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Why Senator Lugar is worried about bioterrorism in East Africa

Pentagon and congressional officials who toured a Kenyan medical laboratory are concerned that terrorist groups could get their hands on disease samples stored there.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Sept. 22.

Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images/Newscom

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On one side of the 7-foot brick wall, topped with rusting barbed wire and a four-strand electric fence, lies Africa’s largest slum – a barely policed square mile of tin-roofed shacks that is home to 700,000 people.

On the other is Kenya’s premier medical research laboratory, where samples of diseases considered among the biggest threats to humanity – including plague, anthrax, and Ebola – are studied and stored.

But not stored safely enough, according to a team of senior Pentagon and congressional officials who visited the facility Friday during an East Africa tour focused on the increasing threat of bioterrorism.

Defense analysts are concerned that security in the region’s laboratories is too weak to withstand the threat from regional terror groups, including Al Qaeda, which are hunting for ingredients for biological weapons.

It’s a “potentially disastrous predicament,” said Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, the ranking minority leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who led the delegation.

He should know. Senator Lugar, along with former Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, spearheaded US-funded efforts to find and destroy or decommission nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union after its collapse in 1991.

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