US intelligence officials discovered that one of the world's nightmare scenarios may have some base in reality as, according to a report in Foreign Policy last Friday, a laptop was recently discovered in war-torn Syria, detailing the attempts and ambitions of the Islamic State (ISIS) to build and use weapons of mass destruction.
According to the report, the computer was discovered in the city of Idlib in north-western Syria, near the Turkish border after fierce battles in which other resistance groups captured the area, and with it an ISIS post.
Foreign policy said that the computer belonged to a Tunisian national who studied chemistry at two separate universities in his home country before leaving to join ISIS in Syria.
The Syrian rebels who captured Idlib didn't know what was on the computer or what importance it may have and therefore passed it on to Foreign Policy reporters who initially thought that the laptop was empty.
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Only after further investigation did they discover tens of thousands of folders and documents in French, English and Arabic. The computer's contents were originally unsurprising for a terrorist organization like ISIS. Reporters found old videos of Osama Bin Laden, a guidebook for building a bomb and stealing a vehicle, and how jihadists should use disguises and fake identities to travel from country to country without being caught.
Finally, after hours of filing through the computer's documents, Foreign Policy reporters found documents proving that the Tunisian had taught himself how to construct biological weapons for attacks that would astound the world.
Perhaps the most alarming of the documents however, detailed ISIS sanctioned work to weaponize the bubonic plague and other viruses that would have an even greater affect than that of a localized chemical attack.
"The benefits of a biological weapon are that it doesn't come up often, and the losses are massive," said the instructions on the laptop. "When a mouse is injected by the bacteria, the symptoms of the disease begin to show after 24 hours. It's best to use in places like underground trains or soccer fields and it can be used in a suicide attack as well."
Alongside the instructions was also a message of religious approval for the use of such weapons - part of a Fatwa which says that, "If the Muslims can't overwhelm the infidels in any other way, they are allowed to use weapons of mass destruction to kill everyone and erase them and their descendants from the earth."
While the idea of ISIS establishing such devastating weapons can easily conjure fear, this isn't the first time that terrorist organizations have brought the issue of biological weapons to the forefront of the war on extremism.
Even before the September 11 attacks in the US, al-Qaeda was involved in attempts to use chemical weapons in Afghanistan. In a CNN report from 2002, members of the extremist group could be seen using toxic gas on dogs. The US invested substantial efforts to prevent al-Qaeda from getting biological weapons, but the information on the laptop from Syria proves that terrorist organizations are still working to develop such weapons, which can kill thousands of people in one breath.
The fear is that the longer ISIS continues to exist, the more specialists may join its ranks and use labs in the areas already capture by ISIS to work toward chemical weapons capabilities. Such labs exist in Mosul in Iraq and Ar Raqqah in Syria, both in the hands of ISIS militants.