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Why Would a Terrorist Group Choose One Weapon Over Another?

It depends largely on the group’s amount of money, their access to the site they want to attack, and the kind of devastation they want to inflict. The viruses and bacteria needed for biological weapons, those that cause mass illness, discomfort, and possibly death, are sadly easy to come by but difficult to employ and to diagnose. We humans have an inborn fear of “plague-like” terrorism because we feel that we cannot protect ourselves and those we love. However, the disadvantages to the potential terrorist mostly outweigh those advantages. Some examples of biological agents are anthrax, botulism, cholera, plague, and smallpox.

As we said before, a nuclear weapon may be either the actual detonation of a nuclear bomb, such as the ones launched over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War, or the release of radiological materials. A nuclear bomb would have immense effects on both people and structures, and those effects last a very long time. The psychological impact is enormous.

However, despite writing in the popular media, it is not all that simple to get one’s hands on the materials to create a nuclear bomb, and it is extremely expensive. It would also cause immediate retaliation by the country which was attacked and it would be likely that the home country of whichever entity released a nuclear bomb would be completely annihilated.

Radiological materials, which can cause both immediate acute poisoning and long-term health problems, can be deployed as a secondary component of another weapon, such as a “dirty bomb.” An example of a dirty bomb would be radiological material attached to a common explosive device, such as a pipe bomb.

An incendiary device is something that starts a fire. Such devices are easy to make from materials anyone can buy. Fire is very frightening because it is dramatic, dangerous, and it grows and moves very fast. However, fire is also a part of the world in which we live and we have expert fire departments in every town and rural area.

The terrorist may end up destroying more property than lives. Incendiary devices can be started by chemical, electronic, or mechanical triggers and they may be left in place (stationary), thrown by hand, or self-propelled like a rocket.

The “C” in the “B-NICE” acronym stands for chemical agents. The nerve agent Sarin, released in the Tokyo subway system by a terrorist group in 1995, is probably one you have heard about. Like biological agents, they are easy to find or steal, easy to make, and are relatively cheap. They also have a strong psychological effect on the victim population. The disadvantages to the terrorist make chemical agents less likely to be deployed; however, we should not downplay the possibility of their uses. Should symptoms be present such as people having difficulty breathing, unusual smells, or suspicious circumstances such as unscheduled spraying, the important thing is to leave the area and notify emergency responders immediately. By far the most common weapon of mass destruction is an explosive—a bomb. Over 70% of terrorist incidents involve bombs. They are dramatic, pose little risk to the bomber, and are easy to explode from a distance. The main disadvantages to the terrorists are that they need to gather a lot of intelligence about the site they want to attack, they run many risks of being detected before they can execute the attack, and also that they may—or will—kill or hurt innocent bystanders.