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Congressional Quarterly August 8, 2005

Chemist Derides Qaeda Germwar Skills Touted by Manual

By Jeff Stein

"The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook," which purports to explain how to manufacture "betaluminum poison" and other gruesome biological warfare agents, may actually contain good news for Americans worried about the specter of terrorists unleashing biological warfare, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) said Monday.

There is no such thing as betaluminum poison.

"The word appears to be a corruption of 'botulinum'. Nor would the proffered production method - combining fresh horse manure, meat, grain and water in a sealed jar - yield much more than a stinky mess," said FAS's Steven Aftergood in Monday's Secrecy News.

"The first time I saw ['The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook']," George Smith of GlobalSecurity.org, who holds a Ph.D. from Lehigh University, was quoted as saying, "I thought it must be a hoax."

"Careful examination of the document shows that it is crammed with errors, seemingly the work of someone with little discernible sense, profoundly ignorant of the nature of simple compounds and incompetent in even minor [laboratory] procedures," Smith wrote in GlobalSecurity.org's National Security Notes in March 2004.

The "betaluminum poison" was cited in The Washington Post's lead Sunday story, "Terrorists Turn to the Web as Base of Operations," as the kind of information al Qaeda followers can access on the Internet.

"The quality of the text is so poor," Smith continued, "it would be humorous if it were not attached to a preface which puts on the airs of a sinister man confessing a wish to pass on an esoteric and dangerous technical capability to sympathizers. (Indeed, since the material is so shaky it cannot be entirely ruled out that it was fabricated as a hoax or written by a total know-nothing simply wishing to create an impression of menace. If the latter, the person was successful.)"

Stink Bombs

One of the "weapons" whose manufacture is described in "The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook" is no more than an old-fashioned "stink bomb," Smith wrote last year.

"[While] there is little point to describing the handbook in fine detail, one recipe for poison gas was nothing more than the procedure - also with mistakes - for making a stink bomb, one often included in chemistry sets sold to young boys in the early Sixties." Its author, "Abdel-Aziz," proclaims it can "kill a person only [sic]" in 30 seconds.

The manual's recipe for making the deadly substance ricin was similarly flawed, Smith said.

"It is good news that these al Qaeda and terrorist training manuals purporting to contain recipes for ricin show no capability. And frankly speaking, if they are to be taken at face value they indicate a shortage in critical thinking and capability on the part of their respective authors."

Smith advised media organizations to be more skeptical about claims for al Qaeda prowess in biological weapons.

 


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