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ISIS may mount dirty bombs on drones

  • An image grab taken from a video made available by jihadi media outlet Welayat Nineveh on July 20, 2016, allegedly shows Rashid Kassim, a French member of the Islamic State group, speaking in French to the camera from an undisclosed location before beheading two men along with another jihadi. The 29-year-old former rapper had cast a grim shadow in international counterterrorism circles before he was killed in Mosul, Iraq. (SalamPix/Abaca Press/TNS) SalamPix



McClatchy Washington Bureau
Friday, September 08, 2017

WASHINGTON — Here’s a fear that keeps counter-terrorism officials up at night: Extremists might use drones to drop dirty bombs or poison on Western cities.

It could just be a matter of time before Islamic State fighters take drone usage from the battlefield in Syria and Iraq to urban areas of the West, security officials say.

“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. The payload would be “something which is poisonous. It could be a chemical or whatever is commercially available.”

Concerns about such tactics grew 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 sought to deploy in urban areas. Plotters aimed to spread hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas.

Such a flying dirty bomb could be attached to a drone and used in Europe or North America, counter-terrorism officials said.

“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.

Rousseau and other counter-terror experts spoke at the two-day Intelligence & National Security Summit 2017 in Washington.

After the panel, Rousseau spoke further about a drone carrying a terrorist weapon: “The question is at what point somebody’s going to get the idea to use that here.”

Extremists may not have the knowhow to manufacture deadly nerve or chemical agents, choosing simpler chemical components and combining them with an explosive, Grommes said.

“They will refrain from developing the complex chemical or biological attacks because they want to have the sudden spectacular blast,” said Grommes, who heads a directorate focused on international terrorism at Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as the BND.

Counter-terrorism officials, speaking about other facets of the war on terrorism, said nations must not get complacent about a possible strengthening of al-Qaida, the extremist faction that launched the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, eventually retreating from Afghanistan to the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa amid sustained U.S.-led military pressure. The group has been overshadowed by the Islamic State.

In a reversal of al-Qaida’s earlier tactics, Sheikh Hamza bin Laden, son of the deceased al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, called in May for the group’s followers to embrace the kinds of “lone wolf attacks” used by Islamic State, its bitter rival, 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 driven by religious fanaticism.