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IS could smuggle mustard gas to Europe: report

The Islamic State (IS) terror group is in possession of deadly mustard gas stockpiles and could smuggle it out of Syria to target Europe, according to a media report.

The IS is behind a spate of mustard gas attacks in Syria and may have enough of the killer substance to slaughter tens of thousands, The Daily Mirror reported.

The network may have access to 20 tonnes of the evil weapon and could smuggle it out of Syria and into Europe, a leading expert in chemical warfare has warned.

Evidence

“Evidence points to the IS behind the attacks and there could be more. There is evidence they used mustard gas, either stolen by IS from [Syrian President Bashar] Assad or — and this is a real game-changer — IS made it themselves,” Col (retd.) Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said.

“This is horrific and the West must act to stop IS now because the threat from them just became much greater and they could take huge areas they have not conquered before,” he told the daily.

Recipe on the ‘dark web’

He warned that ISIS could smuggle mustard gas to attack Europe after finding a recipe on the ‘dark web’ — the murky and secretive area of the Internet used by crooks.

“It is not easy to make mustard gas but it is possible and a lone wolf could get the information off the Internet and dark web. If you tried to buy the precursors in the U.K. or U.S. you would most likely be picked up,” Col. Bretton-Gordon said.

‘It is imminent’

“Could IS move mustard gas out of the Syria/Iraq theatre of war? That is the real issue I expect,” he said.

Scores have died from chemical attacks in both Syria and Iraq in recent weeks and at the weekend IS launched another suspected mustard gas attack.

Col de Bretton-Gordon, who advises NGOs throughout Syria and elsewhere in the world, said, “The West is running out of time to do something about IS. We must act now.”

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Nuclear, chemical and biological threats: The terror next time?

IN THE aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, those whose job it is to think the unthinkable were conscious that, for all the carnage, it could have been far worse. Fuel-laden aircraft slamming into buildings was bad enough. But the sight of some among the rescue workers picking over the debris with test tubes, followed by the sudden decision to ground all of America's crop-spraying aircraft for several days, pointed to an even more horrible possibility. Were terrorists with so little calculation of restraint to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction—whether chemical, biological or even nuclear—they would surely use them. How real is that threat?

It is certainly not new. Among one of many warnings from American think-tanks and government agencies in recent years, a report released last December by the CIA's National Intelligence Council concluded baldly that, when it came to chemical and biological weapons in particular, “some terrorists or insurgents will attempt to use [these] against United States interests, against the United States itself, its forces or facilities overseas, or its allies.” Governments in America and Europe worry that Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda, the terrorist network thought to be behind the September 11th attacks, may already have access to such weapons, and be planning to use them in response to any American military strikes. The World Health Organisation has called on governments around the world to be better prepared for such an eventuality.

For groups prepared to engage in the kamikaze tactics seen on September 11th, the easiest way to spread poisonous or radioactive materials might simply be to fly into repositories of them, or to use lorries full of them as suicide bombs. As Amy Smithson of the Stimson Centre in Washington, DC, observed in a report released last year, there are some 850,000 sites in the United States alone at which hazardous chemicals are produced, consumed or stored. The arrest in America last week of a number of people who were found to have fraudulently obtained permits to drive trucks that carry such hazardous loads looks like a worrying confirmation of such fears.

It is, nevertheless, likely that terrorist groups around the world are working on more sophisticated approaches to mass destruction than merely blowing up existing storage facilities, or hijacking lorry-loads of noxious substances. Mr bin Laden himself has, in the past, called it a “religious duty” to acquire such weapons. He is reported to have helped his former protectors in Sudan to develop chemical weapons for use in that country's civil war, and has since boasted of buying “a lot of dangerous weapons, maybe chemical weapons” for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that now harbours him.

Even for determined terrorists, however, merely getting hold of chemical, biological or nuclear materials is not enough. Do-it-yourself mass destruction—whether of a nuclear, chemical or biological variety—is far from easy (see article). First, you have to acquire or manufacture sufficient quantities of the lethal agent. Second, you have to deliver it to the target. And third, you have either to detonate it, or to spread it around in a way that will actually harm a lot of people.

The difficulties in doing all these things are illustrated by an attack carried out in 1995 on Tokyo's underground railway. Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult, released a potent nerve agent called sarin on five trains. The intention was to kill thousands. In fact, only 12 people died, and some 40 were seriously injured—bad enough, but no worse than the casualty list from a well-placed conventional bomb.

The cult's researchers had spent more than $30m attempting to develop sarin-based weapons, yet they failed to leap any of the three hurdles satisfactorily. They could not produce the chemical in the purity required. Their delivery mechanism was no more sophisticated than carrying it on to the trains in person in plastic bags. And their idea of a distribution system was to pierce those bags with umbrella tips to release the liquid, which would then evaporate.

