First anthrax weapon found

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The Independent Online
IT WAS only when the museum curator actually read the label on the 80-year-old bottle containing two sugar lumps that he began to worry. It said, "A piece of sugar containing anthrax bacilli, found in the luggage of Baron Otto Karl von Rosen when he was apprehended in Karasjok in January 1917, suspected of espionage and sabotage."

The two sugar lumps were the world's first biological weapon, yet surprisingly they were not intended for use against people - Baron von Rosen's plan was to use them to poison horses and reindeer in northern Norway and Finland, where sledges were ferrying arms for the British forces and allies in the First World War.

A secret agent of some repute, Baron von Rosen and his companions were arrested in a remote region of northern Norway, close to the Finnish frontier. In their luggage were a total of 19 sugar lumps, each spiked with anthrax in a tiny sealed glass capillary tube; tin cans labelled "Svea kott" (Swedish meat) which actually contained dynamite; and bottles of curare, the paralysing poison used by Amazonian Indians.

The Baron claimed to be an activist for Finnish independence, but in fact was working for Germany, which had approved the use of anthrax. He was held in custody before expulsion to Sweden.

The episode passed into history and the relic had remained forgotten in the archives of a police museum in Trondheim, Norway, until a curator gave it a close examination. It was passed to British scientists at the biological weapons centre at Porton Down. They confirmed that not only was it anthrax but that some of the spores were still viable.

It turns out though that the Baron's cunning plan was misintended from the start. Richard Manchee, leader of the Porton Down team, pointed out that anthrax is not directly transmissible between horses.

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