NBC Weapons: World War I Supplies al Qaeda




June 27, 2006: The latest terrorist threat is from old, often 90 year old, chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamic radicals, who would then incorporate those ancient, but still fatal, chemicals into a new bomb.

For over 80 years, farmers in northern France have been coming across unexploded chemical shells. In Belgium and France, there are special organizations that will come pick up these shells, and safely dispose of them. The chemicals, usually mustard gas, is often still dangerous, even after the shell has been buried since 1917 or 18. Farmers are sometimes injured when they hit one of these shells with a plow, and break it open.

Until the end of the 20th century, the many live chemical munitions (mostly artillery and mortar shells) discovered in World War I battlefields in Belgium and northwestern France were moved to a storage site at Vimy, France. The storage area now contained up to 16,000 shells. Some of the ammo was from unused piles of shells that had been stored in bunkers and just left behind when the war ended. Many of the individual battles during World War I saw over a million shells fired. The portion of those shells that did not explode ("duds") was often over ten percent. These shells simply buried themselves into the torn up ground, to be discovered years later by farmers plows, construction crews or tourists. Many of the shells simply worked their way back to the surface because of erosion or changes in the water table. These munitions have not aged well, and it was recently discovered that some were decaying to the point that the mustard or phosgene gas in them was leaking out. France began to move the most dangerous shells in sealed and refrigerated trucks to plants where they can be safely be destroyed. While not as dangerous as nerve gas, mustard and phosgene can cause injury and death. In the past, no one wanted to pay the high cost of destroying the chemical munitions. But now, with the increasing number of leaks, final disposal is unavoidable. Meanwhile, many of these old shells are held in lightly guarded facilities, or wait to be dug up by farmers.

A similar situation exists in Iraq, where hundreds of used, and unused, chemical shells from the 1980s war with Iraq are still turning up. The Coalition tried to keep this secret for as long as possible. It wasn't the large supplies of chemical shells or bombs, stored in, but the odd lots of old shells and bombs that were stored here and there. Some terrorists did get their hands on a few of these, but the bombs they used them in were not designed effectively (the explosives were too powerful, and dissipated the chemical agent, instead of just spreading it around.)

This knowledge has been seen on terrorist bulletin boards and message groups. So the word is out to be alert for Middle Eastern men lurking around munitions disposal plants in France and Belgium.




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