The attack, in other words, was not a great success. Yet, of the three classes of weapon of mass destruction, those based on chemicals should be the easiest to make. Their ingredients are often commercially available (see table). Their manufacturing techniques are well known. And they have been used from time to time in real warfare, so their deployment is also understood.

Biological weapons are trickier; and nuclear weapons trickier still. Germs need to be coddled, and are hard to spread satisfactorily. (Aum Shinrikyo attempted to develop biological weapons, in the form of anthrax spores, but failed to produce the intended lethal effects.) Making atomic bombs is an even greater technological tour-de-force. Manufacturing weapons-grade nuclear explosives (“enriched” uranium, or the appropriate isotopic mix of plutonium) requires a lot of expensive plant. Detonating those explosives—by rapidly assembling the “critical mass” needed to sustain a chain reaction—is also notoriously difficult.

Terrorist groups working from first principles are thus likely to run into formidable obstacles if they want to get into the mass-destruction business. Nevertheless, there may be ways round these. One quick fix would be to buy in the services of otherwise unemployed or ill-paid weapons specialists from the former Soviet nuclear-, biological- and chemical-weapons establishments. At least some of these people are known to have washed up as far afield as Iran, Iraq, China and North Korea, but none has yet been directly associated with any terrorist group.

In an attempt to reduce the risk of this happening, the United States has, over the past ten years, spent more than $3 billion dismantling former Soviet nuclear weapons, improving security at Russia's nuclear storage sites, and keeping former weaponeers busy on useful civilian work. But, as Ms Smithson points out, only a tiny fraction of this money—itself a drop in a bucket when measured against the scale of Russia's sprawling weapons complex—goes towards safeguarding chemical and biological secrets. And even the nuclear side of things has sprung the odd leak.

Over the past ten years there have been numerous attempts to smuggle nuclear materials out of the former Soviet Union. There have been unconfirmed suspicions that Iran, for one, may have got its hands on a tactical nuclear warhead from Russia. So far, though, police and customs officers have seized mostly low-grade nuclear waste. This could not be turned into a proper atomic bomb, but with enough of it, a terrorist group might hope to build a “radiological” device, to spread radioactive contamination around (see article). Fortunately, the occasional amounts of weapons-grade stuff that have been found so far fall short of the 9-15kg of explosive needed for a crude but workable bomb.

Yet even if a group got hold of enough such explosives, it would still face the hurdle of turning them into a weapon. Hence the most effective way for a terrorist group to obtain one would be to find a sponsoring government that is willing to allow access to its laboratories or its arsenal.

After the Gulf war, UN special inspectors discovered that Iraq had been pursuing not one but several ways to produce weapons-grade material, and had come within months of building an atomic bomb. The effort, however, is thought to have taken a decade and to have cost Saddam Hussein upwards of $10 billion. Much of this was spent on acquiring the bits and pieces needed from foreign companies—sometimes through bribery, sometimes through deception.

In similar ways, he amassed the materials and equipment, much of it with legitimate civilian uses in fermentation plants and vaccine laboratories, for his vast chemical- and biological-weapons programmes. Although most of Iraq's nuclear programme had been unearthed and destroyed, along with much of its missile and chemical arsenal, the inspectors were convinced, when they were thrown out of the country in 1998, that important parts of the biological effort remained hidden.

A glance at the list of state sponsors of international terrorism maintained by America's State Department makes troubling reading. Most of the seven countries included—Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea and Sudan—have chemical weapons already. Five are suspected of dabbling illegally in the biological black arts, and several have covert nuclear-weapons programmes, too. America's Department of Defence estimated earlier this year that more than two dozen countries have already built weapons of mass destruction, or else are trying to do so.

So far, there is no evidence that any of these governments has helped terrorist groups to acquire such deadly goods. That may, partly, be because of widespread moral revulsion against their use. But self-interest on the part of the states involved is also a significant factor. It is one thing to give terrorist groups financial and logistical support and a place to hide—a favoured tactic of governments on the State Department's list as a deniable way of furthering their own local or regional ends. It is quite another to share such awesome weapons with outfits like al-Qaeda, which no government can fully control.

On top of that, since the September 11th attacks, American officials, from the president down, have gone out of their way to emphasise that not only the terrorists involved in any future assaults, but also the states that shelter them, can expect to find themselves in the cross-hairs.

Iraq has been the worst offender when it comes to wielding any of these weapons. It used chemical weapons in its war with Iran and in attacks against its own Kurdish population. Yet Saddam Hussein's failure to use his chemical and biological-tipped missiles, or the radiological weapons he also had, against western-led coalition forces during the Gulf war showed that, even when morality plays little part, deterrence can still work. America had made clear that, if he had deployed these weapons, he would have brought down massive retribution on both his regime and his country.

The big distinction between the dangers of states obtaining such weapons and the danger of terrorists getting their hands on them, argues Gary Samore of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London, is precisely that, however hostile they may be, states are more “deterrable”. Mr bin Laden's network has shown that it will stop at nothing. But are states such as Iraq and North Korea, which operate in other ways largely outside international law, deterrable enough to prevent them lending a secret helping hand to a group like Mr bin Laden's?

