Why cheap drones pose a significant chemical terrorism threat

By Zachary Kallenborn, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Earlier this year, police in the United Kingdom arrested Mohammad Al-Bared for building a drone designed for the Islamic State, the terrorist group that once held vast territory in Iraq and Syria. The 3D-printed drone was designed to deliver chemical weapons or explosives, and a search of Al-Bared’s home turned up notebooks with chemical equations and “recipes for chemical weapons,” unrelated, according to authorities, to his studies as a doctoral student in mechanical engineering.

Al-Bared had developed a plan involving a “spoof company” to ferry his weapon, undetected, into a war zone.

Also Read: What we knew in 1942 – Chemical Warfare Agents

Al-Bared, found guilty in September of preparing acts of terrorism, was certainly not the first would-be terrorist to explore using drones. The history of such planning dates back at least to the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo’s experimentation with uncrewed vehicles in 1993 or 1994 for a use in a possible chemical or biological weapons attack. The group ended up attacking the Tokyo subway system without drones. Since then, drone technology has significantly improved.

Relatively cheap drones are becoming a mainstay of conflicts, from the war in Ukraine to the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. Though drones were once the purview of rich and powerful militaries, it’s now possible to use cheap consumer drones in battle. With a few tweaks, they can whistle past even sophisticated air defenses.

Also Read: How to Understand the Biological Weapons Threat: Part 4

As Al-Bared’s case highlights, they may also present a significant chemical terrorism threat. Drones can be equipped with sprayers to deliver chemical weapons, or they could be used in an attack on a chemical plant. They could also provide critical attack support, helping with reconnaissance to plan out and conduct an attack, monitor law enforcement response, and create propaganda to highlight terrorist activities.

Read the full story here.


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