CBW Events is a project to create a record of events to enable and encourage understanding of how policies on the issues relating to chemical and biological warfare (CBW) and its prevention are developed.

Terrorism Chronology

The Terrorism Chronology is one of two thematic chronologies outside of the country studies (Iraq, Libya and Syria). The chronology will record significant events relating to CBW terrorism by examining the potential perpetrators as well as measures to inhibit their actions. Also significant are the psychological and societal responses to the possibilities of CBW terrorist acts.

As with the other thematic studies, almost all accounts of CBW terrorism (in terms of confirmed acts, concerns about potential acts and attemps to prevent acts) are written from one perspective or another. This chronology will be an attempt to record the relevant events as impartially as possible and, in doing so, provide a valuable resource for those wishing to understand how the events unfolded, including how psychological and societal aspects impacted upon the formation of policy. A key aim is to provide a context so that lessons learned can be applied to assist efforts to hinder hostile uses of chemistry and biology while allowing their use for peaceful purposes.

Some sample entries

This small selection of entries from the dataset this chronology will be drawn from is intended to illustrate the scope of material that would be contained within the published version of the terrorism chronology.

7 June 1972     In London, Lord Chalfont, a former Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, introduces a short debate on chemical weapons in the House of Lords. He says: "there is now I believe a need more urgent than there has ever been for us to come to some international agreement about this particular weapon of war. ... Chemical weapons have been called the poor man's weapon of mass destruction ... But there are other, and I think somewhat more sinister, implications here. It is the possibility that these weapons might even spread out of the hands of governments and into the hands of private people. One only has to think of the appalling [recent attacks] to realise that nowadays international terrorists will stop virtually at nothing. The chemical weapon is easily portable, cheaply made and easily used ... [We must] think seriously about the appalling danger that would be presented to international order and stability if international terrorists of the kind that carried out the shocking [attacks] were to decide to use, instead of the weapons that they used there, this kind of weapon of indiscriminate destruction". [Note: The attacks the speaker refers to were at Lod Airport, Tel Aviv, on 30 May in which 3 Japanese Red Army terrorists, operating in conjunction with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP-GC), killed 24 people and injured over 70 more.]
     The Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, gives the Government's response to the debate. She says the Government: "has to consider the need to define the chemical agents which are relevant to chemical warfare on which controls are needed, and those chemical agents and their manufacturing processes which could be converted to chemical weapon production, although they are relevant also to peaceful industrial and medical activities. Therefore we have to consider not only the agents but the industrial processes which could be relevant to a ban on CW. When these have been identified we have to consider three main things: how to give assurances that the production and possession of chemical weapons has been completely stopped; how to place obstacles in the way of a secret programme of CW rearmament which would make it both difficult and expensive; and, thirdly, how to give early warning of unlawful production or possession of CW".
     [1] Hansard (Lords), 7 June 1972, vol 331, c311-62

