Evidence suggests al Qaeda pursuit of biological, chemical weapons
(CNN) -- Coalition intelligence agencies say they have discovered evidence of transactions involving sophisticated laboratory equipment, along with a new bioterrorism manual distributed to cells of the al Qaeda terrorist network.
The extent of al Qaeda's operational knowledge was once contained in the 10-volume Encyclopedia of Afghan Resistance, which has been the template for actual and planned terrorism attacks against a variety of targets worldwide. (View pages from the manuals)
But now Western intelligence agencies are analyzing a new volume distributed on an unknown number of CD-ROMs. It contains precise, deadly formulas for chemical and biological weapons that can be made from ingredients readily available to the public, CNN has learned.
In a chapter called Science of Explosives, for example, chemical formulas are followed by step-by-step instructions in the manufacture of deadly biological weapons. Another chapter is called "The Poisonous Letter."
Biological warfare sections give exact formulas for the production of deadly toxins botulinum and ricin, although there's no evidence of instructions on how to make or distribute anthrax.
Camp, lab purchases scrutinized
Also drawing scrutiny is a camp outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan, that coalition intelligence sources tell CNN was bin Laden's main chemical and biological training facility.
Called abu-Khabab after the Egyptian chemical-biological weapons expert who directed it, the camp is one of seven that spies have been monitoring that once formed the heart of al Qaeda's terrorist training.
After September 11, large trucks were seen coming and going from the complex and were presumed to be moving equipment to new, unknown locations, CNN has learned. The camps are now believed to be mostly abandoned.
CNN has been told al Qaeda does have new equipment to work with: at least six new laboratories that could be used to make chemical and biological weapons, according to a coalition intelligence agency.
That agency said that three labs were purchased earlier this year by the Wafa Humanitarian Organization, whose U.S. assets were frozen after the government included it among several groups it identified as supporters of terrorism.
The laboratory equipment was shipped from the United Arab Emirates to Afghanistan, according to the coalition intelligence agency.
A second al Qaeda acquisition of sophisticated scientific equipment took place in 1999, according to the same sources. In that transaction, three labs were purchased from the Ukraine and sent to Afghanistan, the sources said.
"I am quite surprised at the nature and scale and scope of that intensified activity that has gone silently without any efforts from intelligence agencies to stop the information transfer or the acquisition of these type of agents," said Magnus Ranstorp, director of the world-renowned counterterrorism center located at Scotland's University of St. Andrews.
Osama Bin Laden, according to other secret U.S.intelligence documents obtained by CNN, ordered his top lieutenants in 1997 to launch a comprehensive effort to obtain chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. U.S. and regional intelligence agencies believe al Qaeda has achieved some of those goals.
Still other evidence comes from a 1999 boast by a terrorism suspect alleged to be a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a radical group with links to Bin Laden's al Qaeda network. Jihad was responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
On April 19, 1999, in a chaotic Egyptian courtroom, Ahmed Salamah Mabrouk spoke before his sentencing hearing to Egyptian reporter Mohammed Salah, considered to be his country's top al Qaeda expert.
Through a caged-in section of the courtroom where defendants are kept, Mabrouk -- who was charged in a terrorism conspiracy -- admitted al Qaeda's success in obtaining chemical and biological weapons.
"He told me that Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri have access to chemical and biological weapons," Salah said.
Although Mabrouk didn't specify what those weapons were, he said they came from countries in Eastern Europe, Salah said.
"He also said that these chemical and biological weapons are already in the possession of some of the members of the organization, but (bin Laden lieutenant Ayman Al-Zawahiri) and bin Laden issued strict orders that they'll never be used except in extreme emergency situations," he said.
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