CBRNe News from the World

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AMERICAS

On 4 April, U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal Soldiers were trained by an FBI SWAT team for long-range explosive clearance missions using M107 50 snipers in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The commander of the EOD 761st Ordnance Company (EOD), part of the 20th CBRNE Command, confirmed that the trainings provided by the FBI enabled his EOD Soldiers to use another tool to defeat explosives from a safe distance and enhanced interagency operations. A Putnam County man, proprietor of Embry Farm Services, was accidentally killed on 13 April in an apparently accidental explosion that may have been caused when a propane tank blew up in a shipping container on farmland northeast of Eatonton, Georgia.

On 12 April, a man set off smoke grenades in a Brooklyn subway car and then shot ten people, injuring at least 23 people in the worst shooting to date in the history of the New York City subway. Although there were no reported casualties, five of the victims were critically injured. The suspected attacker, previously named a person of interest to the police, donned a gas mask as a Manhattan-bound N train approached the 36th Street station in the Sunset Park neighborhood, dropping two smoke grenades and firing his gun. The man, Frank R. James, has already been detained. Among his personal belongings found in a van in Philadelphia, there were a handgun, a hatchet, fireworks, and a liquid believed to be gasoline, along with ammunition magazines.

On 14 April, immediate evacuations were ordered after an explosion at the Haven Midstream gas plant in the city of Haven, Kansas. Although lifted by the evening, they were enforced again by the Reno County Emergency Management due to new concerns of additional explosions, which produced active flames, heavy smoke, and explosions. Emergency crews established an initial perimeter around the plant and the initial fire was mostly contained,” Reno County Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar said in an early-Friday-morning news release.” Reno County officials said after further inspection of the plant, they found 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of trapped liquid natural gas. They said the relief valves are compromised, which could set off another explosion.

On 18 April, a shelter in place order was enforced in Iberville, Louisiana, after a chlorine spill ignited a fire at the Olin plant, owned by Dow Chemical. Employees performed emergency precautions and the early response teams, including the Louisiana State Police Emergency Service Unit immediately assisted in keeping the spill at bay. Local evacuations were not needed despite the closure of local roads.

EUROPE

On 3 April, a leaky gas canister caused an explosion and set off a fire at the LocationBaku nightclub in Azerbaijan, killing one club employee, injuring 31 people, and damaging two non-residential facilities. Footage of the scene showed that the floor shook as the canister exploded. The Prosecutor General’s office revealed that the accident occurred due to the “lack of gas supply in the building as a result of a leak from a gas balloon installed there”. A probe into the incident is still ongoing.

For the first time in three years, international flying exercise Frisian Flag started again on 4 April. The event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. Until 8 April, dozens of national and international aircraft participated in exercises from Leeuwarden Air Base. Aircraft from Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States were operating in the airspace above sea. This is to ensure readiness for any assignment, at any time. Fighter pilots are patrolling the eastern border of NATO on a daily basis.

On 6 April, the EU Commission disclosed that it is building up strategic reserves of CBRN response capacities through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. This includes a €540.5 million rescEU strategic stockpile, established in close collaboration with the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). This stockpile will consist of equipment and medicines, vaccines, and other therapeutics to treat patients exposed to CBRN emergencies agents, as well as of rescEU decontamination reserve to provide decontamination equipment and expert response teams. The decontamination reserve will be developed and hosted by Croatia, Germany and Spain and will be 100% EU-financed, with an initial budget of €66.7 million. On 7 April, the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union, condemned the atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces in Bucha and other Ukrainian towns. Gathered in Brussels, they warned against any threat or use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and recalled Russia’s obligations under international treaties concerning these. They dismissed Russia’s unsubstantiated claims against Ukraine, a respected member of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention that complies with its legal obligations under those instruments. The G7 countries voiced their concern over Russia’s control of nuclear facilities and other radioactive material, which raise the risk of a nuclear incident. On 20 - 21 April, multiple mine explosions across Poland injured at least 32 people, with seven people missing. On Wednesday the 20th, a methane blast at around 1,000 meters underground at a mine in Pawlowice killed at least five people. The second explosion occurred three hours later during the subsequent rescue operation, destroying the communication channel in the process, and injuring ten rescuers trying to retrieve seven missing individuals. The JSW company that operates the mine declared that the rescue crew was pumping air underground to decrease methane levels and ultimately reduce the risk of further explosions. Poland is scrambling to scale down its coal imports from Russia by May.

