US team tours Africa to boost bioterror safety

November 12, 2010 19:15
1 minute read.

NAIROBI, Kenya — US Sen. Dick Lugar on Friday peered over the 4-foot cement wall and thin strands of barbed wire that separated the deadly pathogens in Kenya's top research lab from the thousands of homes with rusted tin roofs that make up Nairobi's largest slum.

Lugar and Pentagon officials on a three-nation biological weapons security tour of East Africa on Friday were worried that the dangerous pathogens are within fairly easy reach of terrorists."Unfortunately in this world there are a great number of terrorists who, whether individuals or organizations, have given a great deal of thought to how you use the very dangerous biological materials to harm others," Lugar said. "Our objective today is to negate the possibilities."

Lugar this week toured sites in Uganda, Burundi and Kenya where diseases like ebola, marburg and anthrax are stored — pathogens that can be stolen and made into weapons.

Nunn is the co-author of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program that has destroyed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in former Soviet republics. He now has his sights set on keeping deadly diseases out of the hands of people who would steal and weaponize them. One group that Washington has labeled a terrorist group — al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida — operates in neighboring Somalia.

Andy Weber, a top Pentagon official on the trip who oversees nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, said the Nunn-Lugar program is likely to contribute several millions of dollars to Africa and later tens of millions of dollars to upgrade facilities.

The US officials and experts like Noel Stott of South Africa's Institute for Security Studies say it's possible that terrorists could try to use biological weapons, but Stott noted that no such attacks have occurred in Africa yet. Terrorists would need scientific know-how to handle sensitive pathogens without infecting themselves and to turn them into weapons.

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