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Delivery of lethal doses may be impossible to achieve
London-based Al-Majalla, an Arabic-language magazine, quoted Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj, identified as a senior member of al-Qaida, from month-long e-mail correspondence as raising the possibility that the group might poison U.S. water supplies.
In the latest exchange of e-mails, al-Ablaj was quoted in Al-Majalla as saying that al-Qaida did not rule out "the use of Sarin gas and the poisoning of drinking water in American and Western cities. Al-Qaida will present the Americans with their capabilities."
Al-Ablaj said al-Qaida was going to carry out major attacks in Saudi Arabia. Al-Majalla published the warning on May 11--one day before suicide bombers detonated explosives at three housing complexes in Riyadh, killing 25 people.
Sarin gas, a nerve agent, was used in a 1995 attack that killed 12 people on Tokyo's subways. That attack was carried out by a group then known as Aum Shinrikyo and now called Aleph, which has no known ties to al-Qaida. The gas can penetrate the lungs or the skin and invade the nervous system. It is fatal and also can cause symptoms such as blurred vision, difficult breathing, excessive sweating, weakened muscles, paralysis and seizures.
Even if terrorists managed to introduce Sarin into water supplies, dilution, purification systems and natural breakdown of the agent in the environment would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to deliver a lethal dose through a metropolitan water supply system. But the discovery of even trace contamination in a water system could have major psychological and social impacts, a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study concluded.
Al-Majalla also reported in its latest edition that al-Qaida militants are in the ranks of Saddam Hussein loyalists who are attacking U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
Al-Ablaj was quoted by the magazine as threatening to launch "smashing strikes against Israelis abroad."
Al-Ablaj, who told the magazine he directs training of al-Qaida fighters, said "elements of al-Qaida are fighting alongside the Iraqis" against coalition forces. He added they were fighting for ousted President Saddam Hussein because he had declared holy war on the Americans.
The magazine's editors said they could not confirm al-Ablaj's identity and did not know his whereabouts.