AFRICA

On 3 April, the Special Forces of the Somali National Army killed seven al-Shabab militants and wounded others during a security operation near the Wisil town in Somalia. The forces also seized a vehicle, four improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and four AK 47 rifles during the operation. On 6 April, the Nigerian Police Forces, together with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), and the US Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Smuggling, Detection, and Deterrence (NSDD) approved the continuous training of personnel from the Nigeria Police Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD-CBRN) Command on the operation and maintenance of Mobile Detection System (MDS). This is part of the country’s efforts to re-evaluate its performance levels in the event of internal security threats nearby sensitive infrastructures. The training event enhanced the capacity of EOD-CBRN personnel in the detection of illicit trafficking of radioactive materials, as well as the secondary inspection techniques of officers. This event was the most recent one out of several capacity building workshops taking place in the country, lasted for two weeks, and involved 30 CBRN Nigerian officers. On April 8, at least six people were killed, and fifteen others wounded after an explosion at the Katindo military camp in Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Among the victims are a lieutenant colonel and a captain. The DR Congo army is battling multiple rebel groups in the East – but it is not clear yet whether the explosion was the result of an attack. On 12 April, the Nigeria Atomic energy Commission (NAEC) gathered experts in Zaria for a three-day workshop. The main goal of the even was to discuss best practices on protecting the safety and security of workers operating in nuclear facilities, namely, by preventing and mitigating accidents (e.g., acquiring physical protection systems at facilities, having a standard operating procedure) and protecting workers, the public and, the environment from radiation. The Islamic State seems to be responsible for the death of a Russian national, most likely a mercenary from the Wagner Group, that occurred on 19 April in Mali. The Russian national was operating alongside Malian soldiers when an improvised explosive device took his life near the town of Hombori.

MIDDLE EAST

The UN Disarmament Commission 2022 Substantive Session is running from 4 April until 22 April after a 3-year gap. Featuring on top of the agenda are the renewed calls for the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, concerns over the a chemical attack and nuclear accident in the context of the war in Ukraine, the importance of implementing confidence building measures, and the need to prevent an arms race in outer space as part of a multistakeholder dialogue proposed by the UN’s Secretary General. On 6 April, a group of US House Democrats conveyed their discomfort with the possibility of a revived Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That day, five Democratic representatives held a press conference to publicly speak out about the pact, and another thirteen House members signed onto a press release summarizing misgivings with reported aspects of the deal currently being negotiated in Vienna. Chief concern was the possibility of a US lifting of the foreign terrorist organization designation on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, arguing that the all-powerful American diplomatic tools could not be used as a cheap bargaining chip in negotiation talks with Iran. The fact that current US-Iran discussions do not extend to Iran’s ballistic missile program nor to its role in proxy wars, is another source of concern. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen said on 8 April, that joint efforts towards funding and timely action was critical to prevent the FSO Safer, a decaying tanker anchored off Yemen’s coastline, from a major oil spill caused by an explosion or leakages. The production and maintenance stopped back in 2015 due to the Yemeni conflict, making this old storage and offloading facility that harbors 1.1 million oil barrels a potential target with devastating consequences. Any oil spill caused by an explosion could expose several thousand families to life-threatening toxins and around 200,000 livelihoods could be immediately wiped out, along with traffic disruptions through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a passageway to the Suez Canal. The UN proposed a two-track plan, which involves installing a long-term replacement for the tanker within 18 months, and an emergency operation to transfer the oil to a safe temporary vessel over four months. Both the Yemeni Government in Aden and the de facto authorities in the capital, Sana’a, backed the UN plan. The Netherlands will co-host a UN pledging conference in May to raise funds for such purposes, with preliminary talks to discuss the plan with Gulf capitals already taking place. On 12 April, there was an explosion at a scout center affiliated with the Shi’ite Amal Movement in the town of Banafoul, in Lebanon, demolishing a two-story building, injuring seven people, and killing one (the town’s major son) as a result. Security sources claimed it was not an act of sabotage, but an explosion caused by diesel fuel stored inside the building. Israeli media outlets published that the place possibly was an arms cache. On 19 April, the Houthis signed an Action Plan with the United Nations, committing themselves to end indiscriminate artillery attacks and the use of landmines as they have a massive impact on children and have led to thousands of child casualties. Nevertheless, international observers are wary of such pledges due to the Houthis’ poor record of delivering on its promises. implementation remains key to truly deliver better prospects for children and overall civilians. On 20 April, a Turkish prison guard was killed in the Bursa province due to a planted bomb close to an electric pole. According to the authorities, the bomb was detonated by remote control when the bus carrying the prison guard went past it. The identity of the perpetrators remains unknown.

