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    Experts and analysts on terrorism have observed over the past fifteen years that international terrorist networks are now more likely to be primarily motivated by religious ideologies, seeking to cause large scale causalities within civilian populations. This is a move away from the more ‘traditional’ terrorists of the past who were mainly motivated by political ideals and carried out small-scale attacks to make a political statement. The rise of this ‘new’ type of terrorism is worrying governments around the world, particularly the governments of the United States and Britain.

    As its proponents purposely seek to obtain weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, chemical or biological, with the intention of using them to inflict large-scale casualties on civilian populations of countries or societies, they perceive to be a threat to their stupendous beliefs. Governments are increasingly aware of just how little they can do to protect their citizens from attacks

    Here in the Middle East, the consequences of an attack by a terrorist organization, using weapons of mass destruction could be more damaging to countries and societies than the more developed western states. A successful attack on any one of a number of Middle Eastern States could destroy that country entirely, simply because some populations are so small. For Instance, the six Gulf countries that make up the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), have a combined population of fewer than twenty million people. Large scale loss of live would almost certainly lead to the destruction of their civil society and the devastation of their economies, leaving them open for assimilation by other nations or people to the point where they disappear as unique cultural entities

    In the more populous nations of the region, the result of such attack may be mitigated to some extent by the size of population. But most of the large Middle East countries, such as Egypt, Syria, Algeria and Iraq are poorer that their Gulf neighbours with less developed heath-care and civil defence infrastructures. The loss of life would be on a massive scale. And would certainly cripple their economies, degrade social structures and leave their regimes ripe for overthrow or manipulation by other more powerful nations.

    Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are not new; they have been around over fifty years. The Germans were the first to use such a mass destruction weapon when it used mustard gas on 22nd April 1915 to attack the British trenches during the First World War. Since their introduction to the battlefield, nearly every European government sought to develop weapons that would produce mass battlefield casualties. Unfortunately their development coincided with a change in military thinking on how to contact wars. In the past it had been considered enough to inflict harm on enemy soldiers and not the civilian population. Although there were cases where cities and towns were burnt and pillage and populations put to the sword, it was not, as was it was to become later, a deliberate act of war. But as societies in the 20th Century became increasingly more urban and industialised, military planners considered that destroying the economic framework of a country by ruining its industrial base and terrifying its population would read to a swifter victory on the battlefield.

    Once Pandora’s box had been opened and the development of weapons of mass destruction began, it took under thirty years for mans ingenuity to devise weapons capable of wiping life of the face of the entire planet. Our first flirtation with these weapons at the close of the Second World War at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, demonstrated just how successful we have been in devising of killing our fellow man. Since that time, we have successfully developed other types of weapons with just as much lethality, in the form of biological and chemical agents that are capable of destroying large numbers of people in a short space of time.

    And now at the beginning of a new century, we are once again facing the awful possibility that some person, organisation or state sees the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as a legitimate way to advance their cause, regardless of the cost in human live and suffering.


    1995 saw the first ever major WMD attack - it was the use of nerve gas by a terrorist group when the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo killed 12 and injured thousands of Tokyo subway passengers. This willingness by religious groups, cults and fanatics to use such weapons has been on the increase. Terrorist groups who wish to access to or use Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) pose significant risks to population centers around the world.

    Let us imagine that a group wished to overthrow the government of Iraq. It could, by introducing a biological agent such as anthrax into military bases around the county and the capital Baghdad, paralyse the entire government and decimate its armed forces rendering ripe for sudden change of government or vulnerable to an outside military force. Another possibility could be that Israel under an extreme right wing Prime Minister finally decides to wage out war on the Palestinians. He could attack the West Bank and Gaza with Israel’s arsenal of nuclear ammunition. This consists of over 300 hundred miniaturised thermonuclear shells, designed to release deadly gamma radiation while minimising blast effects and long-term radiation – in essence to kill people while leaving property intact. Both of these scenarios are entirely particularly possible if their proponents see their victims as deserving of the fate.

