Gas mask sales rise amid fear of attack

Army surplus stores are reporting a rise in the sale of gas masks and chemical protection suits as fears mount of a biological attack on Britain.

Army surplus stores are reporting a rise in the sale of gas masks and chemical protection suits as fears mount of a biological attack on Britain.

A wholesaler claimed to have sold 2,000 gas masks in the past week to shops across Britain and America, compared with about 20 in a normal week. Some outlets have requested children's masks while others are selling apparatus despite being unable to vouch for its suitability. Internet sites offering masks, suits and other army survival kit have also sold out.

As owners frantically tried to replace their stocks, wholesalers said many shops were making big profits with large mark-ups on the kit.

Frank Lanigan, of New Cross Army Surplus in Manchester, said he had sold 200 of the £50 masks last week compared with the usual sale of one a week. Orders have come in from across the country and included a family travelling to America. "They are all panicking. All they care about are their own families," he said. "We have ordered a few hundred more for this week but after that I don't think there will be any more in the country."

Among the more popular of the masks is the S10, developed for the British Army, which is said to give up to 12 hours' protection. But Martin Finley, the owner of North East Militaria and Surplus, said: "People are asking for protection suits and gas masks. I have told them that unless they know how to use them properly, all they would be doing is putting off the inevitable."

Thatchreed, among Britain's biggest wholesalers of army surplus equipment, said it had earmarked much of its stock for America, where sales had soared for guns and gas masks. "Everyone is going crazy for them. Even the shopkeepers are saying that it's ludicrous," Colin Griffith, the managing director, said. "People are being told they have been used by the army and they are buying them on the off-chance."

Evidence is emerging that people connected to Osama bin Laden's network may have considered biological or chemical attacks. The Federal Aviation Authority has ordered the grounding of all crop-spraying aircraft and Time magazine reported that a manual on the subject was found among the belongings of a detained suspect. Because of fears of a chemical or biological attack, US officials have been warned to look for signs of an epidemic.

In Britain, the authorities have acknowledged their greatest fear is the use of chemical weapons. The Metropolitan Police in London had previously drawn up plans to counter a chemical threat after the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

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