It sounds like the stuff of a third-rate techno-thriller. But, according to recent press reports, western intelligence is concerned about two, new potential threats from Al Qaida.
The first involves the use of suicide bombers infected with the AIDS virus and other blood-borne diseases. British intelligence believes Al Qaida may be trying to recruit bombers with AIDS, hepatitis and dengue fever, to increase casualties from suicide attacks. Analysts note that blood spattered bone fragments and other body parts can penetrate the skin as far as 50 meters from the blast, and possibly infect bystanders. UK troops have reportedly been directed to take precautions against the threat, such as placing snipers behind blast walls and wearing protective clothing when cleaning up after suicide attacks.
And, if that's not enough, there's also the fear that the terrorist organization will hijack passenger spacecraft (like the one Richard Branson is working on), staging a 9-11 style attack from the reaches of space. The Federal Aviation Administration is recommended that space tourists be screened (in a manner similar to air travelers), to prevent a terrorist from slipping onboard, and turning the spaceship into a suicide weapon. There is no indication that Al Qaida has considered space-based hijacking plots, but the FAA believes that adequate security precautions should be in place before Virgin Galactic begins passenger space service later this decade.
Sounds a bit far-fetched, right? That's being charitable. A suicide bomber is hardly the ideal transmission mechanism for the AIDS virus, or any other blood-borne disease. Beyond that, it's hard to imagine Al Qaida having much success attracting AIDS sufferers to their cause, given the "teachings" of radical Islam on homosexuality, or promiscuity among heterosexuals. Perhaps bin Laden will offer "forgiveness" to AIDS sufferers willing to blow themselves up in the name of Allah. Still, I expect few takers.
The space attack scenario is even more remote. Limited service and an expensive price tag ($200,000 per passenger) will prevent terrorists from simply showing up and paying cash for a one-way ticket. And, with the launch still several years away, there is plenty of time to screen prospective passengers on Virgin Galactic's reservations list.
Here's the real bottom line: why would Al Qaida resort to such desperate tactics? And forget about the space hijacking--it's only a minor threat at some point in the distant future. Why would Al Qaida recuit suicide bombers infected with serious, even fatal illnesses? Because their favored tactic--suicide bombings--aren't having the impact they once did. Despite daily explosions (and casualties) in Iraq, that country is on the road to democracy. Simply stated, Al Qaida is getting less bang for its suicide attacks, hence the need to up the ante--even if prospects for success are only slight. These tactics reflect the ever-increasing desperation of a terrorist organization that is headed for defeat.