Voices from beyond the grave

Radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki had often urged a figurative down-pouring of hellfire on the infidel, so it must have come as a bit of a surprise when a US UAV rained a Hellfire down on him. Clearly never one to stop a small thing like death getting in the way of a deadline, the latest issue of his magazine, Inspire, called for his sympathisers to launch chemical and biological attacks against Western countries, eight months after his death.
al-Awlaki, widely believed to be the editor of the English-language extremist magazine Inspire was killed in a drone attack in September, 2011, in Yemen. al-Awlaki may be unavailable to comment on the al-Qaeda cause for the foreseeable future, but this has not stopped him from publishing his (presumably) last article entitled, \"Targeting the Populations of Countries at War With Muslims”. In the article al-Awlaki justifies the killing of women and children, as well as the use of chemical and biological weapons, bombings and small arms attacks. He goes on to write, \"The use of poisons and chemical and biological weapons against population centers is allowed and strongly recommended due to the effect on the enemy\".

This call to arms by the former propagandist may be the last voice of the 'old guard’ of al-Qaeda. According to senior US officials, al-Qaeda are 'haemorrhaging leaders and desperate for new recruits’, and now that both Bin Laden and al-Awlaki have been removed from action there is little evidence that this organisation is capable of repeating the horrors of 9/11, let alone capable of carrying out a chemical or biological attack. Certainly, Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, despite releasing a number of videos, has failed to command the global stage in the way Bin Laden did. The recently released documents found in Bin Laden’s compound by US special forces in May, 2011, suggest that Bin Laden was frustrated with the lack of progress al-Qaeda had been making in recent years, and he speaks of the incompetence of individuals and groups affiliating themselves to al-Qaeda (BBC News, May 3, 2012). This feeling that al-Qaeda had lost its teeth was reflected by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta when he declared last summer, “We’re within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda”.

It is unlikely then that this new-generation and arguably much weakened al-Qaeda network would have the technical know-how to develop, test and execute a chemical or (in particular) a biological attack, other than a nuisance one. The facilities, equipment and expertise that are required to develop a biological weapon for example, are extremely complex to say the least, not to mention the fact that there is no guarantee the weapon will actually work. Certainly there is no indication, at the current time, that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or any other faction of the terrorist network, has acquired the ability to wage biological or chemical weapons attacks on the West (Lister/Cruickshank, CNN, May 2 2012).. This is not to say that they could not utilise attacks on their own populations, such as the malathion 'attacks’ in Afghanistan, but the chances of them being able to either export those incidents or to have an impact on a protected force are low.

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