An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday.
The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.
He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official.
“We don’t know if this is biological or chemical,” the official said.
The story was first reported by the British tabloid the Sun, which said the al Qaeda operatives died after being infected with a strain of bubonic plague, the disease that killed a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century. But the intelligence official dismissed that claim.
While a lot of my blogging associates have been making light of the apparent deaths of 40 al Qaeda fighters in the last few weeks from a reported Bubonic Plague outbreak – my first and last feelings have been blaring alarm bells. I have a BS in biology and I must say I find it hard to believe the plague could knock out 40 people so quickly. At least the naturally occurring variety. The natural plaque (which still roams the Earth) is from flea bites from infected fleas.
What happens in some cases, which causes an acceleration of the spreading, is the virus transforms into an air borne version called pneumonic plague. It is this version of the plague causing bacteria which could make a lethal WMD.
For all our sakes, I hope so.