Japan should prepare for bio-attack-US health chief

TOKYO, March 23 (Reuters) – Japan, like the United States, is certain to be a target of an attack with biological weapons and should be ready to respond, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

“It is not if there is going to be an attack in Japan, it is when it is going to be,” the Asahi Shimbun daily quoted him was saying. “Japan is going to have a bio-terrorism attack sometime in the future, just like America is going to have.”

Japan, one of America’s closest allies in Asia, has been on alert for attack since late last year after deciding to send troops to help rebuild Iraq.

Last week, authorities tightened security around railways nationwide after the deadly Madrid train bombings and reports of new al Qaeda threats against countries supporting the United States.

Tokyo has already experienced a lethal unconventional attack.

In 1995, members of a doomsday cult, Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth Sect), released the nerve gas sarin in rush hour subways, killing 12 and sickening thousands.

Almost a decade later, police in Tokyo, the western metropolis of Osaka and another six of Japan’s 47 prefectures have special units to respond to nuclear, biological and chemical attacks, according to a recent survey by Kyodo news agency.

The government has compiled a manual to improve coordination among ministries in the event of an attack and is allocating more funds to cope with atomic, biological and chemical attacks, but some security experts worry that progress is too patchy.

The Defence Ministry boosted its budget for measures to deal with nuclear, biological and chemical attacks to about 6.9 billion yen ($64.65 million) for the year beginning April 1, up from about 4.3 billion in 2003/04, a ministry spokesman said.

Thompson invited Japan to take a close look at what the United States has done to prepare for such attacks.

“I urge your government to come and see what I am doing and look at the ways in which they could replicate the same things in Japan,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Thompson was in Japan to attend an international symposium on AIDS and communicable diseases in Asia. ($1=106.73 yen)

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