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S. Africa Postpones Trial for Man Accused of Biological Weapon Threat

The trial in South Africa of a man accused of threatening Britain and the United States with a biological weapon has been postponed until Friday. Brian Patrick Roach allegedly tried to blackmail the British government to prevent an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Brian Patrick Roach, 64, allegedly threatened to release a toxic biological agent in Britain and the United States unless he was paid $4 million.

National Prosecuting Office Spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga spoke in Johannesburg.

"Currently he is facing two counts: one of threatening to engage in terrorist activities, that relates to several e-mails that he had forwarded from various Internet cafes in Johannesburg and Pretoria to the U.K. authorities threatening to cause an outbreak of foot-and-mouth poisoning disease infecting all livestock in the U.K., and when he did not get a response to that earlier threat, he escalated it to include the United States as well," Mhaga said.

Mhaga said officials from South Africa, Britain, and the United States are investigating the case.

“So indeed it is a serious threat, because it is an international crime, and if you look at itself, at terrorism, it is likely in the event of a conviction, to be sentenced to life in respect of the first count, which is threatening to engage in terrorist act," he added.

Mhaga said Roach may have been motivated by his anger over the treatment of white farmers in Zimbabwe. He said Roach appeared to think the United States and Britain should do more to help white farmers who have been forced from their farms during the past decade.

The 64-year-old allegedly threatened to release a toxic biological agent that would cause an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Foot-and-mouth is an infectious disease that affects farm animals and can be deadly. An outbreak in Britain 10 years ago cost British agriculture billions of dollars.

Senior researcher Peter Clevestig is with the Chemical and Biological Security Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

"Foot-and-mouth disease is of course highly contagious and it could be devastating but at the same time it would be a challenge to cause any mass damage with it,” said Clevestig. “But of course with foot and mouth, it is a possibility definitely."

He says biological warfare is complex and not easy to carry out.

"It is very easy to use the threat of using biological agents for terrorism or bioterrorism if you will, but it is of course much harder to actually do them and that is perhaps one of the major reasons why we have not had that event fortunately happen in the past too often," Clevestig added.

Roach has not yet entered a plea.