The Russian ‘Novichok’ Attack – Africa Should Watch Out For The Newcomer

Introduction

In a globalized world threatened by growing interconnected Jihadist movements and rogue states, events in one part of the globe has the potential to spill-over to the rest of the world. So when next you notice your neighbour’s beard is on fire, first sprinkle water on yours, and help your neighbour put the fire out because if left to spread, your beards too will soon be engulfed in flames .

What are Novichok agents? What we do (and don’t) know about them.

When Detective Sergeant Bailey rushed to the scene in Salisbury with the intention to rescue the Skripal’s who were unconscious and slumped on a bench in the city centre, neither Sergeant Bailey nor anyone close to the scene had an idea that they too could be exposed to a secondary ‘Newcomer’ nerve agent more deadly than sarin and VX.

The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down concluded that the Chemical agent used for the attempted murder of double spy agent Sergie Skripal, his daughter Yulia and the first responder Detective Sergeant Bailey who suffered a secondary contamination- was indeed a Russian made Novichok agent.  These advanced and extremely difficult to detect nerve agents were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s under operation Foliant but the collapse of the Soviet Union means these deadly nerve agents could have ended up anywhere friend or foe.

 

Police undertaking environmental sampling to reveal how the Nerve Agent was exposed to the victims.

Even before concluding formal investigations, the UK and its US , France , Germany , NATO and EU allies have reached a unanimous and what seems to be an irreversible verdict that Kremlin is behind the attempted murder. In defence, Kremlin power house has denied that it had any direct or indirect involvement with the Salisbury incident and that it is willing to corporate with the UK and other international organisations in their investigation to determine who was behind the ‘Newcomer’ attack of March 4 2018. The UK has already applied ‘robust’ sanctions against Russia and Kremlin has retaliated in the same spirit.

The ‘Newcomer’ is described as more deadly than the VX agent used to kill the half brother (Kim Jong-Nam) of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un at the Kuala Lumpur international airport in February 2017. Miraculously, the Skripal’s are still in critical condition (at the time of writing) and first responder Detective Sergeant Bailey has recovered from the secondary exposure.

Full credits for the recovery of Sergeant Bailey and the survival of the Skripal’s goes to the established structure of the UK Chemical,Biological,Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE ) unit and for their Preparedness, Rapid Identification , Intervention, Medical Response, and coordinated nationwide Investigation Capabilities.

As more states develop CBRNE weapons capability behind closed doors as a pretext of self defence, the chances of some of these nerve agents falling into the hands of rogue regimes and non-state groups willing to use or sell these weapons to achieve a perceived terror goal has increased and remains a viable global threat.

 

The increase in Home Grown Terrorist and thousands of desperate African Foreign Fighter Returnees limping back to the fragile North Africa, East Africa, Sahel and Lake Chad region to rejoin the likes of Al-AlQaeda in Libya;The Islamic State – Sinai Province; Jama’a Nusratul-Islam wa al-Muslim (JNIM); Boko Haram and Alshabaab is an Indication that Africa must brace itself against the inevitable deployment of conventional and non-conventional weapons.

African nations remain structurally unprepared against the possibility of a nerve agent attack either from a reckless state or non-state actor linked to ISIL and AL Qaeda core vying for a safe haven in the fragile continent.

 Recommendations:

Consultancy and Training for strategic, tactical and operational first responders should be a priority. A good CBRNE plan should focus on assessing local to national structural needs; training on Incident Scene Assessment Teams; Enhancing Medical crisis Management; promote CBRNE public education and Awareness programmes; Increase CBRNE early warning and Reporting mechanism; Allocate Effective Detection technologies, Sampling and Identification; Train First responders against Recognition and Contamination control; and continuously exercise Decontamination and Extraction of casualties from threat zones.

African states need to be more proactive and develop or enhance a well coordinated national CBRNE capacity to protect first responders and the general public from contamination effects.

Unfortunately, CBRNE attacks will increase in the current global volatile environment and African states remain highly vulnerable to any nerve agent attack. Structures for CBRNE units and training for operators and first responders must be prioritised for detection, response and damage limitation. Rogue regimes and non state actors will stop at nothing to attack soft and hard targets with whatever deadly weapon they can lay their hands on, including highly poisonous nerve agents like Novichok, especially as such attacks carry the weight of international media attention necessary for global Jihadist propaganda.

Global Risk International in Partnership with SECINDEF delivers CBRNE consultancy and training at the highest level. Our International experts make use of local dynamics , threats and resources to design a bespoke package to deal with existing and predictive CBRNE threats. For more information on developing in country CBRNE capabilities please contact any of our experts.

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