5 February 2003     In New York, US Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses a specially convened session of the Security Council, under the on-going agenda item "The situation between Iraq and Kuwait". He speaks for over an hour, primarily on allegations of Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction. Most countries on the Council are represented at this meeting at Ministerial level. As Germany holds the rotating Presidency of the Council, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is in the chair. Also present are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix, IAEA Director-General Mr. Mohamed ElBaradei and the Permanent Representative of Iraq, Ambassador Mohammed A. Aldouri.[1] The non-permanent members of the Council are Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Germany, Guinea, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain and Syria.
     Powell says: "[E]very statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence", he says. He plays recordings of intercepted conversations between Iraqi officers that he claims suggest at a deliberate intention to deceive the UN weapons inspectors. He also presents various slides and some satellite imagery that he claims shows the Iraqi military relocating weapons of mass destruction. For example, the Secretary displays satellite imagery of an Iraqi facility at Taji, describing it as "one of about 65 such facilities in Iraq. We know that this one has housed chemical munitions". He says, "Here you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers. ... On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says "security" points to a facility that is a signature item for this kind of bunker". Powell states that the bunkers have been deliberately made "clean" by the time UN inspectors arrive at the site on 22 December.
     Repeating suggestions that Iraq has not accounted for all of its imported growth media for biological agents, he says "One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents". Drawing on what he calls "eyewitness accounts" he states "The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War. Although Iraq's mobile production program began in the mid-1990s, UN inspectors at the time only had vague hints of such programs. Confirmation came later, in the year 2000. The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. 12 technicians died from exposure to biological agents". Some conceptual drawings are presented to illustrate what an Iraqi mobile biological-weapons laboratory might look like. "We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile, biological agent factories".
     On terrorism, Powell says "Iraq today harbours a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants".[2] Alleging links between associates of Zarqawi and alleged plots in Europe and elsewhere, he says: "We also know that Zarqawi's colleagues have been active in the Pankisi Gorge, Georgia, and in Chechnya, Russia. The plotting to which they are linked is not mere chatter: members of Zarqawi's network say their goal was to kill Russians with toxins". He suggests that Al-Qaeda "continues to have a deep interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As with the story of Zarqawi and his network, I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative, telling how Iraq provided training in those weapons to Al Qaeda ... he has told his story ... [that he] was responsible for one of Al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan. ... [Al Qaeda leaders] did not believe that Al Qaeda labs in Afghanistan were capable enough to manufacture these chemical or biological agents. They needed to go somewhere else. They had to look outside of Afghanistan for help. Where did they go? Where did they look? They went to Iraq".
     On the UK government's dossier Iraq – Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation [see 3 February], he says: "I would call my colleagues' attention to the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed yesterday which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities". Powell concludes thus: "Operative paragraph four of UN Resolution 1441 ... clearly states that false statements and omissions in the declaration and a failure by Iraq at any time to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of this resolution shall constitute – the facts speak for themselves – shall constitute a further material breach of its obligation. [The demand for an honest declaration from Iraq] was designed to be an early test. They failed that test. By this standard, the standard of this Operative Paragraph, I believe that Iraq is now in further material breach of its obligations. I believe this conclusion is irrefutable and undeniable".
     The Council then hears from Minister for Foreign Affairs of China (Tang Jiaxuan), Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom (Jack Straw), Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (Igor Ivanov), Minister of State in charge of External Relations of Cameroon (François-Xavier Ngoubeyou), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France (Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin), Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico (Luis Ernesto Derbez), Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria (Solomon Passy), Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan (Khurshid Kasuri), Minister for Foreign Affairs of Spain (Ana Palacio Vallelersundi), Minister for Foreign Affairs of Chile (Soledad Alvear Valenzuela), Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Angola (Georges Ribelo Chikoti), Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic (Farouk Al-Shara') [statement read out by the Syrian Ambassador], Ambassador of Guinea (Mr. Traoré) [conveying apologies of Foreign Minister François Fall for being unable to attend] and Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany (Joschka Fischer). The meeting concludes with a statement from the Iraqi Ambassador who denies the accusations in Powell's presentation.
     Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri later transmits a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan rejecting Powell's accusations in further detail.[3]
     [1] A full transcript of the meeting is published in UN document S/PV.4701, dated 5 February 2003. The US Department of State distributes transcripts of Secretary Powell's presentation in a variety of formats.
     [2] Spellings are those given in the UN transcript. US Department of State transcripts use the spellings "Abu Massad Al Zakawi", "Usama bin Laden" and "Al-Qaida".
     [3] Letter dated 19 February 2003 from the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, UN document S/2003/203, dated 20 February 2003; Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site (Baghdad) from Baghdad, 21 February 2003, as translated from the Arabic in BBC-WWM, "Iraqi foreign minister rejects allegations in US Secretary Powell's UN speech", 25 February 2003.

19 March 2013     In Syria, the government and opposition forces each claim that the other initiated an attack with chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal [in some reports spelled al-Asal], in the administrative area of Aleppo. A separate allegation that government forces used chemical weapons in Ataybah near Damascus is also made but there is some ambiguity of the suggested date of this alleged attack.
     The BBC cites the Sana news agency as reporting "Terrorists launched a missile containing chemical products into the region of Khan al-Assal in the province of Aleppo, killing 15 people, mainly civilians".[1] Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi is quoted as saying rebels fired "a rocket containing poison gases" from the city's southeastern district of Nairab, part of which is held by opposition forces. "The substance in the rocket causes unconsciousness, then convulsions, then death", the minister is reported to have said.[2] Russia's foreign ministry is reported as saying it had information that rebel units had used chemical weapons captured from the government.[3]
     Qassim Saadeddine, described as senior rebel commander and spokesman for the Higher Military Council in Aleppo, attributes the alleged use of chemical weapons to government forces, and is quoted as saying, from Aleppo, "We were hearing reports from early this morning about a regime attack on Khan al-Assal, and we believe they fired a Scud with chemical agents".[4]
     An unidentified Reuters photographer is cited as saying that victims he had visited in Aleppo hospitals were suffering breathing problems and that people had said they could smell chlorine after the attack.[5]
     Ambassador of Syria to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, writes to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council,[6] stating:

