Morocco foils ISIS chemical attack

Apr 04, 2016, 12:30 PM EDT
Chefchaouen, Morocco
(Source: Xavier Allard/flickr)

One of Morocco’s top intelligence officials warned on Saturday that ISIS is planning terrorist attacks with chemical weapons on Europe. Abdelhak Khiame, head of Moroccan counter-terrorism, revealed that in February the country foiled an ISIS plot to use chemical and biological weapons as well as a suicide bomber on four Moroccan cities. It would have been a dry run for a more devastating Europe attack, had the Moroccan security services not thwarted it a mere 24 hours in advance.

In the wake of the Tunisia, Paris, and Brussels attacks, this warning should be taken extremely seriously. Moroccan intelligence believes that the ten-member ISIS cell they smashed in February was creating mustard gas, and even more alarming, the deadly neurotoxin Epsilon. (The latter causes brain tissue and nerve damage, and can be used to contaminate food, water, or even air if used as a spray.)

The group’s desire to kill and spread terror is beyond question, but just as alarming is the apparent ease with which some of these weapons can be produced. Khiame said the substances that would have been used in the foiled plot “are available in shops all over Britain, all over Europe,” and that developing these weapons is “very simple and affordable.”

He stated: “One of the substances we found was so dangerous that if it was applied to the door handle of a car and you touched it, you would die. Yet the making of some of these toxins involved some substances, which I will not disclose, and a mouse and a lemon. They were left in a jar to concentrate and the toxic substance was created.”

Europe may be the ultimate target, but European tourists in North Africa and the Middle East may be within easier reach. (This was the case with the two deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year, one targeting the National Museum and the other a popular touristy beach.) For example, some 500,000 Britons visit Morocco every year, drawn by sunny beaches, relative proximity, and safety compared to other destinations in the Islamic world. But a single attack could change all of that in an instant.

After suicide bombings in 2003, Morocco has kept a close watch on any potential homegrown terrorism and successfully clamped down – so far. But about 3,000 Moroccans are estimated to be members of ISIS (most as strategists, explosives experts, or planners), and the country is not immune to terrorist infiltration from elsewhere in North Africa or to homegrown radicalization.

Still, compared to much of Europe, Morocco’s heavy-handedness has brought about more security. ''Anyone who tries to bring weapons into our country is subject to long jail sentences, from 30 years to life in prison,'' Khiame said. He then criticized unspecified European countries for only investigating suspects once there is certain proof of their links to terrorism, which he called “a serious security problem.'' Let’s hope Europe gets its act together before it’s too late.