Agents of Bioterrorism: Pathogens and Their Weaponization

By Geoffrey Zubay | Go to book overview

APPENDIX 4
INFORMATION RESOURCES ON BIOTERRORISM

Kathleen Kehoe

The word terrorism was first used in 1795 to describe the reign of terror that gripped Paris when the Jacobins came into power.24 This revolutionary faction executed scores of citizens in an effort to consolidate its control over French society. We now use the term to denote attacks launched by extremist groups to achieve political and social change. The magnitude of fear and panic inflicted on civilian populations is attributable to the unpredictable, irrational, and arbitrary character of the attacks.

Bioterrorism has yet to appear in many English-language dictionaries. A search of the Lexis-Nexis database revealed that the term first appeared in American newspapers in 1997. It refers to the use of not only disease organisms as weapons but also chemical weapons such as nerve gases and mustard gas. There is a long history of military use of biological and chemical weapons. The sixth-century (B.C.E.) Assyrians are believed to have poisoned water sources of their enemies with a toxic fungus.26 In the fourteenth century, Tartar armies are said to have thrown the corpses of plague victims over their enemies’ walls in an effort to start epidemics. An example of chemical warfare is the use of mustard gas by the German army on Allied troops in World War I. The 1925 Geneva Protocol outlawed chemical weapons in warfare. In 1972, the production, stockpiling, and use of biological weapons were outlawed by an international convention.30 Military application of these weapons may be constrained, but terrorist groups have adopted their use because they provide an inexpensive alternative to costly and difficult-to-obtain conventional weapons.

In the past 20 years, numerous atrocities against civilians have been committed by terrorists in different parts of the world. In 1984, a group of religious cult members released the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subway, killing and injuring 750 people.25 Another incident was the mailing of anthrax-containing letters in several regions of the United States in 2001. Twenty-two people were infected

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