We believe that terrorists would not be able to acquire or deploy a nuclear weapon; radiological attacks are possible but unlikely. Attacks involving chemical or biological agents are also unlikely,though use of toxic chemical substan ces (for which there are some limited precedents) remains a possibility.
[JIC, 13–19 October 1994]
By June 1995, the JIC was assessing the threat posed by Islamist extremists; the terrorist threat was spreading outside the Middle East. The JIC commented on the use of suicide tactics, a strand which was subsequently to become significant in such assessments:
Selective interpretation of the Muslim faith enables such groups to justify terrorist violence and to recruit ‘martyrs’ for suicide attacks.
[JIC, 8 June 1995]
However, the first serious use of chemicals by terrorists was not by Islamist extremists. The sarin gas attack in the Tokyo underground by the Aum Shinrikyo sect came in March
In a 1996 assessment of the nuclear, biological and chemical threat to the UK4 (which responded to the G7 declaration at the Lyons summit in June that year that special
attention should be paid to the threat of use of nuclear, biological and chemical materials for terrorist purposes) the JIC stuck to its previous line, though noting the Aum Shinrikyo attack:
There is no indication of any terrorist or other group showing interest in the use of nuclear,biological or chemical (NBC) materials against the UK. For a numb er of reasons,conventional weapons are likely to remain more attractive for te rrorist purposes. But last year’s nerve agent attack in Tokyo will have heightened interest and,with ever more NBC information publicly available,hoaxes threateni ng NBC use are likely to become more difficult to assess.
[JIC, 4 July 1996]
Usama bin Laden first became known as a high-profile supporter of Islamist extremism while fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991 and from Sudan in 1996, he returned to Afghanistan. Evidence of his interest in unconventional weapons accumulated, and was summarised by the JIC in November 1998:
He has a long-standing interest in the potential terrorist use of CBR materials,and recent intelligence suggests his ideas about using toxic materials are maturing and being developed in more detail. . . . There is also secret reporting that he may have obtained some CB material – and that he is interested in nuclear materials. We
The sect had carried out sporadic and unsuccessful open-air attacks using a range of agents since 1990. One attack (using sarin) in Matsumoto in June 1994 caused 7 deaths and 264 people were hospitalised. These earlier attacks were little noticed outside Japan. Because of its limited ambit this paper did not take note of the then recent Chechen guerrilla operation to place minute quantities of caesium-137 in a Moscow park.