Were plague deaths the result of botched bioweapons experiments?

Yesterday, I cautioned readers to take the report from The Sun about plague deaths among al-Qaeda terrorists with considerable skepticism, both because of the source and the rare nature of the disease.  The Washington Times, with considerably more credibility, picks up the thread and posits a plausible explanation — that AQ attempted to create a biological weapon that infected its own crew by mistake:

An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday.

The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.

He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official.

“We don’t know if this is biological or chemical,” the official said.

The story was first reported by the British tabloid the Sun, which said the al Qaeda operatives died after being infected with a strain of bubonic plague, the disease that killed a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century. But the intelligence official dismissed that claim.

I’m not sure why they would “dismiss” the claim when they themselves don’t know enough to say whether the breach was biological or chemical.  Perhaps they have intel on specific strains of disease that AQ has accessed, or maybe they just know more than the WT source wants to say specifically.  It gives further corroboration to The Sun’s report, and strongly indicates something went wrong in Tizi Ouzou.

No one will be surprised to hear that AQ has been playing with either biological or chemical weapons, or both.  They have tried for at least ten years to develop some kind of WMD that would allow AQ cells to terrorize large populations with a minimum of personnel.  Chemical weapons would probably work better, as they would be somewhat easier to contain and control, especially in the rough environments in which AQ works.  Most of their efforts take place in areas where clean rooms and laboratory controls can’t exist.

If these reports about Tizi Ouzou are correct, AQ has managed to kill more of their own people in one shot than they have of infidels in quite some time.  If they’ve contaminated one of the safe locations, so much the better.