Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

The Islamists' Nuclear Terrorist Threat to America, Part 1

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism Law Enforcement Conference
On June 11 last week, a five-day conference began at the Intercontinental Miami Hotel, to discuss the threat of nuclear terrorism. The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism Law Enforcement Conference was attended by about 500 law enforcement officers. Speakers included Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Ms. Frances Fragos Townsend, Homeland Security Advisor to the President and Dr. Richard Falkenrath of the NYPD, Deputy Commissioner, Counterterrorism for the City of New York. Several US government agencies were represented at the conference. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Union had also sent representatives to witness the proceedings. The meeting coincided with another conference in the same program, which took place simultaneously in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. There were satellite link-ups to the Kazakh convention, where representatives of 40 nations were present.
 The Miami and Astana conferences were the latest to be held to discuss the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, a program which was officially announced on July 15, 2006, during the G8 summit in St Petersburg, Russia. Originally a joint US/Russian initiative, the program is now subscribed to by 50 other nations. On October 29-30, 2006, the inaugural conference of the program in Rabat, Morocco, was attended by representatives of 12 nations. That event saw Morocco becoming the 13th member of the program, and concluded with a resolution to fight the threat of nuclear terrorism from a broad front, involving other willing nations, to create a "vast alliance". The second conference took place in Ankara, Turkey, in February.
The opening speech of the Miami conference was made by the head of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller III. In this speech, Mr. Mueller stated that the need to secure "loose nuclear material" was paramount. He said: " Al Qaeda has demonstrated a clear intent to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In 1993, Osama bin Laden attempted to buy uranium from a source in the Sudan. He has stated that it is Al Qaeda's duty to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And he has made repeated recruiting pitches for experts in chemistry, physics, and explosives to join his terrorist movement.... We have often said that the next terrorist attack is not a question of if, but when. If we up the ante to a nuclear terrorist attack, we know it is a question of if, but we cannot let it become a question of when. Now is the time to act."
 On Tuesday June 12, Dr. Richard Falkenrath addressed the conference and spoke of security agencies' preoccupations with the dangers of shipping containers potentially carrying nuclear components. He said: "This is the big focus. I don't know why they've gotten so much attention. They are important and I am not suggesting to ignore them, but they should not be the focus of attention above and beyond all others as a potential delivery vehicle." He warned that trucks and vans (which are easy to acquire and pass unnoticed in large cities) and also small aircraft and light vessels, could become the vectors by which nuclear weapons could be transported.
 On the same day, Vayl Oxford, Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office in the Department of Homeland Security, said that the US Coast Guard would be furnished with radiation detection technology. He said that more than 90% of all cargo entering the US is already being scanned for radiological content. He said that agents of the FBI are detailed full-time to the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.
 Dr. Vahid Majidi, head of the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate spoke of the conference's success in "opening a dialogue with our partner agencies and the international community on the entire scope of weapons of mass destruction." He mentioned bilateral agreements which took place last week between the US and five nations which would lead to greater intelligence cooperation. Those countries are Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Chile, and Mexico.
On Wednesday at Miami's Orange Bowl, delegates from 28 nations watched a demonstration of how law enforcement officers would tackle a radiological dispersal device ("dirty bomb" or RDD) being constructed in a mock warehouse. Two SWAT teams and a team from the Department of Energy Radiological Assistance Program descended on the scene. Once the radiological materials and "dirty bomb" were "discovered", these were neutralized by a robot, which sprayed water onto them.
 There is a real need for agencies to be prepared for the threat of a nuclear attack, but while making preparations to combat such a scenario, government agencies seem to be simultaneously trying to avoid spreading panic. The FBI writes on its website "even if the likelihood of such an attack in the near-term is fairly low".
Fissile Nuclear Devices
 There are valid reasons to be concerned about the plausibility of a nuclear attack, and particularly one aimed at the heart of a major US city, such as Washington DC or New York. The simplest nuclear fission device would involve highly enriched uranium (HEU), in a "gun-assembly" of the type used in Hiroshima. Essentially, the Hiroshima A-bomb comprised a six foot-long gun barrel, only six inches in diameter, and sealed at both ends. One end of the barrel contained a mass of Uranium-235, with a second mass housed in the center of the barrel. At the opposing end, sealed within the barrel, were conventional explosives. Once detonated, the conventional explosives propelled the central mass of uranium isotope into the mass at the opposing end, causing nuclear fission.
The minimum amount of HEU needed for a fissile device is far more than weapons-grade plutonium - about 25 kilograms or 55 pounds, though with a beryllium reflector less than 15 kilograms (33 pounds) is needed. Hiroshima's "Little Boy" bomb is said to have contained 60 kilograms (132 lbs) of uranium-235. The "Fat Man" bomb which was detonated at Nagasaki contained 6.1 kilograms of plutonium-239. To extract 25 kilograms of easily fissionable HEU from natural uranium, a starting quantity of 3,570 kilograms or 7,860 pounds is required.
 The "yield" of the Hiroshima bomb was about 10 kilotons - i.e. it had the destructive power of 10,000 tons of TNT. It detonated in mid-air and killed 66,000 people instantly. Half a mile from the explosion's center, there was total vaporization, destruction within a mile radius, and within a two and a half mile radius, everything flammable caught fire. The HEU in the Hiroshima bomb was only 80% pure. About 12 kilograms of extremely pure HEU could feasibly produce a fissile device with a yield of 10-20 kilotons. Detonated from the ground, the most likely terrorist scenario, the extent of destruction from a 10-20 kilotons would not be as high as that witnessed at Hiroshima, but as I will explain in Part Two, it would still be catastrophic.
