CBRNe World News Briefs

MIDDLE EAST

On Saturday, 8 May, a bomb attack took place in Kabul, Afghanistan resulting in more than 80 casualties. The main attack was caused by a detonation of a car bomb targeting the Sayed Al-Shuhada school, followed by two other bomb explosions. 13 civilians were also killed, and more than 30 were wounded in separate IED explosions in the Afghan provinces of Zabul and Parwan on Sunday, 9 May.

A few days earlier, on 6 May the UN’s disarmament top official Izumi Nakamitsu revealed during a Security Council’s meeting that investigators uncovered large volumes of undisclosed chemical stockpiles in Syria. The UN’s investigation is expected to continue after this latest sign of Syria’s non-compliance with the 2013 agreement to destroy its stockpiles.

Indirect negotiations between the US and Iran regarding a potential return to the JCPOA are facing difficulties. Iran is accused of continuing its clandestine efforts to develop its nuclear program, refusing site inspections. According to a press release on 5 May, the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands, Iran seeks relevant technology in Europe. The Swedish Service also reports that Iran is performing industrial espionage “aimed at products that could be used to make nuclear weapons.”

In Israel, the PM announced on 16 May that airstrikes would continue towards targets in Gaza. The comments followed shortly after a tower block that housed international media organizations (Al Jazeera / Associated Press) was destroyed. Since Monday, 10 May, more than 2000 rockets were fired from militant groups in the Gaza Strip. The total death toll on both sides is calculated at approximately 200 casualties as of 17 May.

AMERICAS

On 2 May, airport screening equipment worth more than USD 400 million was commissioned at the International Airport of Guyana. This investment gives the capability for new checking points, and it is equipped with high-tech explosive detection systems and advanced system monitoring. It also includes software providing automatic detection of solid and liquid explosives putting Guyana on the list of the very few countries in Latin America deploying such technology at their airport.

In the United States, training and various CBRNe related incidents continue to be reported monthly. On Saturday, 8 May and throughout the week, members of the New Jersey National Guard in the US were assigned to travel through the state and train first responders and civilians regarding the use of protective equipment (PPE). Unit members have been deployed to healthcare facilities and drive-thru testing sites, training individuals in the proper use of PPE conducting more than 500 mask fitting tests. Two days later, a Railroad Administration inspector in Texas was arrested for repeatedly delivering false reports regarding the transportation of hazardous materials. Specifically, he falsified inspection reports after not conducting inspections of railroads and shippers related to the transportation of “ethanol, crude oil, and other toxic substances.”

In Colombia, covid-related deaths have surpassed the threshold of 80.000 deaths on 15 May. Intensive Care Units are almost full in most cities, especially after the mass anti-government protests of the last couple of weeks, which resulted in mass population gatherings. ICU occupancy is estimated at 94% in the capital, Bogota, whereas in other big cities such as Medellin, the occupancy rate is currently at 99%.

Canada’s Health Agency authorized Pfizer vaccination to children aged 12-15 on 5 May. As of 16 May, 44,70% of the population in the country has been vaccinated with at least one dose, while the number of active cases is estimated at 70.341. As of 16 May, 44,70% of the population in the country has been vaccinated with at least one dose, while the number of active cases is estimated at 70.341.

ASIA

During the first week of May, the UN Mine Action Service published a report regarding Japan’s contribution to demining activities in Syria. The government of Japan will be assisting in decontaminating vast areas of the country, which are covered by landmines and improvised explosive devices. These actions are part of a yearly project that was kickstarted in March 2021. The goal is to minimize threats of explosive ordnance that are hindering access to basic services and delivery of humanitarian assistance during the pandemic.

On 5 May, a joint operation conducted by police and military personnel in the Philippines resulted in the arrest of two suppliers of bomb-making components in the Sulu province. Besides the components, the suspects were in possession of ammunition, weapons, and IEDs as well. According to Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, 11th Infantry Division commander who participated in the operation, the individuals were identified as members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an ISIS-affiliated group operating in parts of the country.