At 0730 hours this morning, in a dangerous escalation of the crimes that the armed terrorist groups are committing in the north of Syria, those groups fired a rocket from the Kafr Da"il area towards Khan al-Asal in Aleppo governorate, some 5 km away. The missile fell in a civilian-populated area, some 300 metres from a Syrian Arab army position. Its impact was followed by a thick cloud of smoke, which left unconscious anyone who inhaled it. The explosion of the missile and the gases that were emitted have so far caused the death of 25 persons and the injury of more than 110 civilians and soldiers, who have all been taken to hospital in Aleppo.

     The letter repeats allegations made by the Ambassador three months previously that rebel forces had obtained chemical weapons from sources in Turkey [see 10 December 2012]. The letter goes on to say:

The Syrian Arab Republic, while reiterating the commitment that it has made on scores of occasions, through the diplomatic channel and in public, and which it has conveyed to the Secretary-General and the Security Council, to the effect that it would never use any chemical weapons which it may have against its own people, will proceed with its constitutional obligation to pursue the terrorists and their supporters, out of concern for the security and safety of its people. Syria calls upon the international community to take serious and determined action to prevent those terrorist groups from continuing to commit their dangerous crimes against the Syrian people, by halting the financial, military, logistical, political and media support which is provided by the States that support the terrorist groups, in particular, Turkey, Qatar and certain Western States, without any thought for the consequences of that support for innocent Syrian civilians, whose blood is being spilled by those terrorist groups.

     The Secretary-General's spokesperson Martin Nesirky, while stating that the UN is not in a position to confirm reports of possible chemical weapons use in Syria, tells reporters "What I can say is that the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that any use of chemical weapons by any side in Syria would be a grave violation of international humanitarian law and would also be an outrageous escalation of an already bloody conflict".
     The following day, the UN Secretary-General receives a communication from the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic which he describes as "requesting a specialized, impartial and independent mission to investigate the incident of 19 March 2013 involving an alleged use of chemical weapons in Kafr Da"il region in Khan al-Asal area in Aleppo governorate, Syrian Arab Republic".[8] This communication is not published at this time, but is distinct from the letter quoted above which does not contain a specific request.
     The allegations of attacks with chemical weapons on this date prompt considerable international reaction in the coming days and weeks. They are specifically referred to in the letter to the Secretary-General from the governments of France and the United Kingdom on 21 March; the report of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic published on 4 June; and a letter from US Ambassador Susan Rice to the UN Secretary-General on 14 June.
     [1] [no author listed], "Syrians trade Khan al-Assal chemical weapons claims", BBC, 19 March 2013.
     [2] Oliver Holmes and Erika Solomon (from Beirut), "Alleged chemical attack kills 25 in northern Syria", Reuters, 19 March 2013.
     [3] Damien McElroy, "Syria: regime accuses rebels of killing 25 in chemical weapons attack", Daily Telegraph, 19 March 2013.
     [4] Oliver Holmes and Erika Solomon (from Beirut), "Alleged chemical attack kills 25 in northern Syria", Reuters, 19 March 2013.
     [5] Oliver Holmes and Erika Solomon (from Beirut), "Alleged chemical attack kills 25 in northern Syria", Reuters, 19 March 2013.
     [6] Syria, Identical letters dated 19 March 2013 from the Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council, S/2013/172, 19 March 2013.
     [7] United Nations Department of Public Information, "Ban reiterates concerns about possible chemical weapons use in Syria", press release, 19 March 2013.
     [8] United Nations Secretary-General, Letter dated 22 March 2013 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/2013/184, 25 March 2013.