In 1984, followers of the Indian guru Bagwan Shree Rajneesh, living on a compound in rural Oregon, sprinkled salmonella on salad bars throughout their county. It was a trial run for a proposed later attack. The Rajneeshees' scheme was to sicken local citizens and thus prevent them from voting in an upcoming election.
The trial attack was successful; it triggered more than 750 cases of food poisoning, 45 of which required hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched an investigation but concluded that the outbreak was natural. It took a year, and an independent police investigation, to discover the true source.
While this first bioterrorist act on American soil went almost unnoticed, a decade later the work of another cult sparked a flurry of media coverage and government response.
In 1995, the apocalyptic religious sect Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas in a Tokyo subway, killing 12 commuters and injuring thousands. (Pictured above are some of the victims.) The cult's maniacal leader, Shoko Asahara, believed that he could recruit new followers by sparking fear, chaos, and social unrest. The cult also enlisted Ph.D. scientists to launch biological attacks. Between 1993 and 1995, Aum Shinrikyo tried as many as 10 times to spray botulinum toxin and anthrax in downtown Tokyo.
Just why the attacks failed is unclear, but some experts suspect the cult did not sufficiently refine the particle size of its agents and that it was working with an avirulent strain of anthrax.