South African man jailed for bioterror threat

Brian Roach will be jailed for five years in Johannesburg, South Africa, for threatening to unleash foot-and-mouth disease in Britain and the United States unless he was paid $4 million.

The retired engineer struck a plea deal with prosecutors allowing him to escape charges of terrorism, the BBC reports. He was arrested near Johannesburg when attempting to collect some of the cash. The sentence was for 12 years for attempted extortion, but he will only serve five years.

In letters sent to U.K. authorities, Roach allegedly claimed to have the expertise and resources to carry out his threat and that it would "devastate the U.K.'s farming industry," according to the BBC.

In the messages, Roach allegedly wrote that the U.K. and America failed to protect white property owners in Zimbabwe who lost their farms under a land reform program promoted by President Robert Mugabe.

Prosecutors said that Roach had no business links to Zimbabwe and had never farmed there himself. Magistrate Renier Boshoff told Roach he was fortunate to be given a short sentence.

"Your age definitely played a role," Boshoff said, the BBC reports.

A foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the U.K. in 2001 led to the slaughter of millions of farm animals and cost agriculture in the U.K. billions of pounds.