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Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force

Addressing WMD Terrorist Attack

In the absence of a single interagency coordination mechanism dealing with terrorist attack using chemical and biological weapons, the CTITF Working Group on preventing and responding to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attacks convened a meeting in The Hague from 16 to 17 May 2011 to discuss how the international community should address this vacuum.

Participants concluded that it was essential for regional and international organizations providing assistance to have a competent authority to interact with when providing initial advice and agreeing on the most effective means of providing assistance.

“Unlike the situation for radiological and nuclear events where the International Atomic Energy agency (IAEA) would have the lead, responses to chemical and biological weapons terrorist attacks would involve a broader array of agencies at the national and international levels. Lead roles may change as the scenario unfolds and there is no single interagency coordination mechanism to deal with chemical weapons and biological weapons events”, said Krzysztof Paturej, Director, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

The workshop hosted by the OPCW is part of the CTITF project to carry out a comprehensive review on how the UN system and international organizations from different disciplines would respond, individually and as a whole, to a terrorist use of WMD, as well as the level of planned coordination among the different entities in the rapid provision of assistance to the affected State/States.

The Hague meeting examined two exemplary scenarios on how the international community would respond and mitigate a chemical or biological weapons attack. The subsequent analysis demonstrated the differences in the response requirements for each attack.

According to Paturej, “the initial actions to mitigate the impact must be taken within minutes to hours, leaving the first responders and local authorities to handle the initial situation with the resources they have at their immediate disposal. Even ready-to-go, prepackaged assistance such as that to be provided through the OPCW is likely to arrive too late to deal with the initial impact of a chemical attack.”

“Unlike chemical weapons, the manifestations of the consequences of a biological weapons attack can take several days to weeks to develop. The main challenge often being to detect that an event involving a deliberate release has taken place. On the other hand, the time frames are such that they allow for an international response if requested, and also there is a risk that the infection spreads past the initial location(s) and affects other countries – calling for international coordination and information sharing,” he added.

The result of the review of the current mechanisms, observations and recommendation of the working group will be published in a CTITF Working Group Report to be issued later this year.

The workshop was attended by representatives of OPCW, IAEA CTITF Office, ICAO, IAEA, DPI, DSS, UNICRI, and UNODC and WHO. In addition Europol and BTWC ISU also attended the event.