Is there anyone who hasn't thought of the possibility that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is an out-of-control bioweapon?

I first thought of it in terms of black humor. Wryly hoping it would turn out to be an "accident" for which the U.S. government--my own--was responsible. (I'm not particularly fond of my government.)

And then a bit more seriously. What if it had begun in the Philippines? Could the U.S. have decided to test a nice little bioweapon by spraying a jungle that was home to the Abu Sayyaf?

But hey, it didn't start in the Philippines. It started in China. The U.S. wouldn't mess with China.

My next thought was that China had been testing a bioweapon and lost control of it.

How would a nation conduct human testing of a bioweapon? Perhaps, if it was intended to cause temporary incapacity but no permanent harm, they'd ask prisoners to volunteer--offering to commute their sentences.

With a population as dense as China's, it's easy to imagine a test getting out of hand.

But then I considered another possibility. What if China was attacked by someone else?

Who has reason to attack China?

I somehow can't imagine Tibetan Buddhists turning to germ warfare.

But there is an ethnic and religious minority within China, some of whose members may be militant enough to resort to terror tactics.

There is a group outside China with which that minority may have contact. A group that may be pissed with China...and could plausibly have developed a bioweapon.

The minority? The Muslim Uighurs.

The outside group? Al-Qaida.

Last August, the Christian Science Monitor reported rumors that al-Qaida and Taliban forces were massing for a new offensive in Afghanistan. According to the rumors, China may have been helping by tacitly allowing Uighurs to cross the border and join in the fight--or, more overtly, by supplying al-Qaida with badly-needed surface-to-air missiles capable of downing B-52 bombers.

Nothing much seems to have come of that "offensive."

Was it never more than a rumor?

Was it put on hold till the U.S. would be distracted by its war on Iraq--a war the Bush administration clearly planned?

Or did it have to be scuttled because after leading al-Qaida on, China didn't sell them those missiles?

If that was it, and bin Laden had a bioweapon he needed to "test," he could well have been angry enough to target China. Uighurs could have delivered the weapon, if we assume all Chinese citizens can travel fairly freely within the country. The province where the illness began was far from the Uighurs' own home; that, of course, was what they would have wanted.

If SARS is an al-Qaida bioweapon, it's understandable that they haven't claimed it. It's so out of control that there's no telling who it may kill.