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South African Charged With Making Bioterrorism Threat

February 15, 2011

A South African man was arrested this weekend on suspicion of threatening to attack the United Kingdom and the United States with foot and mouth disease, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, June 30, 2010).

Brian Roach, the owner of a Johannesburg-area engineering company, was apprehended on Saturday and brought into court today. The 64-year-old man allegedly warned the British government through e-mail and written communication that he planned to release the biological agent in the United Kingdom and the United States if he was not paid $4 million.

“We have the expertise and resources to do this very effectively and will be able to devastate the industry in the U.K. which will cost billions to the economy,” Roach said in an e-mail message sent to the British government. “We will devastate your farms and then we will then take the problem to your co-conspirator the USA.”

A prosecution spokesman, though, dismissed Roach’s ability to make good on his warning.

Foot and mouth disease can be lethal to cattle and other animals, though it is not able to infect humans. The animal-borne disease has been categorized by the United States as a “select agent” that can pose a serious threat. Scientists have warned that terrorists could with relative ease release the disease in multiple areas of the United States (see GSN, Oct. 8, 2009).

The reported threats set off a six-month probe involving agencies from South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the end, Roach was charged with terrorist activity and money laundering.

“This biological agent, if deployed, would have caused the destruction of property and resulted in major economic loss,” a South African police statement said. “This was therefore regarded as a very serious threat.”

Roach seems to have been motivated by anger toward London and Washington for not doing enough to assist white Zimbabwean farmers who lost their land in 2000 at the order of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who then awarded much of the land to his political allies.

“We are not habitual criminals but have been victim of a situation which was entirely out of our control and attributed to corrupt and incompetent politicians,” Roach said in an October 6 e-mail message.

South African authorities examined Roach’s residence and other locations but did not discover anything that would indicate he had the ability to release foot and mouth, AP reported (Jenny Gross, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Feb. 14).

The threats were said to date back to July of last year. Authorities arrested Roach after tricking him into traveling to a warehouse with the understanding that he would be given his $4 million payoff, the South African Sunday Tribune reported yesterday.

Police spokeswoman Sally De Beer said officials did not yet know if Roach was acting alone or whether he had ties to any foreign extremist organizations. More apprehensions are possible in the case, she said on Saturday.

“The investigation is still going on. At this point we have only arrested one person and since the arrest was only made this morning (Saturday) police are still busy searching premises,” the spokeswoman said.

“We need to know if he did in fact have the capability to carry out the attack. It would be premature at this point to rule out the possibility that he did,” De Beer continued (Masood Boomgaard, Sunday Tribune, Feb. 13).

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