Could ISIS Use Ebola as a Biochemical Weapon? Spanish Security Chief Says It's Possible, but Don't Panic Yet
ISIS and Ebola — two topics have been dominating headlines for months, but nobody wanted to see the two come together. Well, an elite member of Spain's Ministry of the Interior has some bad news. Spain's state secretary for security, Francisco Martinez, says ISIS wants to weaponize Ebola and use any means necessary to attack the West. The basis for Martinez's theory comes from the numerous Internet chat rooms that alleged ISIS supporters use to discuss methods of attack. Martinez stated his case to lawmakers in the Spanish parliament, insisting that these online discussions should be taken seriously. But just how valid are Martinez's claims?
On Wednesday, Martinez, who is the second in command within Spain's Ministry of the Interior, spoke in front of the congressional Interior Committee. During the session, Martinez pointed to three examples of the chat room conversations in which alleged aspiring ISIS members explored ways of using Ebola and other lethal toxins for biochemical warfare. Martinez said these cases, which were among "many examples," illustrates how the terror group uses the Internet as "an extension of the battlefield."
Martinez claimed that in one conversation, ISIS supporters discussed "the use of Ebola as a poisonous weapon against the United States" in mid-September. Another example was a series of tweets from July by the terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam, in which they explored the possibility of weaponizing lethal chemicals they had stolen from laboratories. And in yet another online chat, Martinez said, an ISIS spokesman encouraged supporters to kill Westerners using any methods possible, including "poisonous injections" in lone-wolf attacks.
The secretary of security went on to list the six main objectives of ISIS' online activity:
Threatening enemies through propaganda, preparing operations, exchanging information, ideological training, recruiting new members, and acquiring finance.
So should we be preparing for a biochemical attack anytime soon? According to bioterrorism experts, the answer is no, so don't panic. Two experts told Live Science that while the Ebola virus is deadly (clearly evident in the nearly 5,000 death toll), the virus itself is extremely fragile on its own. Meaning, once it's been removed from a human or animal host, it has a very low chance of survival and is affected by natural elements like sunlight and temperature. "The thing about Ebola is that it's not easy to work with," Dr. Robert Leggiadro, a physician with a background in infectious disease and bioterrorism, told Live Science. "It would be difficult to weaponize."
Overall, the steps involved in weaponizing Ebola are pretty complicated and labor-intensive. First, one must obtain a live human or animal host, then transport it to a suitable Biosafety Level 4 Lab (which are needed if the handler wants to transform the virus without being infected himself, but are also extremely difficult to access), and then they have to go through an arduous process of weaponizing the highly unstable virus, which involves "enrichment, refining, toughening, milling and preparation," according to Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, COO of a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear security firm.
So, it seems, the idea of using Ebola as a weapon is more ambitious than realistic. Furthermore, earlier this month, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had dismissed rumors that ISIS would use biological weapons against the U.S., saying that there was "no specific credible intelligence that [ISIS] is attempting to use any sort of disease or virus to attack our homeland."
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