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'India could become capital of biological warfare'

Last updated on: December 17, 2010 13:55 IST

American diplomatic cables leaked by whistle blowing website WikiLeaks have revealed Washington's concerns about India becoming a target of biological terrorism.

According to The Guardian, in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, United States's diplomats in New Delhi had expressed concern about India becoming a target of a biological terror attack, with fatal diseases such as anthrax being released into the country before spreading around the world.

A senior Indian diplomat told the George W Bush administration in 2006 that concerns about biological weapons were 'no longer academic', adding that intelligence suggested terror groups were increasingly discussing bio-warfare.

'Anthrax could pose a serious problem'

"Diplomat Y K Singh reported that Indian intelligence is picking up chatter indicating Jihadi groups are interested in bio-terrorism, for example seeking out like-minded PhDs in biology and biotechnology," a cable sent to Washington reports.

"He compared the prospects for nuclear terrorism ("still in the realm of the imaginary") to bio-terrorism ("an ideal weapon for terrorism, anthrax could pose a serious problem; it is no longer an academic exercise for us")."

Another cable warns, "Advances in the biotech sector and shifting terrorist tactics that focus on disrupting India's social cohesion and economic prosperity oblige the [government of India] to look at the possibility of terror groups using biological agents as weapons of mass destruction and economic and social disruption".

'Terrorists could use India's advanced biotechnology industry'

It also warns that terrorists could easily find the material they need for bio-terrorism in India and use the country as a base for launching an international campaign involving the spread of fatal diseases.

"The plethora of indigenous highly pathogenic and virulent agents naturally occurring in India and the large Indian industrial base -- combined with weak controls -- also make India as much a source of bio-terrorism material as a target," diplomats warned.

"Terrorists planning attacks anywhere in the world could use India's advanced biotechnology industry and large biomedical research community as potential sources of biological agents," the cables are quoted, as saying.

'Easy to take hazardous materials into the country'

"Given the strong web of air connections Delhi shares with the rest of the world and the vulnerabilities that might be exploited at airports, a witting or unwitting person could easily take hazardous materials into or out of the country," it added.

Though its author admitted the chance of such an attack was slim, the cable referred to Indian government intelligence, passed to the US, indicating that Islamic extremist groups were "seeking to recruit or employ biology/biotech PhD graduates from within India".