How much does al Qaeda really know about making biological and chemical weapons?
In the September issue of Jane's Intelligence Review, Anne Stenersen examines al Qaeda's online manuals for producing biological and chemical weapons.
She is less than impressed.
Among these training manuals, various documents related to chemical and biological weapons (CBW) are available. Best described as ‘aspirational’, they are generally crude amalgamations of widely available, open-source material and rarely provide sufficient detail to allow safe and successful production of sophisticated chemical or biological agents, and much less help the reader to weaponise or deliver them.
Still, according to Stenersen, al Qaeda's enduring fascination with and desire for CBW make analysis of these manuals necessary.
While the manuals are poor in technical sophistication, they do provide other helpful intelligence such as tips on how to obtain chemicals without alerting authorities and how to properly handle chemical and biological agents without exposing oneself to harm.
Overall, Stenersen assesses that the threat from an al Qaeda CBW would not likely result in mass casualties and due to the manual's lack of scientific knowledge, any weapon produced from following an al Qaeda manual would bear little resemblance to militarily effective CBW.