Africa Faces Potential WMD Terror Risk, Security Analysts Say

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - With the "globalization" of terrorism and crime, Africa faces a growing risk of an Islamist terror attack involving weapons of mass destruction, foreign and security experts said here.

The comments followed a recent donation by the United States of WMD detection equipment to the government of Kenya.

"We cannot say we are safe from such and such kind of attack," said Dr. Charles Mwaura of the University of Nairobi. "We cannot ignore some categories of terrorism risk. It can happen here, it can happen anywhere."

The transnational nature of terrorism activities means terrorists could plan WMD-related attacks on the continent -- perhaps targeting a Western diplomatic mission or facility. Also, an accidental explosion or leakage could occur while terrorists are moving a WMD device in Africa, possibly for later use in the West.

Mwaura cited a recent incident in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where a suicide bomber exploded a grenade in a crowded part of the city. It was clear, he said, that terrorists were not averse to targeting any social and economic class.

"If the guy had chemical weapons, which was very possible, it would be a different story today. It can happen in New York or in a rural village in Uganda. Terrorism has become unpredictable," he said.

Daniel Salava, an independent security consultant in Nairobi, said it is obvious that instability in places like Somalia, Chad or Ivory Coast means that all kind of weapons can find their way in and be used in Africa.

As Western countries improve their national security and intelligence gathering capabilities, he said, terrorists could view Africa -- with its relatively weak policing -- as a key target, whether wanting to attack foreign or local strategic facilities.

Salava said the fact that Kenyan customs officials did not until now have equipment to detect chemical weapons was evidence of the region's vulnerability.

"What would have happened if somebody decided to take advantage of this weakness?" he said. "We should not assume that it cannot happen here."

The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection -- a division of the Department of Homeland Security -- last month donated equipment to Kenya's department of customs that will help to detect any radioactive, biological and chemical material being smuggled across the country's borders.

Commissioner of Customs Wambui Namu said customs bodies across the world were embracing new responsibilities, beyond their primary role of collecting revenue on goods moving across borders.

Pamela Slutz, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, said Kenya's security is very important to the security of the U.S.

Kenya is the main entry point to eastern Africa and the Great Lakes region. The country also borders politically-volatile countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. It hosts important international facilities and the regional offices of a number of multinational companies.

Kenya has experience more Islamist terrorism than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. Al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi -- and its counterpart in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania -- in August 1998, killing more than 200 people.

Terrorists in Nov. 2002 bombed an Israeli-owned hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa, and on the same day tried without success to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet leaving Nairobi, using shoulder-launched missiles.

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