In World War I, chemical warfare shocked Europe.
During the Cold War, people around the globe lived in fear of nuclear war and the ensuing fallout, and at the turn of the century, Al Qaeda hijacked planes to suicidal effect over U.S. soil.
Now, the rising Islamic State could be plunging into a different, fearsome territory: biological warfare.
Foreign Policy gained exclusive access to an Islamic State laptop, retrieved from the field of battle by a “moderate” Syrian rebel group, and after some digital digging, FP discovered deeply disturbing information on the device.
Buried in the “hidden files” section of the computer were 146 gigabytes of material, containing a total of 35,347 files in 2,367 folders.
The laptop’s contents turn out to be a treasure trove of documents that provide ideological justifications for jihadi organizations — and practical training on how to carry out the Islamic State’s deadly campaigns. They include videos of Osama bin Laden, manuals on how to make bombs, instructions for stealing cars, and lessons on how to use disguises in order to avoid getting arrested while traveling from one jihadi hot spot to another.
But after hours upon hours of scrolling through the documents, it became clear that the ISIS laptop contains more than the typical propaganda and instruction manuals used by jihadists. The documents also suggest that the laptop’s owner was teaching himself about the use of biological weaponry, in preparation for a potential attack that would have shocked the world.
The information on the laptop makes clear that its owner is a Tunisian national named Muhammed S. who joined ISIS in Syria and who studied chemistry and physics at two universities in Tunisia’s northeast. Even more disturbing is how he planned to use that education: The ISIS laptop contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals.
“The advantage of biological weapons is that they do not cost a lot of money, while the human casualties can be huge,” the document states.
Biological weapons are not, of course, completely new — recall last decade’s anthrax scares — but the Islamic State’s rapid ascension and terrifying reach could well position the radical jihadists as powerful brokers of biological terror in coming years.
Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter