Updated 02.10.2015

Incidents involving offensive use of biological substances

Incidents where biological substances have been used offensively are relatively rare. In most cases, suspected attacks turn out to be hoaxes or accidental incidents. However, historically there have been a number of examples of weaponisation and application of biological substances.Below is a list of selected historical examples to illustrate the span of incidents:

 

Year 

Geography 

Responsible 

Agent 

Goal and application 

Effect

BC

Kirrha

The Greeks

Helleborus toxin

Contamination of water supply

Incapacitation of besieged city

 1346

Caffa

The Tatars 

Plague 

Besieged city catapulted with carcasses

Presumably severe illness and multiple deaths. Possibly, the incident caused a European epidemic

  1763 

 Fort Pitt, US 

England 

Smallpox 

Attack on Indians using contaminated
blankets 

Several thousand deaths and severe illness

World War 1 

USA, Argentina, Romania, Norway, Spain 

Germany 

Anthrax, Malleus

Attack on horses 

Thousands of ill persons, and death of horses

World War 2

China

Japan  

Plague, Anthrax, Cholera, Typhoid

Contamination of water supply and
airstrikes on cities

Hundreds of thousands died or became severely ill

1943-69

 

USA 

Anthrax, Q-fever, VEE, Francisella tularensis

Offensive biological program

Experiments in Korea?

1926-?

 

Soviet Union

Anthrax, Smallpox, Marburg, Plague, Typhoid

Offensive biological program

Several accidents, including:

Aralsk (1971),  Sverdlovsk (1979)

1981-93 

South Africa

Project Coast 

Anthrax, Plague,
Cholera, Botulinum toxin, Ricin 

Rural population in Rhodesian townships

Unknown number of casualties and cases of illness among people and animals

 1985-91

 

Iraq

Anthrax, Botulinum toxin, Ricin, Aflatoxin, Perfrigens toxin 

Offensive program  

 

 1984

Dalles, OR, USA

Religious sect 

Salmonella

Food contamination (salads)

751 persons food poisoned

1993 

Tokyo

Aum Shinrikyo

Anthrax*, Botulinum 

Aerosol dissemination in Tokyo 

No reported casualties and probably no cases of illness

1996

Dallas , TX, USA

 

Shigella

Food contamination (doughnuts)

12 food poisoned

 2001

 USA

 

Anthrax

Anthrax letters to agencies and senators via US Postal Service 

22 cases of illness and 5 deaths

*: Non-pathogenic strain                            

Contact us

Centre for Biosecurity and Biopreparedness 
Statens Serum Institut

5 Artillerivej
DK-2300 Copenhagen S

Telefon: +45 32688127
Email: cbb@ssi.dk