ISIS fighters have been using drones on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, and counter-terrorism officials think it’s probably just a matter of time before they begin using that technology to drop dirty bombs or poison on Western cities, according to a new report published on Friday by McClatchy DC.
“I understand that an openly available drone, such as a quadcopter, which is able to hold a camera, can drop some dirty explosive device,” Friedrich Grommes, Germany’s top international terrorism official, told McClatchy on the sidelines of a national security forum. “Even if only a few people are affected, it serves completely the idea of terrorism.”
Grommes added that the payload would be “something which is poisonous. It could be a chemical or whatever is commercially available.”
Concerns about such tactics were amplified after Australian federal police said on Aug. 3 that they had disrupted an Islamic State plot to build an “improvised chemical dispersion device” that terrorists wanted to deploy in urban areas. They were planning to spread hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas.
The same kind of flying dirty bomb could be attached to a drone and used in Europe or North America, counter-terrorism officials said at the two-day Intelligence & National Security Summit 2017 in Washington.
“That technology hasn’t quite crossed the Atlantic. It actually hasn’t left the battlefield,” said Chris Rousseau, director of Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre based in Ottawa. “The question is at what point somebody’s going to get the idea to use that here.”
Extremists may not have the know-how to manufacture deadly nerve or chemical agents, so they will instead choose simpler chemical components and combine them with an explosive, Grommes said, noting, “They will refrain from developing the complex chemical or biological attacks because they want to have the sudden spectacular blast.”
Addressing other facets of the war on terrorism, counter-terrorism officials warned that nations must not get complacent about a possible strengthening of Al Qaeda, which has been overshadowed by ISIS. The two terrorist factions are bitter enemies.
Just a few months ago, in May, Sheikh Hamza bin Laden, son of the deceased Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, called for the group’s followers to embrace the kinds of “lone wolf attacks” used by ISIS, in which jihadists execute terror operations acting largely on their own and without direction.
Experts said the latest crop of terror attacks in Europe were largely carried out by men afflicted by anger more than they were driven by religious fanaticism.
Khalid Masood, the 52-year-old Briton who plowed a car into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge on March 22, killing five people and injuring 50, left behind writings with “almost no real ideological content,” pointed out Paddy McGuinness, Britain’s deputy national security adviser for intelligence, security and resilience.
“They are looking for something and they stick a sticker on it and they find their justification,” McGuinness explained. “Their grip on their religion is so superficial as to be less than what you’d get by watching a television documentary.”
Rousseau agreed, calling such religious ideology an “excuse,” adding that there’s little difference between the anger of white supremacists and Islamic radicals.
Radical Islamic content on the internet has caused a sort of echo chamber for radicals.
“People can radicalize very, very quickly,” McGuinness warned. Just as some countries ban pedophiles from putting content online, he said Western countries need to fight the presence of extremists online and “not allow them to be there.”
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