Last week, we learned that Australian Police Security Services disrupted a possible bomb plot, which might have included the use of the deadly poisonous gas hydrogen sulphide and explosives to bring down a Middle Eastern airliner.
The would-be bombers allegedly planned to place an IED on an Etihad Airways flight and, in a second plot, to release deadly chemicals in a confined space.
Just thinking about an attack like this taking place is horrific enough, but the fact that the attackers were allegedly trying to use chemicals weapons on a plane suggests a significant escalation in the ambition of terrorists.
It is heartening that British and Australian intelligence services, working together, picked up traces of this potential attack just in time. Chemicals, due to their signature, are usually rather easier to identify than other explosives. However, a small amount of hydrogen sulphide could easily be passed off as an innocuous substance and would need specialist equipment to detect it.
As a frequent air traveler in the US, the Middle East and Australia, I most enjoy the ease and simplicity of domestic travel in Oz, if not the cost. Sadly, I expect this convenient travel is likely to become more complex, especially in the short run, to ensure that deadly chemicals cannot be taken onto planes or near large gatherings of people.
While the chemical weapon component of this plot introduces a new level of terror, it is also not a surprise that the ultimate terror organization is keen on these ultimate weapons of terror. ISIS has become adept at using commonly available toxic industrial chemicals — like chlorine and hydrogen sulfide — and can manufacture crude chemical weapons, most successfully sulfur mustard, also known as mustard gas.
Mustard agent, developed in the First World War as an incapacitant rather than a WMD, has proved a success for ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, especially against unprotected troops and civilians.
As ISIS is defeated in Iraq, and squeezed in Syria, the jihadist’s sleeper cells and lone wolves are being directed to create terror. The most likely highest priority targets are those democracies — like Australia, UK and the US — who are responsible for the downfall of the caliphate in the Middle East.
The fact that the poison gas could have been the aim of this foiled attack should not add to the element of terror. We know the jihadists will look at all types of attack, from the basic to the complex. But each time we see a new modus operandi for an attack, we can work on ways of stopping further attempts in the future.
Hamish de Bretton Gordon is director of Doctors Under Fire which campaigns against attacks on medica and hospitals in conflict zones.