraqi security forces.
Militant forces consisting of ISIS members have used anti-armor ammunition and explosive projectiles used to immobilize military vehicles. These munitions and weapon systems could be used to repel antiterrorism/counterinsurgency efforts, as well as inflict considerable damage to oil production and chemical manufacturing infrastructure, creating serious environmental, health impacts and economic disruption to an already gravely unstable geopolitical region.
The possibility of an assault on a nuclear facility with the intent of generating a radiological release is not to be discounted by policy makers, counterterrorism officials, military planners and crisis/emergency managers. If we examine some of the case studies and lessons learned from other attacks utilizing CBRN materials and delivery methods, we can see that even a relatively crude attack, such as the 1984 bioterrorism event in Antelope (The Dalles), Oregon by the religious cult, the Rajneeshee, utilizing the microbial agent Salmonella typhirium to contaminate salad bars can create mass illness, overwhelm health care and public health systems, generate fear and panic, and foster social upheaval. Similarly, the terrorist incidents perpetrated by the apocalyptic cult, Aum Shinrikyo in the 1990s, utilizing 30 per cent pure sarin nerve agent in a plot led by a pseudo-religious zealot and a team of scientists, engineers and physicians, shifted the paradigm of thought regarding the use of CBRN agents by non-state actors. Both factions professed radical and zealot religious beliefs and motives, and possessed extensive financial and technical resources.
Similarly, ISIS has the same, or an even greater, potential to plan and carry out terrorist attacks and conduct asymmetric warfare utilizing CBRN weapons against civilian populations, counterinsurgency and antiterrorism forces.
The Western world and its interests, as well as other global stakeholders, can be attacked from within or externally by ISIS with little or no warning.
Tactical ultraviolence utilizing CBRN weapons are assuredly within reach of ISIS operatives, and with increasing funding and recruitment efforts, acquiring CBRN capabilities and deploying these weapons continue to be credible global security threats requiring offensive and defensive tactics and strategies.