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World faces rising threat of chemical attacks, says UK defence minister

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on Tuesday spoke of a growing threat of chemical and biological warfare and a breakdown of world order.

He said the 2018 novichok poisonings in Salisbury, south-west England, and chemical attacks in Syria were evidence that some countries believed it was acceptable to use nerve agents, in some cases on their own citizens.

The internet provided what he called a turbo boost for extremist groups and countries to understand how to develop and research chemical weapons.

“Globally, I think there is a growing threat of chemical or biological [attack]. It depends on what is at hand for people using the internet,” Mr Wallace told The Times while visiting the Ministry of Defence’s defence science and technology laboratory at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

“It is, unfortunately, what happens in a sort of breakdown of world order where you see countries like Syria use it on its own people.

“There has been a worry that some states think it is acceptable to use that type of method to carry out or further their aims.”

In 2018, two Russians were accused of travelling to the UK with the intention of murdering double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

The Russians used novichok, a nerve agent. The Skripals survived, but Dawn Sturgess, who did not know them, died after coming into contact with a perfume bottle believed to have been used in the attack and discarded in a bin.

Nick Bailey, a former police detective who was investigating, became seriously ill but recovered.

Mr Wallace said the Salisbury incident demonstrated the need for police to be trained to deal with chemical and biological attacks.

Porton Down’s leading technical expert, Prof Tim Atkins, said such threats would continue to evolve.

“I think we are at the point where they’ve largely been invented, but I’m not sure they’ve been fully exploited and it’s very hard to predict which way that will go,” he said.

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