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Security Officials on Guard for Bio-Terrorism

French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin has warned that bio-terrorism could be the next stage in the evolution of international terrorism. Mr. de Villepin spoke at a key bio-terrorism conference in Lyon, France.

Mr. de Villepin made a call for greater international cooperation against bio-terrorism at the meeting in Lyon, which gathers senior security officials and terrorism experts from 150 countries.

In particular, the French interior minister called for creating a European-wide data base to better share information on disappearances of substances that could be used to make biological weapons. He also called for a public information campaign to teach people more about the threats of a biological attack, and for vaccine stocks to respond to such a possibility.

Mr. de Villepin's remarks began the two-day meeting hosted by the International police agency, Interpol. Many experts believe bio-terrorism - the use of bacteria, fungi and chemicals as a way to deliberately spread death and disease - poses a worrying threat to the international community. The police group hopes this first-ever international meeting on bio-terrorism will lead to better coordination and training against the threat of biological weapons.

Already, there have been a number of troubling incidents, including alerts against the deadly poison ricin. In some cases - like one at a Paris train station two years ago - the alert proved proved false.

Some analysts, like Jean-Luc Marret of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, believe that biological weapons pose less of an immediate threat than other forms of terrorism - such as suicide bombings.

"Frankly speaking, soon or later in the future, something is going to happen [with bio-terrorism]. But now our main problem is to avoid suicide bombings, in Europe in particular," he said.

But terrorism experts say there is evidence that al-Qaida, for example, has plans to use biological weapons for a terrorism attack. In a recent interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency, Interpol's chief, Reginald Noble, also said the world's police are ill prepared to deal with a biological attack.

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