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WHO sounds the alarm after Sudanese militants seize biolab containing deadly viruses

Photo by Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The World Health Organization is sounding the alarm over a "high risk of biological hazard" after one of two warring factions in Sudan captured a laboratory containing deadly viruses.

WHO spokesman Nima Saeed Abid told reporters in Geneva Tuesday that technicians were unable to access the lab in Khartoum and properly secure the pathogens, reported Reuters.

The lab is reportedly located near the center of the city, close to Khartoum's primary airport.

Among the various hazardous materials stored on-site are the pathogens the cause measles, polio, and cholera.

"This is the main concern: no accessibility to the lab technicians to go to the lab and safely contain the biological material and substances available," said Abid.

It is presently unclear which faction captured the laboratory.

In August 2019, the authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown and arrested after lording over the nation for roughly 30 years. Afterward, the military and civilians shared power in an uneasy alliance.

However, in October 2021, Sudan's military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) dissolved the power-sharing government.

CNN reported that Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was behind the military takeover.

There were plans for both the army and the RSF to cede power, but this was evidently not to be.

On April 15, fighting broke out, with both sides seeking to exploit the power vacuum in Khartoum.

Opposite al-Burhan is RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti.

Whereas the army boasts superior resources and air power, the RSF has marshaled roughly 100,000 fighters across the country, reported Reuters.

According to the WHO, the violence between the two forces has already left 459 dead and 4,072 injured.

Although it is presently unclear whether either force will reign victorious over the country of 46 million souls, whoever comes out on top may have to contend with homegrown biological warfare.

WHO spokesman Nima Saeed Abid said that Sudanese fighters "kicked out all the technicians from the lab … which is completely under the control of one of the fighting parties as a military base."

The result, according to Abid, is an "extremely, extremely dangerous" situation.

Politico indicated that that the lab takeover took place one day before the 72-hour ceasefire between the army and the RSF, announced by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, went into effect.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan indicated in a Monday White House press briefing that the U.S. was "actively facilitating the departure of American citizens who want to leave Sudan" and had "deployed U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to support land evacuation routes, which Americans are using."

The Associated Press reported that there are roughly 16,000 private U.S. citizens registered with the embassy as being in Sudan.

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