Preventing and Responding to WMD Terrorist Attacks

This working group is assessing how the UN system and international organizations would collectively respond, to a terrorist attack where nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological weapons or materials are used, and the level of planned coordination among the different entities to facilitate rapid provision of assistance to the affected state/states. The Working Group has facilitated an interactive exchange of knowledge, sharing of information on existing activities and emergency plans of the UN entities and international organizations in the response to an attack using WMD or related materials.


United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy:

Section II, paragraph 5: “To strengthen coordination and cooperation among States in combating crimes that might be connected with terrorism, including drug trafficking in all its aspects, illicit arms trade, in particular of small arms and light weapons, including man-portable air defence systems, money-laundering and smuggling of nuclear, chemical, biological, radiological and other potentially deadly materials;”

Section II, paragraph 11: “To invite the United Nations system to develop, together with Member States, a single comprehensive database on biological incidents, ensuring that it is complementary to the biocrimes database contemplated by the International Criminal Police Organization. We also encourage the Secretary-General to update the roster of experts and laboratories, as well as the technical guidelines and procedures, available to him for the timely and efficient investigation of alleged use..;”

Section II, paragraph 13: “To step up national efforts and bilateral, subregional, regional and international cooperation, as appropriate, to improve border and customs controls in order to prevent and detect the movement of terrorists and prevent and detect the illicit traffic in, inter alia, small arms and light weapons, conventional ammunition and explosives, and nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological weapons and materials, while recognizing that States may require assistance to that effect;”

Section II, paragraph 17: “To invite the United Nations to improve coordination in planning a response to a terrorist attack using nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological weapons or materials, in particular by reviewing and improving the effectiveness of the existing inter-agency coordination mechanisms for assistance delivery, relief operations and victim support, so that all States can receive adequate assistance. In this regard, we invite the General Assembly and the Security Council to develop guidelines for the necessary cooperation and assistance in the event of a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction;”

Section III, paragraph 9: “To encourage the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to continue their efforts, within their respective mandates, in helping States to build capacity to prevent terrorists from accessing nuclear, chemical or radiological materials, to ensure security at related facilities and to respond effectively in the event of an attack using such materials;”

Section III, paragraph 10: “To encourage the World Health Organization to step up its technical assistance to help States to improve their public health systems to prevent and prepare for biological attacks by terrorists.”


The CTITF Working Group on Preventing and Responding to WMD Attacks was established to strengthen the exchange of information and knowledge among relevant UN entities and international organisations related to response to WMD terrorist attacks.

In 2010-11, the Working Group produced a work plan on the UN’s engagement internally and with key international organizations on responses to a terrorist attack where chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons or materials were used, and the level of coordination among them. In 2010, the Working Group prepared a report deriving primarily from the knowledge, experiences, lessons, and observations shared at the CTITF workshop on “International Response and Mitigation of a Terrorist Attack Using Nuclear and Radiological Weapons or Materials”, as well as input received from the participants afterwards. The workshop, hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in March 2010, included a round table discussion on different scenarios and explored the various capabilities and experiences of participating entities and organizations with regard to nuclear or radiological dispersal events, particularly in the context of a terrorist attack.

Experiences and lessons learnt in this phase were then taken forward to the next phase which focused on chemical and biological weapons or materials. A CTITF workshop on "International response and mitigation of a terrorist use of chemical, biological and toxin weapons or materials" hosted by OPCW, took place in the Hague in May 2011. A report on inter-agency coordination in the event of a terrorist attack using chemical or biological weapons or materials was launched in November 2011.

In 2014, the Working Group initiated a new project on ‘Ensuring Effective Inter-Agency Interoperability and Coordinated Communication in case of Chemical and/or Biological Attacks.’ The project has two phases: the first phase includes analysing gaps in current international cooperation arrangements and practices; exploring solutions for better coordination of activities, people and information; enhancing existing inter-agency mechanisms where needed; as well as establishing a network of inter-agency functional focal points as a means of sustaining those mechanisms in the long term. The project was launched at a kick-off workshop hosted by the OPCW in The Hague in February 2015.

Phase II is expected to last six months and will include table-top and field exercises to test the outputs produced during the initial phase, including recommendations for model tools for cooperation in the future, which would help ensure effective and coordinated international assistance to Member States in emergencies. For this phase funds are being sought.

The Project contributes directly to the implementation of paragraph 17, section II of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and on paragraph 9 in Pillar III, which focuses on measures to build national capacity to combat terrorism and calls upon the IAEA and the OPCW to continue their efforts, within their respective mandates, to help States to inter aliarespond effectively in the event of an attack using” nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological materials.


Interagency Coordination in the Event of a Terrorist Attack Using Chemical or Biological Weapons or Materials
CTITF Working Group Report, Aug 2011

Interagency Coordination in the event of a Nuclear or Radiological Terrorist Attack: Current Status, Future Prospects - Working Group Report 
CTITF Working Group Report, Aug 2010

Ensuring Effective Interagency Interoperability and Coordinated Communication in Case of a Chemical and/or Biological Attacks


Video Statement by Mr. Vladimir Voronkov for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Conference on the Security of Radioactive Material, Vienna, 3 December 2018