    So it can clearly be seen that it is the duty of all of us to ensure that such horrific events do not takes place. We cannot, and must not justify or condone even one act of terrorism against anyone as to do so only bring nearer the possibility that WMD will be used in future attacks by terrorists. Terrorism is a unique form of crime and is often in fact a form of psychological warfare –“ propaganda by deed”- and seeks to gain world attention for its cause and support from its sympathisers. Increasingly given the structure of societies around the globe and sheer volume of information spanning them, it has become increasingly harder for acts of terrorism to have more than a minor impact on the global consciousness. A few dead here, a bomb there, are unfortunately all to commonplace nowadays to gain much international media attention. It is only when actions such as the attack on America that really seize and hold peoples attention. Terrorists have come to realise that they must carryout ever more spectacular acts to ensure world attention, and what can be more spectacular than a thermonuclear detonation, the release of a deadly gas or the spread of a lethal biological agent in one of the capitals of the world. It could be London, Washington, Paris, or Berlin. But it could equally be Riyadh, Amman, Teheran or Abu Dhabi. No capital or people are immune from this form of attack.

    So far, the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorist has been confined to the pages of science fiction literature, but given the technology available to terrorists today, what is today’s science fiction can easily become tomorrow’s fact.

    One of the truths about terrorism is that it is the weapon of the weak; if people feel that they have become marginalised or their beliefs or cause ignored, then they may desperately reach for a way to call attention to their plight or their grievance. This leads to another truth about terrorism that terrorists want people watching not necessarily a lot of dead people. It is this that has until now made the risk of attacks’ using weapons of mass destruction a low one. But as has been noted by analysts and commentators on terrorism as the underlying motives change from secular ones to religious ones, there seems to be a willingness to ignore the sanctity of human life if the victims does not share the same beliefs as the terrorist. Therefore it is now more likely that we will see sometime in the near future a terrorist attack on a major population centre that will result in the loss of hundreds if not thousands of lives.

    Given that attacks using weapons of mass destruction are more likely, it is up to governments to prepare for such a horrifying eventuality by putting in place measures to prevent them and set up mechanisms to respond quickly to such an act with the aim of minimising casualties. Let’s not fool ourselves here in the Middle East by thinking, ”it will never happen here. It is a problem for Western Governments” and not do anything to protect ourselves. The Middle East has as many problems and conflicts as anywhere else and no one can predict the consequences of some of them particularly as the protagonist become more and more desperate as their despair escalates.

    We must realise that we too can become the victims of such murderous acts. We must continue to condemn terrorism in all its forms and we must urge our governments to take steps to protect us. We too need to create effective emergency management programs that builds public support by incorporating citizens in the planning and implementing of such programmes.

    Regional governments should work closely together and share information on organisations and individuals who may be prepared to carry out act of terrorism in the region. Campaigns should be instigated to raise the awareness of the dangers of such attacks, and teach and inform people on the type of danger they might expect and the actions to take if such an event takes place.

    Equipment can be bought that would give respiratory protection from nuclear, chemical and biological agents. A protective mask, while not being able to stop radiation exposure, will prevent radioactive dust and particles from an aerosol being inhaled; it will also stop most other chemical and biological particles too. Another measure to minimise causalities is to give all citizens some civil defense training that would enable them to respond quickly to an attack. These are all positive steps that governments throughout the Middle East can take to try and ensure the safety of their citizens.

    According to the United Nations there are currently 280 armed conflicts of varying intensity going on in the world right now. These often involve mercenaries, death squads and terrorist groups. We simply cannot assume that any of them will stay away from using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons if given the chance to acquire them. With this in mind, let us realise that the problems of terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction aren’t just a ‘Western problem,’ they are of concern to us all. Particularly as the Middle East is the home of some of the most intractable of these conflicts so let us all be forthright and condemns any act of terrorism great or small, and from what ever quarter. For by condoning just one, may in the long run see us suffer consequences that until now were unimaginable.


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