ASIA

Uzbek experts were trained in the running of mobile laboratory units from 25 March to 1 April 2022, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This training was delivered by the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology of Germany and it was part of the activities of Project 53 “Strengthening the National Legal Framework and Provision of Specialized Training on Bio-Safety and Bio-Security in Central Asian and South-East and Eastern European Countries” implemented by the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) within the framework of EU Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence (EU CBRN CoE) Initiative financed by the European Commission. Two additional field exercises are planned for 2022, in which trainees will work under simulated disease outbreak conditions. The US army trained Philippine’s forces on CBRN and C-IED operations from 28 March to 8 April. The exercises were held in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, and involved 8,900 Filipino and American servicemen. Personnel from the Philippine’s army 1st Brigade Combat Team, Support Command’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion, and the United States Army Pacific’s C-IED Center for the Asia Pacific area and G34 Protection Directorate identified and defeated insurgent IED tactics, techniques, and procedures. Enhancing the Philippine’s interoperability and readiness to counter CBRNe threats is gaining momentum in the context of frequent detonations of improvised explosive devices from terrorist groups operating in the country. On 2 April, several children were killed in two separate incidents involving explosives in Herat and Helmand, Afghanistan. The blast in Herat happened when a group of children were playing traditional games in a field, with the Taliban claiming the area was effectively free of unexploded ordnance, accusing criminal groups of planting explosives there. There were five casualties and twenty wounded. Local police defused two other bombs located in the area. As for the Helmand deadly incident, an unidentified number of children were killed when they came across an unexploded mortar shell. The children unearthed the shell and were playing with it when it went off, possibly to then sell the scrapped metal to support their families. On 19 April, at least six people were killed and 11 wounded by two blasts caused by improvised explosive devices at a Shiite boy’s school, with a third blast taking place at an English language centre in the same area, a Shia neighborhood inhabited by members of the Hazara community and that has been previously targeted by the Islamic State in 2020. The Taliban regime blamed the terrorist group for it.

OCEANIA

The Victoria’s Defence Science Institute (DSI) called on 6 April for proposals in support of a $1 million initiative open to the Australian industry and academia to advance the development of prototypes for enhanced resilience against chemical and biological threats. The aim of this initiative is to link local Victorian capability strengths with complementary capability in other Australian states to support the development of prototype demonstrators in the wearable sensors and deployed surveillance area – which deals with early detection of chemical or biological threats – and to increase the warfighter’s capacity to carry out their mission against the backdrop of CBRN threats. On 7 April, the first phase of a computed tomography (CT) scan machine installation in the Solomon Islands was finalized, receiving practical completion certificates from the machine’s producer (Siemens) and the Power Safety Certificate by Solomon Power. The installation of the scan machine, as well as the testing for radiation safety levels, pave the way for the next installation phase, set to start on 11 April. It will involve a two-weeks long clinical application training to local radiology staff to teach them how to use the equipment and its computer system. After that, at around 22 April, there will be a four-week CT service inception phase, where CT examination will be performed under normal and emergency scenarios. Australia’s Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC) held a roundtable on 8 April to discuss surveillance, prevention, and preparedness measures in light of the Lumpy Skin Disease outbreak declared in Sumatra, Indonesia. The Lumpy skin disease (LSD) is a highly infectious skin disease that affects cattle and water buffalo, passed on by biting insects. The disease produces large skin growths over the body of the infected cattle, and it can be deadly sometimes. A full recovery can be a lengthy process, having a negative impact on milk production, reproductive losses and Australian market access, authorities said. The RMAC activated its industry’s crisis response process (CRIMAC), which formed a taskforce with stakeholders from different industries to enhance overarching coordination, claiming that the country not only is free of Lumpy Skin disease but also well prepared.