French expert says chemical attack unlikely despite PM’s warning

AFP-JIJI

A warning by the French premier of a chemical or biological weapons attack cannot be excluded, a security expert said Thursday, but stressed this was unlikely as it would be extremely difficult to stage.

Olivier Lepick, an expert on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, said Paris has been preparing itself for years and is ready to react if it takes place.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls evoked the possibility of such attacks after Friday’s carnage in Paris by saying: “We must not rule anything out. . . . There is also the risk from chemical or biological weapons.”

Lepick questioned if there was “a political motivation” for Valls’ warning. “What I know from my contacts in the intelligence services is that there is no real, pertinent or cross-checked information that leads one to think that such a type of attack is being prepared,” he told AFP.

Lepick said the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks that killed 129, had managed to “get its hands on chemical weapons,” essentially “a limited amount of mustard gas.”

But launching a chemical or biological weapons attack in Europe is something that they could possibly not pull off as there “are very difficult logistical and technical barriers,” said the expert at the French Foundation for Strategic Research think tank.

“It’s not enough to have mustard gas … one has to be able to team that up with a system of dissemination and it is here that things and techniques start getting very complicated.”

He said it was long known that the Islamic State and similar groups had been interested in such weapons, but “if it was so simple to stage an attack they would have done it a long time ago and here we are speaking of a period of 20 years.”

“These arms are much more difficult to use than Kalashnikovs or explosives belts.”

He said France had been preparing for such attacks for the past two decades after a shadowy cult let off deadly sarin nerve gas in Tokyo’s subway system in 1995, killing 13 people and injuring more than 5,000 people.

“We have very good devices at our disposal and drills have been regularly staged in the metro but this is perhaps not the moment to talk about this,” Lepick said.

Among the most feared biological weapons is anthrax. A week after the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several media outlets, big institutions and U.S. senators. Five people died and 17 were infected.

In April 2013, potentially poisonous letters containing ricin, a toxin that can be deadly in small amounts, were sent to U.S. President Barack Obama as well as a senator and a judge, both from Mississippi.