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Anthrax: Curiosity Killed the Courier

| 12 Comments | 4 TrackBacks

I've written about bio-chemical terrorism before, from past incidents to its likely future ("Toxic Terror Tick-Tock"). Looks like some of that may be coming true already.

LGF has a link to a disturbing Reuters report. An Egyptian sailor was in Brazil, where he would join his ship as it traveled to Canada. He opened the suitcase he was carrying in his hotel room, says the report... and now he's dead from anthrax. Apparently, several hotel emplyees who found him in that room also became ill with symptoms.

"A spokesman for Brazilian federal police in the Amazon state of Para said on Monday an autopsy of the Egyptian man, whom he named as Ibrahim Saved Soliman Ibrahim, showed that he had died after vomiting, internal bleeding and multiple organ failure.

"He was the victim of anthrax," said Fernando Sergio Castro, adding that police were 90 percent certain that Ibrahim had died of anthrax."

Initial Canadian reports concerning the now-quarrantined aluminum ore carrier were saying the sailor died on board ship, but subsequent articles now concur that he died in Brazil.

Even so, 90% isn't 100% yet. There will undoubtedly be more information to come. Still, this is at the very least least highly suggestive. It's exactly how you'd do it, if you wanted to slip bioweapons into the United States. Here's the sequence...

  1. Material made wherever and by whomever, at a secure location. Doesn't matter.
  2. Anthrax smuggled to Brazil, or possibly even transported within Brazil if made there.
  3. Sailor travels to Brazil, "clean" so no suspicion (this conflicts with the official story, but see my follow-up post).
  4. Sailor met and given anthrax suitcase. He's just a "courier," with no exact knowledge of what he carries. Note that southern Brazil's "Iguazu" region near Argentina and Paraguay is known as a haven for Islamist terrorists.
  5. Sailor boards ship in Brazil for transit to Canada, an origination point unlikely to arouse suspicion.
  6. Sailor gets to Canada and hands it off to designated contact.
  7. Contact carries it across a very long, undefended border where smuggling is common and controls are few.
  8. Anthrax moved to destination point, all in one batch or after being split up at a desingated point in Canada or the USA.
  9. Terrorist attack or attacks conducted. Here is some solid background on anthrax as a weapon.
This looks like a very near thing. As one LGF commenter notes:
"That Alcan plant where this ship was headed is maybe an hour northeast of Montreal... South of Ottawa the population is fairly sparse on both the Canadian and US sides of the international border, so it would be a desirable crossing point, assuming that the eventual target is somewhere in the northeast of the United States."
In fact, just south of Montreal is the Akwesasne Indian Reservation, frequently used as a smuggling zone because it stretches across the border. If the courier hadn't gotten curious and decided to enjoy some of the white powder for himself, I'd give pretty good odds that this would have gone off successfully.

The data in this case is particularly alarming given my notes in "Toxic Terror Tick-Tock" about the live tests conducted by American scientists in 1966, tests that demonstrated the risks from a weaponized anthrax attack in New York's subway system.

We haven't heard the last of this incident - or this issue.

UPDATE: No, we haven't. I've got some questions about the official account.

4 TrackBacks

Tracked: April 29, 2003 4:22 AM
Suitcase Full Of Anthrax from Propaganda You Can Trust
Excerpt: This could get interesting. An Egyptian man died on a boat from Brazil headed to Canada from organ failure caused by anthrax exposure. The anthrax was in a suitcase that the Egyptian was supposed to deliver to someone in Canada. Luckily, he died, and t...
Tracked: April 29, 2003 4:23 AM
The Anthrax Trail from Jay
Excerpt: Steven Den Beste finds a real-life scenario that sounds like something out of a bad spy novel: an Egyptian recieves
Tracked: April 29, 2003 5:27 AM
Well this can't be good news from Blogmonger: For all your warblogging needs
Excerpt: Egyptian Sailor Dies in Brazil From Anthrax-Police BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - A crew member of an Egyptian merchant ship has
Tracked: April 29, 2003 5:27 AM
Well this can't be good news from Blogmonger: For all your warblogging needs
Excerpt: Egyptian Sailor Dies in Brazil From Anthrax-Police BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - A crew member of an Egyptian merchant ship has


The old 'semi-innocent' passenger trick. Convince him (or her, like the preggo GF back in the 80s) to smuggle the 'drugs,' which turns out not to be drugs.

