Monday, September 29, 2003

Would you like flies with that?

Al Qaeda normally tests new methods of attack on relatively minor targets before employing them for a major attack. The idea of flying aircraft into a building was developed as early as 1995. Now they are testing poison. The first tentative essays in poisoning attacks suggest that they will not be the last.

The acting president of the war-torn Russian republic of Chechnya was last night fighting for his life after an elaborate attempt to poison him days before crucial presidential elections. The attempt would appear to mark the Chechen rebels' first successful use of poison to attack a Russian official. Poisoning has, until now, been a favourite assassination tool of the Russian secret services in Chechnya. The prominent fundamentalist rebel, Khattab, was killed last year by the Russian secret services in a special operation that involved a messenger being sent to him with a poisoned letter.

Like the airplane attack tactic which brought down the WTC, the technique of murder by poison has its genesis in the fecund mind of Soviet-trained intelligence, many of whose ideas have now been improved on by Islamic militants. The Guardian news report quoted above suggests that the Chechen Islamists, and by extension, Al Qaeda, have access to a relatively slow-acting poison. The Russian official was already en route back when he began to display symptoms of poisoning.

The effects of poisoning the chow line on an aircraft carrier,  a major industrial plant or a major sporting event would come pretty near to the magnitude of a September 11 attack. Such attacks would be very difficult to stop. The recruitment of Johnny Walker Lindh and Yussuf Lee suggest that racial or even religious profiling would be ineffective. Besides, how many major companies or organizations subject their cooks, busboys and kitchen staff to security clearances? Catering companies that serve airlines are not high security facilities either. Yet a poisoned meal served to a series of departing passenger jet liners could cause half a dozen crashes.