8 May in the Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir in India, army operatives seized large volumes of ammunition expected to be used by terrorist actors. The ammunition seized included approximately 40kg of high explosive material along with numerous improvised explosive devices (IEDs), electrical detonators, power sources, and duty cells, among others.

At the same time, the coronavirus infections in the country continue to be close to record daily highs on Monday, 17 May, with more than 280.000 new infections. Pressure to PM Modi for a national lockdown is getting more intense as hospitals are running out of oxygen. The total number of cases is also estimated to be higher than the officially reported ones, while “pleas for hospital beds, ventilators and access to Intensive Care Units” are augmenting due to the short supply. Later the same day, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the Covid variant B.1.617 in India as a “global health risk” and “variant of concern” with more reports to follow.

EUROPE

The Ukrainian authorities put into operation a new nuclear waste repository at Chernobyl, according to press releases on 26 April. The government plans to create a new place where the nuclear waste would be stored for the next 100 years instead of transferring them to Russia, which is the current practice. On 4 May, an unexploded WWII device was found near a Suffolk village in a field at Elveden in the UK. The army’s disposal unit conducted a controlled explosion on the “three-inch mortar” found. According to press releases on 10 May, a German company (Combi Lift) has successfully been removing chemicals stored in containers of Beirut’s port. The transfer is part of the effort to clear the facility in Lebanon’s port after last year’s explosion. The German Ambassador to Beirut underlined that “it will take weeks to destroy the chemicals stored in the port.” Until now, more than 4.3 tons of ammonium nitrate has been destroyed since last August. In the European Union, vaccination rates are increasing rapidly while covid restrictions are easing in many member states. According to the statistics presented by Statista and ECDC on 13 May, Malta, Hungary, and Iceland lead the vaccination rate while Bulgaria, Russia, and Latvia are the slowest in the vaccination process. In other countries, the vaccination process has been hindered by Astra Zeneca delivery delays and investigations.

AFRICA

On Monday, 3 May, the Democratic Republic of Congo declared the end of an Ebola outbreak that infected 12 people, killing 6. The cases were reported to be genetically linked to the Ebola epidemic of 2018, which has resulted in more than 2000 casualties. This time, the outbreak was effectively contained by using Merck’s Ebola Vaccine to patient’s contacts. According to Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Direct for Africa, national authorities need to “stay alert for a possible resurgence.” In Somalia, a bomb attack resulted in three casualties and one injury on 5 May. The IED was exploded in a car carrying three people inside with no group claiming responsibility. According to the report, “the attack has al-Shabaab hallmarks,” the main terrorist group operating in the region. On 7 May, three Malian soldiers were killed, along with several others injured, when the leading vehicle of their convoy hit an IED as it was returning to its base. The incident took place in the Hombori area, where Islamist terrorist groups are highly active. In South Africa, a new report came to light on 13 May by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) unveiling a serious discrepancy regarding officially reported Covid-19 deaths and the unofficial ones. In the past 12 months, deaths caused by the disease are calculated at around 130.000 people instead of the official death toll of 54,968. Epidemiologists do underline the fact that in many countries, the actual toll far surpasses the official reported figures.

OCEANIA

On Sunday, 9 May, Australian authorities reported a 3rd consecutive day without covid infections in Sydney and the wider area. Restrictions, however, will be extended for an extra week after a couple tested positive in the city. Local authorities are preparing for a potential super-spreader event, organizing a campaign to get more individuals tested. The source of infection has not been identified yet. At the same time, on 11 May, a positive case was reported in Victoria, the first in two months. Current measures are expected to continue to exist, especially regarding traveling restrictions and closed borders, until the end of the year. On Tuesday, 11 May, a man was killed and three others injured after a WWII shell accidentally detonated in the Solomon Islands. Representatives from the country’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team reported that the incident took place when a group of people built a fire for cooking purposes without knowing of the existence of a bomb laying underground. According to the experts, the bomb was identified as a “US 105mm high-explosive projectile that remained after World War II.”