US warns Kenya over terror attack from lab germs

Monday January 7 2019

kenya scientist, lab

A scientist isolates wild polio virus at Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi on July 28 2016. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA 

BUSINESS DAILY
By BUSINESS DAILY
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The United States has warned of a possible terror attack from unsecured biological agents stored in Kenya’s health facilities and medical research laboratories.

The warning, contained in a Ministry of Health document released last month, reveals ongoing behind-the-scenes efforts to secure pathogens stored at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

The US government through the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is fast-tracking the construction of a secure storage facility at Kemri.

America is footing 90 per cent of the cost of constructing a sample storage facility at Kemri, equivalent to Ksh607 million ($6 million).

The Kenyan government is expected to put up security and CCTV installations for the facility at a cost of Ksh50 million ($500, 000) plus an additional Ksh40 million ($400, 000) for running security software for five years.

The document raises concern over the dangers associated with the pathogens found in health facilities and research institutions, terming them a serious threat to national stability.

“Kemri has multiple biological organisms and other materials that are stored in many labs (in fridges and frozen in nitrogen chambers) within the institute.

"These pose a great threat to the community as organisms can accidently, by purpose or by natural disaster, leak to the community and cause havoc.

"Criminals or terrorists can also use them for their evil intention. We therefore take this project seriously,” states the Ministry of Health’s mid-term expenditure framework document covering 2019 to 2022.

Anthrax attack

The police in May 2016 announced that they had foiled a "large-scale" biological attack using anthrax by a terror group with links to the Islamic State (IS).

A man, his wife and another woman were arrested in an operation spanning different parts of the country.

The security forces in a statement issued at the time said the terror network stretched across the country and outside its borders, including to Somalia, Libya and Syria.

Mohammed Abdi Ali, a medical intern at a Kenyan hospital, was said to have been in charge of a "terror network... planning large-scale attacks akin to the Westgate Mall attack" in which 67 people were killed in 2013 in Nairobi.

The statement said Mr Ali's network included medical experts who could help organise a biological attack using anthrax.

His wife, Nuseiba Mohammed Haji, a student, was also arrested in Uganda, as was a friend, Fatuma Mohammed Hanshi.

The Ministry of Health report states that the storage facility is designed to reduce the chemical and biological threat to the country.

Inventory list

A biosecurity survey in Kenya carried out in 2015 found that labs in Kenya store at least 16 dangerous pathogens.

Less than 50 per cent of the labs have an inventory list while two labs reported that dangerous biological agents had disappeared from its stores without trace.

A biological attack is the intentional release of a pathogen against humans, plants, or animals.

An attack against people could be used to cause illness, death, fear, societal disruption, and economic damage.

An attack on agricultural plants and animals would primarily cause economic damage, loss of confidence in food supply, and possible loss of life.