German spy chief lists possible al-Qaeda WMDs

13th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

13 April 2005, BERLIN - The head of Germany's BND intelligence agency, August Hanning, on Wednesday presented a likelihood ranking for weapons of mass destruction which could be in the hands of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

13 April 2005

BERLIN - The head of Germany's BND intelligence agency, August Hanning, on Wednesday presented a likelihood ranking for weapons of mass destruction which could be in the hands of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Hanning, speaking at a security conference in the German capital, said he did not believe bin Laden had managed to obtain nuclear weapons.

"We don't think al-Qaeda has made any progress here," said Hanning.

But Hanning expressed more concern over radiological weapons which he listed as a "probably" on his WMD listing.

Turning to biological weapons, Hanning said al-Qaeda certainly had access to basic poisons. Anthrax and plague were ranked as a "maybe" while ebola and smallpox were deemed "unlikely."

Regarding chemical weapons, Hanning said basic poison gas was available to al-Qaeda but he termed deadly Sarin a "maybe."

Separately, Hanning sought to dampen critical comments he made in a newspaper interview earlier this week aimed at the United States regarding the hunt for bin Laden who masterminded the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

In the Handelsblatt interview, Hanning said the US made a major error in late 2001 by trying to capture bin Laden in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan using local militias rather than American troops.

According to Hanning, bin Laden could have secured his freedom by paying off the militiamen.

"I believe it was a mistake that bin Laden escaped," said Hanning at the conference, adding that some media had tried to interpret his earlier remarks as a criticism of the US.

"What the Americans did in Afghanistan was necessary, right and important," stressed Hanning, adding that if the US had not intervened there probably would have been more attacks just as bad as 11 September.

But Hanning concluded his remarks with a warning.

"The war against terror has not been won and this encourages terrorism," he said.

Also speaking at the conference was the German foreign ministry's counter-terrorism chief, Georg Witschel.

Witschel said the new trend of international terrorism was to strike at soft targets such as tourist groups or unguarded commuter trains as in last year's Madrid bombings.

This, he said, was only partly because many other potential targets have been "hardened" over the past years.

More fundamentally, however, it is because terrorists have realised the shock value of hitting such targets is greater and the resulting economic damage is also greater, said Witschel.

Eric Luiijf, of the Netherland's Clingendael Centre for Strategic Studies, highlighted critical infrastructure - including water, power, food - as an increasingly likely target of terrorism.

"Critical infrastructure is a perfect target for asymmetrical warfare," he said, adding that the knock-on effects in Western Europe would be swift and devastating.

Luiijf said electricity was where Europe was most vulnerable, followed by water.

He called on the European Union to harmonise security and protection standards for critical infrastructure and create a single command and control centre both for state and private utilities.

DPA

Subject: German news

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