Water supply terrorism

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Water supply terrorism involves intentional sabotage to a water supply system, through chemical or biological warfare or infrastructural sabotage. Throughout military history and the history of terrorism, water supply attacks have been perpetrated by eco-terrorist[citation needed] and political groups, intending to scare, cause death, or drought.

Chemical and biological attacks[edit]


In 1984 members of the Rajneeshee religious cult contaminate a city water supply tank in The Dalles, Oregon, using Salmonella and infecting 750.[1]

In 1992 The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) put lethal concentrations of potassium cyanide in the water tanks of a Turkish Air Force compound in Istanbul.

In 2000, workers at the Cellatex chemical plant in northern France dumped 5000 liters of sulfuric acid into a tributary of the Meuse River when they were denied workers’ benefits.[1]

In 2000 in Queensland, Australia, police arrested a man for using a computer and radio transmitter to take control of the Maroochy Shire wastewater system and release sewage into parks, rivers and property.

LSD threats to the water supply[edit]

Despite the fact that it is impractical and very unlikely to produce any effect at large scale, during the 1960s a great deal of attention was paid to the notion that counter-culture figures could intoxicate a whole city by putting a small dose of LSD in the water supply.

On 19 March 1966 London Life ran an interview claiming that anyone could take control of London in under eight hours by putting 'acid' in the water system. Dr Donald Johnson claimed: “It is quite feasible that LSD could be used to take over a city or even a country. I agree if it were put into reservoirs, it would disable people sufficiently for an enemy to take control.” [2]

On November 1966 Vue magazine ran “Why They Had to Outlaw LSD”, in which writer WH Carr claimed that “[A] few ounces of it, dumped in the water supply of a major city, could shake up millions.” [2]

Counter-culture icon Abbie Hoffman threatened to put LSD in Chicago's water-supply to protest the Vietnam War during the Democratic convention.[3]

In truth it would take several vast LSD laboratories many years to generate even a fraction of the amount required to intoxicate a small town's water supply, which would also decay from sunlight, heat or chlorine in the system.[2]

Infrastructural or resource-based attacks[edit]


In Lusaka, Zambia, in 1999, a bomb destroyed the main water pipeline, cutting off water for the city 3 million.

In 2001 Water flow to Kumanovo (population 100,000) was cut off for 12 days in conflict between ethnic Albanians and Macedonian forces.[1]

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) detonated a bomb inside a tunnel in the Chingaza Dam, which provides most of Bogotá’s water.[1]

Four incendiary devices were found in the pumping station of a Michigan water-bottling plant. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) claimed responsibility, accusing Ice Mountain Water Company of stealing water for profit.

In 2003 Jordanian authorities arrested Iraqi agents in connection with a failed plot to poison the water supply that serves American troops in the eastern Jordanian desert near the border with Iraq.

In 2006 Tamil Tiger rebels cut the water supply to government-held villages in northeastern Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan government forces then launched attacks on the reservoir, declaring the Tamil actions to be terrorism.

Draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes[edit]

The draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes occurred in Iraq and to a smaller degree in Iran between the 1950s and 1990s to clear large areas of the marshes in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Formerly covering an area of around20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi), the main sub-marshes, the Hawizeh, Central, and Hammar Marshes were all drained at different times for different reasons. Initial draining of the Central Marshes was intended to reclaim land for agriculture but later all three marshes became a tool of war and revenge.

Many international organizations such as the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the International Wildfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, and Middle East Watch have described the draining as a political attempt to force the Ma'dan people out of the area through water diversion tactics.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle (1963) describes a fictional chemical that freezes water at room temperature and ends up destroying the world.
  • Edward Abbey’s (1975) novel The Monkey Wrench Gang featured blowing up dams, poisoning water supplies and attacking resources.
  • The film The Tuxedo, starring Jackie Chan, features a power-hungry bottled-water mogul trying to destroy the world’s natural water supply to force everyone to drink his bottled water.
  • The film Batman Begins portrays a terrorist's attempt to introduce a vapor-borne hallucinogen into the water system.
  • The film Waterborne is set in the aftermath of a bio-terrorist attack on the water supply of Los Angeles.
  • The film V for Vendetta (2006) features corrupt government leaders contaminating London’s water supply.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gleick, Peter H. (14 August 2006). "Water and terrorism" (pdf). Pacific Institute. doi:10.2166/wp.2006.035. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  2. ^ a b c Roberts, Andy (May 2010). "Reservoir Drugs". Fortean Times. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  3. ^ Royko, Mike (19 April 1989). "Abbie Hoffman Really An Ok Guy". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  4. ^ "TED Case Studies". 4 (1). January 1995. Retrieved 2010-08-01.  |chapter= ignored (help)