A US senator has said that poorly secured medical laboratories in East Africa are posing new worries over possible bio-terrorism in a region hosting an Al Qaeda-linked insurgent group.
Senator Dick Lugar, with a visiting Pentagon arms control expert team, told reporters that despite the absence of immediate bioterrorism threats in the region, security in the labs handling dangerous pathogens was critical.
"It is so important that biosecurity be enhanced here and promptly," said Lugar. "Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are active in Africa and it is imperative that deadly pathogens stored in labs there are secure."
He said the team noted poor storage of pathogen samples and worrying waste disposal while touring the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi, which is closely surrounded by residential buildings.
"We had a couple of frightening moments of sorts."
The team was on a visit of East African states of Burundi, Kenya and Uganda.
Kenya shares a long and porous border with Somalia where the Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents control large territories. The group has repeatedly warned it would attack Nairobi for supporting Somalia's transitional government.
The Shebab had also claimed responsibility for the July suicide bombings of two Kampala bars that killed 76 people who were watching the World Cup final.
Those attacks were the deadliest since Al Qaeda operatives bombed the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998.
Uganda and Burundi are the only regional countries to have contributed troops to the African Union force protecting the Western-backed Somali government the Shebab are bent on toppling.
"We want to work together as partners to provide a very different situation," said Lugar, adding that the US was willing to give financial support to the laboratories.
"We have objectives that will hopefully bring about safety for those who are bringing about human services in a world that is sometimes dangerous."