America's defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, argued this week that it takes no “leap of the imagination” to expect countries harbouring terrorists to help them get access to weapons of mass destruction. Testimony from the trial of four bin Laden operatives convicted earlier this year for the August 1998 bombing of America's embassies in Kenya and Tanzania revealed that their past military interest in Sudan went beyond helping the regime make chemical weapons for its own war. In one case, Mr bin Laden was attempting to purchase uranium via intermediaries.

Meanwhile, intelligence officials trying to assess the range of threats they now face worry that Iraq's past military links with Sudan may have been no coincidence either. In 1998 America bombed a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant which it said showed traces of a precursor chemical for VX, a highly potent nerve gas that inspectors believe Iraq had put into weapon form. Some observers speculate that, even if Sudan's denials that it was manufacturing any such stuff are true, the country may have served as a trans-shipment point for supplies to Iraq. Might some weapons assistance have flowed the other way, possibly reaching Mr bin Laden's network? Iraq denies it has had anything to do with Mr bin Laden, but there have been unconfirmed reports that one of the New York hijackers met a senior Iraqi intelligence official earlier this year in Europe.

Yet even if no direct link is ever proved between a reckless foreign government and last month's terrorist attacks on America, western officials have long fretted that groups such as Mr bin Laden's will be able to exploit emerging new patterns of proliferation to gain access to nuclear, chemical and bug bombs. Despite attempts by western-sponsored supplier cartels—the Missile-Technology Control Regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Australia group, which tries to track the trade in worrying chemicals or biological agents—the number of such suppliers has expanded over the past decade. Countries that were once entirely dependent on outside help for their covert weapons programmes, mostly from Russia and China, are now going into business themselves.

This is particularly disturbing in the context of the third obstacle to the use of these weapons: delivery. Working from original Russian Scud missile designs, North Korea has created a thriving missile- and technology-export business with Iran, Pakistan, Syria and others in the Middle East. Iran, in turn, has started to help Syria and possibly Libya (which had past weapons ties with Serbia and Iraq) to improve their missile technology. Egypt is still building on the expertise developed by a now-defunct missile co-operation programme with Argentina and Iraq.

It is unlikely that such ballistic-missile technology would find its way into terrorist hands any time soon. But two things are true of almost all technologies: as the years pass, they get cheaper, and they spread. Even if there is no immediate threat, it may eventually not be just hijacked aircraft that are flying into places that terrorists have taken a dislike to. And their “warheads” may consist of something even worse than aviation fuel.

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95 percent of the victims of violence are men. Because women are natural cowards who send men to handle things when they are dangerous.

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“Out of his mind” surgeon plans human head transplant, revival of frozen brain

Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero will undertake the first human head transplant later this year in China, the doctor told German magazine Ooom in an article published Thursday. And, following that effort, he will revive a cryogenically frozen brain and transplant it into a donor body within the next three years.

The plans, completely disconnected from reality and the state of modern medicine, are at least in line with his previous outlandish goals and dubious animal research.

Canavero made headlines in the past few years by claiming that transplanting the whole head of a human onto a donor body is currently possible. A Russian man, suffering from a spinal muscular atrophy malady called Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease, even publicly volunteered for the procedure.

As proof that the transplant could work, Canavero published gruesome experiments in 2016, said to have repaired the severely injured spinal cords of mice, rats, and a dog. The experiments came complete with cringe-worthy video of recovering animals struggling to drag their limp bodies around. Yet, the study lacked controls, detailed methods, and data on the injuries and recoveries. Canavero claimed to perform a head transplant on a monkey but did not publish the experiment.

Experts decidedly consider his research on spinal cord repair, let alone whole head transplants, unconvincing. A medical ethicist dubbed Canavero “out of his mind” for sweeping past the currently insurmountable challenges of such feats. These include intricately repairing and reattaching thousands of delicate nerves and restoring function. Right now, doctors can’t even convince the immune system to accept far simpler transplants consistently. There’s also the completely unknown effects of such a transplant on the powerful human psyche.

Canavero is carrying on, undeterred it seems. In his Ooom interview, he not only glided through the idea of successfully transplanting a head, he made an even more absurd claim: that he would revive a cryogenically frozen brain and transplant it into a donor body. Canavero said he would obtain a preserved brain from Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a cryonics company located in Scottsdale, Arizona, according to Gizmodo.

There is currently no way to revive and molecularly repair a frozen human brain. And such transplants haven’t even been attempted in animals. Thus, the surgical procedure is decades if not centuries away.

As Gizmodo also reports, Alcor said that Canavera hadn’t even contacted the company. It distanced itself from the doctor, as did other cryonics leaders, and noted that his efforts are not realistic or even a shared goal.

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