Jan 20 2009

al Qaeda May Have Succumbed To Its Own Biological WMD – Updated!

Published by at 12:00 pm under All General Discussions,Bin Laden/GWOT,Pakistan

Major Update: OK, I have no idea how good the reporting is from this regional news outlet, but what it is reporting is disturbing:

At least 40 al-Qaeda operatives in Algeria died last week of the plague, the killer bug commonly known as the Black Death, prompting experts to speculate that al-Qaeda was developing the plague into a biological weapon to attack Western cities, according to press reports.

Emphasis mine. This concentration of death is what worries me. Only a massive simultaneous exposure would cause this kind of synchronized destruction. This is why it has me leaning towards something like an aerosol-based weaponized form. And there is more:

Joint forces found several decomposed bodies of the gunmen infected with the plague in cave hideouts in the mountainous provinces of Tizi Ouzou, 100 km (62 miles) east of the capital Algiers, and Bejaia, 181 km (112  miles) from Algiers. Local sources speculated that tribes in the surrounding  area also died following the outbreak in the al-Qaeda camps.

That spread really fast. If the cell was trying to keep a lid on the accident (and its root cause) I could see them stashing the dying out of sight in caves. But the nasty bug seems to have spread to nearby villages. This could have been through vectors (carriers) exposed at the site of the initial contamination. But it could also mean the transmission medium as some pretty nasty range.

And then there is this:

A dead rat appeared to be behind the transmission of the disease.

Not likely. This seems like a crude attempt to cover up the more disturbing scenarios. But one dead rat would not be the source. One dead rat could be the intended test subject, a test that got out of control. Again, I have no clue as to the veracity of this reporting, but lets hope it is contained to Algeria, Africa.

Update: Some minor good news this morning since I posted last night. Well, relatively good news and we shall see how solid it is. But there is a claim this ‘cell’ in Algeria where the 40 terrorists died was 1000 strong. If true that puts the death rate at a comfortable 4% and that would look more like a normal outbreak. However, new reports continue to hint at a biological WMD effort.

t was initially believed that they could have caught the disease through fleas on rats attracted by poor living conditions in their forest hideout.

But there are now claims the cell was developing the disease as a weapon to use against western cities.

Experts said that the group was developing chemical and biological weapons.

If the cell was more like 100 people strong (as I would have guessed in order to keep a low profile) then the death rate would jump back into that really uncomfortable range. A form capable of mass infections is what would be worrisome. A form that acts normally and was simply handled recklessly is less worrisome. But I think it is clear our enemies have not surrendered and are still planning to try and kill us in large numbers. President Obama is facing his first big test of leadership. – end update.

While a lot of my blogging associates have been making light of the apparent deaths of 40 al Qaeda fighters in the last few weeks from a reported Bubonic Plague outbreak – my first and last feelings have been blaring alarm bells. I have a BS in biology and I must say I find it hard to believe the plague could knock out 40 people so quickly. At least the naturally occurring variety. The natural plaque (which still roams the Earth) is from flea bites from infected fleas.

What happens in some cases, which causes an acceleration of the spreading, is the virus transforms into an air borne version called pneumonic plague. It is this version of the plague causing bacteria which could make a lethal WMD. And it is this version I worry about:

  • In the United States, 390 cases of plague were reported from 1947 to 1996: 84% were bubonic; 13%, septicemic; and 2%, pneumonic. Case-fatality rates were 14%, 22%, and 57%, respectively. The majority of U.S. cases were in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and California.
  • The epidemiology of plague following its use as a biological weapon would differ substantially from that of naturally occurring infection. Intentional dissemination of plague would most likely occur via an aerosol of Y. pestis, resulting in a pneumonic plague outbreak. The size of the outbreak would depend on several factors, including the quantity of biological agent used, characteristics of the strain, environmental conditions, and methods of aerosolization.
  • In 1970, World Health Organization (WHO) reported that, in a worst-case scenario, if 50 kg of Y. pestis were released over a city of 5 million, pneumonic plague could occur in as many as 150,000 persons, 36,000 of whom would be expected to die.
  • Fatality rates would depend on various factors, including time between onset of symptoms and initiation of antibiotics, access to advanced supportive care, and the dose of inhaled bacilli. The fatality rate of patients with pneumonic plague when treatment is delayed more than 24 hours after symptom onset is extremely high.

Note how low the normal rate is for the dangerous pneumonic version. Yet the reporting in the article seems to claim the deaths in the al Qaeda camp were close together in time and took out a good percentage of the people. The plague can be battled with antibiotics, but they clearly have to be administered within the first 24 hours. All this seems to point to an extremely virulent form – a weaponized form.

A report in the Washington Times is quite ominous:

An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday.

He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official.

H/T Dan Rheil.  That timeline is pretty unnerving. Bubonic plague can apparently kill in under a week. All indications are this is a biological weapon gone awry. More reporting here. And more hints this was a weapons program aimed at the West.

THE al-Qaeda cell wiped out by Black Death may have infected ITSELF while developing biological weapons, it emerged last night.

The terrorists planned to wreak havoc on Western targets but fell victims to their own weapon, a leading expert on chemical warfare believes.

This all may be hyped reporting from a less than reputable tabloid. But one thing that does bother me is the Washington Times article. That seems to lend credence to some concern. It may not be the plague, but there are many dangerous options out there.

There is one big event happening this month in the West – the inauguration of President Obama. What worries me is, if this was a weapons program, some of the weapons are already on transit or in place. That would be devastating to the US. The accident in Africa could have happened with the reserve supplies.

Let’s all pray this story disappears and has no legs. I also prefer Ed Morrisey’s take on this story, as a false report meant to spook al Qaeda and scare them out into the open. Here’s hoping he is right.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “al Qaeda May Have Succumbed To Its Own Biological WMD – Updated!”

  1. crosspatch says:

    Plague lives naturally in that region (and many others including the Western US, a few people a year come down with it in the US). Plague can be cured with very simple antibiotics, it is a very weak bacteria. Anyone working with it would have had an ample supply of said antibiotics on hand. I believe this was a natural outbreak (if it even happened at all).

    The Sun broke this story in the UK and they aren’t the most reliable source. They are a tabloid like The Globe or The National Enquirer in the US.

  2. AJStrata says:


    Well aware of the plague’s natural forms. But 40 people in one week is not a naturally occurring outbreak – even of some of the nastiest bugs out there.

  3. Snapple says:

    People with pneumonic plague don’t feel sick until it is too late. The body doesn’t react to the germ until it is too late, so they continue to be out and about infecting other people instead of at home in bed.

    You can catch this from other people, not fleas.

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