Released 5 June 2000

by The Intelligence Officer, Palmer's Global Bulletin © 2000

Tomorrow's battles may not involve the army and navy. The quiet disbursal of anthrax in the waterways levels battlefields without the firing of one gun

Australian and international intelligence agencies are increasingly alarmed at the emergence throughout South and South-East Asia of terrorist groups linked to Osama bin Laden, amid new evidence that the multi-millionaire Saudi extremist has bought biological weapons from a former Soviet state.

Biological weapons may be aimed at Aussie event

Confirmation to The Sunday Age from intelligence sources that bin Laden associates recently bought the deadly anthrax and plague viruses from arms dealers in Kazakhstan comes as Australian authorities prepare for the massive task of securing the Olympics from terrorism.

While Australian security analysts still rate the risk of terrorist attack at the Sydney Games as low, they nonetheless believe any terrorist violence would represent an intelligence failure that could only be dealt with reactively and "largely medically".

"Essentially the fight against this sort of terrorism is preventive - it comes down to the agencies stopping the people who do this sort of thing from coming in," an Australian source said.

"If there is a flaw in intelligence and this sort of (biological) attack happens, we can do little but react and try to minimize the human damage."

A flaw in international intelligence may reduce security to simply minimizing the human damage

As part of the pre-Games anti-terrorism campaign, Australian security agencies are investigating phone calls made to numerous New South Wales addresses in late 1992 and early 1993 by convicted Islamic extremists linked to the February 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center in New York that killed six people and injured 2000.

In separate trials in mid-1990s, nine bin Laden-linked Islamic terrorists were convicted of the Trade Center bombing, of planning a day of anti-American terror and of murdering Rabbi Meir Kahane, a US-based radical Jewish leader in 1990.

The Sunday Age has been provided with the telephone records of several of the convicted terrorists and their colleagues, which show the extremists had extensive contact with possible associates in Australia before and after the New York bombing.

Telephone records show heavy activity among the terrorists during New York bombing

The records show that one of the terrorists, Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, made two telephone calls lasting 19 minutes and nine minutes to a business in Dean Park, NSW, early on August 24, 1992. He made two more calls to another business in Yagoona, NSW, on March 20 and 21, 1993 - less than a month after the Trade Center bombing. El-Gabrowny was originally charged with conspiracy in the bombing but was later convicted as an accessory to the murder of Rabbi Kahane.

The phone records also show that Mahmud Aboulahimi - one of the bombers who was sentenced to life in jail - and another associate also made numerous calls to NSW before and after the bombing.

While some people who were resident at the NSW addresses have since moved, it is believed that the telephone records have formed the basis of a massive pre-Games Australian surveillance operation by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization with help from police and other intelligence agencies.

Massive pre-games surveillance operation by Australian Security Intelligence

The Sunday Age also has documentary evidence that shows that another convicted Trade Center bomber, Mohammed Salameh, was preparing to apply for migration to Australia about the time of the crime.

Meanwhile, sources maintain that Australian security and intelligence agencies are increasingly concerned about bin Laden's growing links with extreme Islamic groups throughout South and South-East Asia.

While international intelligence agencies have established that Muslim rebels in the Philippines - who are currently holding 21 hostages - are getting financial support from bin Laden, there is growing concern that the terrorist mastermind could also be funding separatist Islamic groups in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and Ambon. "That is a suspicion based on some evidence that is yet to be conclusively proven," an Australian source told The Sunday Age.

bin Laden may be funding Islamic groups throughout Indonesia

"It would be consistent with the spread of bin Laden funding throughout Asia as this guy looks for more swamps (hiding places) that are less detectable to the US."

In April this year the US State Department identified Afghanistan and Pakistan as a new international hub of Muslim extremism.

The department said that while the US was once threatened by state-launched terrorism, the new global terrorist threat was expected to come from small networks of religiously and ideologically motivated groups.

While Australian authorities, including the Federal Government, have repeatedly said there is "no specific threat" against the Olympics, sources maintain that a judgment has already been made that any terrorist threat is likely to come from bin Laden-funded groups.

Australian and international security analysts are interpreting the significance of the purchase of biological weapons - including the deadly anthrax and plague viruses - from Kazakhstan arms dealers by bin Laden associates. "The world has long been afraid of the biological warfare threat, but Islamic terrorist groups have not to date used such weapons against the West," an Australian source said.

Kazakhstan arms dealers have supplied bin Laden with anthrax and plague viruses

"The very fact that it has been established, without doubt, that bin Laden now has these weapons is, by its very nature, of significant concern."

Disclosures that bin Laden associates now have biological weapons coincides with a warning from a leading US infectious-disease expert that the US is ill-equipped to deal with such an attack.

"It is not a question of if such an event will occur, but rather when, as well as which agent will be used and how extensive the damage will be," warned Michael Osterholm, who heads the private Minnesota-based Infection Control Advisory Network.

"Given the enormity of what is possible, we must prepare for a potential nightmare."

The Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence and ASIO are coordinating criminal intelligence assessments before and during the Olympics.

It is believed that they are receiving extensive help from law enforcement and intelligence agencies from several countries, including the United States and Israel.

Article on the Internet provided by The Age newspaper and composed by Paul Daley, Defense Correspondent located in Canberra, 4-June-2000