Veggie terror: Al-Qaida salad threats scoffed at in SF

San Franciscans continued to dish leafy greens onto their plates Tuesday amid reports that terrorists could be targeting salad bars with poison.

Al-Qaida might launch simultaneous attacks on salad bars in hotels and restaurants using poisons such as ricin and cyanide, according to a CBS News report.

The Department of Homeland Security would not confirm the threats, but responded by saying it “get[s] reports about the different kinds of attacks terrorists would like to carry out that frequently are beyond their assessed capability.”

Despite the threats, lunchtime eaters around The City questioned the likelihood of being hurt by such an attack.

“It’s more likely to get struck by lightning then to be killed in a terrorist attack,” said Chris Bumgardner of San Francisco. “I personally don’t eat at buffets anyway.”

Bumgardner and his friend Bill Reichle — who said he eats out 100 percent of the time, including salads — both said they would not change anything about their eating habits based on the report.

They said if the threats stop them from eating leafy greens then “the terrorists win.”

If there were to be an attack using the poisons, the state has a surveillance system that requires doctors to report anything that is the “least bit suspicious,” said Dr. Kent Olson of UC San Francisco.

As of now, there have not been any recent irregular trends, Olson said.
“I had seen a note about it this morning,” he said. “It’s something we always kind of think about in the back of our minds.”

Olson said it would only take a small amount of the poison to sicken or kill people. It takes 200 milligrams of cyanide — a fraction of a teaspoon — to make it lethal. Ricin is a much less likely weapon for terrorists because it usually has to be injected to cause sufficient harm, he said.

Despite the real threats the poisons have, several people in the Financial District reacted to the news with snickers.

“She eats salad all the time,” said Elicia James, laughing as she pointed to one of two friends doing holiday shopping together.

Salad-eater Jessica Smith dropped her jaw in shock, but joined in the laughter.
“I’m pretty sure the cholesterol in food will kill people first,” Smith said. “If al-Qaida can get to my salad, they’ve earned it.”

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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