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Prevention of Chemical and Biological Terrorism

Prevention of Chemical and Biological Terrorism

Chemical and biological (CB) weapons have the potential to cause great harm and represent an appealing prospect for non-state actors due to their potential to generate widespread fear. From the letters containing fatal anthrax spores sent through US postal system in 2001 to, more recently, the repeated deployment of chemical weapons against civilian populations by Da’esh between 2014 and 2016 in Iraq and Syria, these events are designed to cause major suffering and disruption.

Non-state, terrorist organizations and individuals continue to strive to produce or obtain CB weapons capable of generating mass casualties. These weapons are particularly attractive to such groups or ideologically inspired individuals around the world for multiple reasons, including the low cost and effort-to-impact ratio of a CB weapons attack, the potential to generate widespread fear among populations and the likelihood that such an attack would receive significant media coverage.

Meanwhile, the risk that individuals or terrorist organizations might use such weapons will remain high so long as knowledge about the weapons and their precursors remains easily available on the Internet and trade controls over the precursors remain weak. Equally, many biological pathogens occur naturally in the environment, making it even more important to ensure that countries are aware of the threat and have robust mitigation measures in place.

UNICRI’s response

In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure and Goal 16 for the promotion of peace, justice and strong institutions, UNICRI is taking active measures to address the threat of chemical and biological terrorism.

For example, UNICRI implements national and regional training programmes that focus on intelligence-led operations and investigations to prevent CB weapons attacks by non-state actors. Equally, due to the transnational dimension of this phenomenon, UNICRI coordinates the creation of systems for the cooperation and timely exchange of information between relevant agencies (such as intelligence, law enforcement and regulatory authorities) and relevant international organizations.

UNICRI also works in collaboration with international organizations such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) and the Committee established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (the 1540 Committee) to promote adherence to and implementation of the international legal regime against the acquisition and use of chemical and biological weapons by non-state actors. These include the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention.

Current initiatives and future programming

ATLAS – To address the growing chemical weapon risk in North Africa, UNICRI has launched ATLAS, a pilot project aimed at preventing violent non-state actors from planning and conducting chemical weapon attacks, with a focus on intelligence-led operations and investigations. The main objective of the project, which is implemented in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and with the financial support of the United States Department of State, is to develop and implement training curricula for law enforcement, state security, chemical regulatory authorities, industry and academia, as well as to foster interagency and regional cooperation.

Building a safer South-East Asia by preventing and responding to the use of chemical weapons by terrorists and other non-state actors in Indonesia – Implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and UNICRI in coordination with Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme and with support of the OPCW, the project’s objective is to significantly enhance the capability of Indonesian authorities to prevent, detect, and respond to the acquisition, development, and threat or use of chemical weapons by non-state actors, in particular for terrorist purposes.


Further information

For general information concerning the implementation of these projects, please consult the linked pages below.



Preventing and Responding to the Use of Chemical Weapons by Non-State Actors for Terrorist Purposes in Indonesia


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