In Sum of All Fears, doesn't one of the terrorists get curious and end up dead because of it? I thought that was a bit far-fetched, but I guess not.

I guess now that Saddam has lost the war, he and Al-Qaida have absolutely no reason not to use everything in their arsenal against us (he might not have wanted a WMD strike during the war because he was hoping the UN would intervene on his behalf)

In any case, if this turns out to be Al Qaida and/or Iraq, it would certainly prove that they were a threat to us, they still are a threat to us, and if they had been planning this for a long time, our preemptive strike was absolutely justified. It would shoot down a lot of anti-war arguments.

All of the worry seems exactly right; but I am amazed at the assumption that the anthrax was going to a target in the US. Or, at least, only the US.

A suitcase full of weaponized anthrax is more than enough to cause mass casualties in several Canadian cities and a few American ones.

From a Muslim terrorist perspective a dead infidel is just fine even if they don't live in the Great Satan. And I rather doubt Al Qaeda has given Chretien and Our Lady Peace much credit for whatever the hell their policy is on Iraq.

I've been watching this story with some concern as well. I think it is interesting that there are several small details here which don't fit together too well, which suggests to me that we have yet not heard the whole story.

1) Presumably, the man was found dead in his hotel. How do we know the details of where he got the suitcase, or what it contained, or that he opened it up? Was this just some Brazilian official's speculation that was picked up by a reporter?

2) Where is the suitcase now?

3) 10 minutes with a microscope and a piece of lung tissue should resolve any doubts about inhalation anthrax. If our people are on this case, what's the delay? If they are not on this case, what's the hold-up? It's been almost two weeks since this was first reported.

Maybe this was just a guy who suffered a rare medical problem, and the backstory is unsubstantiated, or maybe we had an honest-to-god problem here and they are keeping the details vague while they run down the badguys. Either way, I hope we get a straight answer soon.

Jay Currie

The terrorists aren't interested in Canadian cities, yet. The Great Satan is the terrorists target and possibly Britain, i.e. anybody who stands up to them. Canada is a useful semi-ally against the U.S. and I would be very surprised if any Canadian cities were targeted.

The symptoms described for the sailor in the original story appear to be the type of anthrax when you eat it (forgot the name). If it's true. The medical people who found him are reported to have become ill and have to be treated at a hospital, not an anthrax occurance.

Guys, why would you believe a news report from Brazil? A couple of years ago they reported flocks of flying pigs roaming the country.

Jay Currie is right. Canada might very well have been the intended target. I am certain many Australians felt fairly secure - if only symbolically - against islamist terror prior to the massacre in Bali. Canadians are making the same mistake. Canada is, if anything, among the most logical follow-on targets for al-Qaeda and its affiliated NGOs.

Where's the suitcase now? Has anyone checked its contents? If full of anthrax, that thing is a WMD if anything is. The Whodunnit angle is interesting, I agree, but until the weapon has been determined or rendered harmless, whodunnit is of secondary concern. Pardon my prosaic concerns.

The symptoms do indeed resemble intestinal anthrax,but they also match the inhalational form of anthrax.If the report's claim of "multiple organ failure" is true,that would sound more like inhalational anthrax,since the intestinal form is usually concentrated in the intestinal tract.

I'll admit it's a bit inconclusive,though.However,if the report is true in claiming that several hotel employees also came ill,then intestinal may have to be ruled out also.That's because intestinal form can only spread if the victim ingests the spores,most commonly by eating diseased food.In addition,anthrax doesn't spread from person to person.

If I were a hotel employee and found a dead man lying in a pool of his own bloody vomit (I'm guessing here),the first thing that I'd do was to get the hell out of there.Instead of wolfing down his unfinished steak tartare,if you know what I mean.

All supposing that one can trust the Brazilian police on this,of course.Caveat emptor.

Montreal? OK, Class, and Ahmad Ressam was traveling from where....?


While I sincerely hope you will not be surprised I recall the utter indifference Al Qaeda displayed when it hit a French tanker rather than an American one a few months ago.

An infidel is an infidel whether in Toronto or Boston or Manchester.

Jay Currie

Canada is an easy and important point of entry into the U.S. and is a also passive ally in that Canada is more anti-American than it is anti-terrorism. Alienating Canada would not be in the terrorists interest, while the bombing of a French ship was, in retrospect, a warning to France not to back the U.S. in it's impending war with Iraq. It worked too.

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