The world is not ready for the real risk of a bioterror attack, despite the danger posed by militant groups like al-Qaida, the head of Interpol said on Monday.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said al-Qaida had threatened to kill millions with chemical or biological weapons and that this should not be taken lightly. But tests had shown a lack of preparedness to respond to such attacks.
“The threat of bioterrorism is real ... and the damage that terrorists seek to inflict on us defies one’s imagination,” he told a police workshop to train African officials to deal with biochemical attacks.
“Al-Qaida’s global network, its proven capabilities, its deadly history, its desire to do the unthinkable and the evidence collected about its bio-terrorist ambitions, ominously portend a clear and present danger of the highest order.”
Noble said Interpol police and health officials had to work more closely to prevent being caught off-guard should his worst fears be realized.
“The potential consequences of such an attack could be so far reaching that a lack of action ... poses an unacceptable risk,” he said.
Noble said it was worrying that authorities had fared poorly on tests aimed at gauging their readiness.
“We as a world community did not fare well in any of these exercises or any other exercise conducted to test our preparatory and response abilities to a biological terrorist attack,” he said.
Militant groups have attacked cities in several African countries, but so far the world’s poorest continent has escaped chemical or biological attacks.
Noble said this was no reason to be complacent.
“Al-Qaida has made its intentions very clear and we should not wait for that attack on any continent ... our view is that no continent is immune,” Noble added.
In June this year, a German counterterrorism official said the threat of biochemical attacks by al-Qaida had declined, but the availability of agents and the group’s professed interest in using them still made the danger very real.
Georg Witschel, counterterrorism coordinator at Germany’s Foreign Ministry, said files and laboratories discovered after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks proved al-Qaida had sought to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.