 To prepare weapons-grade uranium-235, specialized centrifuges, uranium hexaflouride gas and other components are required. These components are strictly controlled in the West. Despite this, Abdul Qadeer Khan was able, with the assistance of Dutch citizen Henk Slebos, to import vital nuclear bomb components to Pakistan. A. Q. Khan went on to create Pakistan's first nuclear bombs, which were detonated on May 28, 1998.
A. Q. Khan admitted in February 2004 that he sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, but was subsequently pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf. The fruits of Khan's subterfuge have been devastating. In September 2005 Musharraf admitted that Khan had illegally sent centrifuges to North Korea, and on October 9, 2006 Pyongyang detonated its first nuclear bomb.
 Shortly after Khan's 2004 televised confession, Sri Lankan "middleman" Buhary Syed Abu Tahir stated that around 2001, Khan sent enriched uranium to Libya. Abu Tahir, who resides in Dubai and Malaysia, where he is married to a Malaysian national, was not prosecuted for his involvement in the illegal shipments. Malaysia claimed he had broken no national law. Around 1994-5, Khan had sent two containers of used centrifuge components to Iran. These had been shipped via Dubai, where Khan had an apartment. Iran paid $3 million for this consignment.
 On Tuesday April 11, 2006 Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced on national TV that his country had enriched uranium to a level required for nuclear fuel, though only on a "laboratory scale". While Ahmadinejad claimed that "our enemies cannot do a damned thing", his audience chanted "Death to America". At its nuclear facilities in Isfahan, Iran then had 164 enrichment centrifuges.
 Mohammad Saeedi, Iran's deputy nuclear chief, announced on April 12, 2006 that in the fall of 2006 the nation would begin to construct a 3,000-centrifuge plant, followed by a 54,000 centrifuge plant at an underground facility at Natanz. It is only a matter of time before Iran possesses the means to create its own uranium-235. As it already funds terror group Hamas, and is implacably hostile to Israel, it is likely that Iran will voluntarily donate uranium-235 to terrorist causes, if it does not attack Israel on its own initiative.
 Uranium-235 is less detectable to radiological sensors than plutonium, particularly if it is surrounded by lead. The costs of producing this material are astronomical, but attempts to obtain such enriched uranium have been made on numerous occasions by members of Al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is on record as stating that obtaining nuclear weaponry is a "religious obligation". In 2002, authors M & G Bunn produced a report for the International Atomic Energy Agency (pdf format) entitled "Reducing the Threat of Nuclear Theft and Sabotage".
 The authors stated (p 3) that "there have been a number of confirmed cases of theft of kilogram quantities of weapons-usable material in the former Soviet Union. Russian officials have confirmed that as recently as 1998, there was an insider conspiracy at one of Russia's largest nuclear weapons facilities to steal 18.5 kilograms of HEU - one that was stopped before the material actually left the gates."
 The authors recommended that more cooperation was needed between Russia and America to consolidate their defenses against terrorists' acquisition of nuclear materials, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism certainly aims to fulfill that requirement. In June 2003, Jane's Intelligence Digest reported that since 1992 there were 175 attempts by criminals and/or terrorists to acquire or smuggle radioactive substances.
 In 1998 in Italy criminals were caught attempting to sell 19.9% enriched uranium, and in April 2000 Colombia, a small consignment of HEU - 66% of which contained uranium-235 - was discovered in the possession of an animal feed salesman. In the same month an amount of enriched uranium weighing 920 grams was seized in the former Soviet state of Georgia. In July 2001, a quantity of 1.7 kilograms of uranium-235 was discovered in Georgia, apparently on its way to Turkey. The material was thought at the time to have come from a Russian submarine. In the same month, five grams of enriched uranium were discovered in Paris, and in Germany, a man was arrested for stealing contaminated plutonium.
 In 2004 in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, a smuggler was found to have kept 60 small containers of weapons-grade plutonium-239 in a sheepfold. Earlier in the same year, two Kyrgyz citizens were jailed for trying to sell 110 grams of the isotope cesium-137 (one of the radioactive byproducts released in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident), which could have been used to create a "dirty bomb".
 In September 2004, a quantity of 15 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium-235 (enough to create small fissile device) was discovered in Sanliurfa, Turkey. The material was hidden under the seat of a taxi.
 There will be obstacles for terrorists to overcome before a working fissile nuclear device is created, but with rogue Islamist states such as Iran close to preparing their own weapons grade HEU, such a scenario may be closer than we care to acknowledge. Pakistan was the latest nation to join the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and it maintains that its nuclear facilities are fully secured. However, should Pakistan fall to a Talibanized regime, the likelihood of such materials being sold or exported becomes high.
 Another scenario discussed by Bunn and Bunn in 2002 was an attack upon an existing nuclear facility. Even if such an attack took place at a depot for spent nuclear fuel, depriving it of its water-cooling systems, a subsequent conflagration (if it reached 900 degrees Celsius) could cause a zirconium fire, leading to the release of radioactive cesium isotopes.
 There have already been two thwarted attempts by Islamists to sabotage the nuclear research facility at Lucas Heights in Sydney, Australia, which could similarly lead to the release of isotopes such as those released at Chernobyl (cesium-134 and -137, and iodine-131). When this nuclear accident occurred in the Ukraine on April 26, 1986, these isotopes were carried 1,300 miles westward to north Wales. Here rain caused sheep-grazing land to be contaminated with isotopes of cesium which still remain two decades later. The main regional economy of lamb production was devastated.
 In Part Two, I will discuss the (perhaps more likely) scenario of an attack by an RDD or "dirty bomb". I will also analyze the findings of various studies which detail the responses to, and likely outcomes of, attacks by both fissile devices and RDDs.

Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist who regularly contributes in Family Security Matters. His essays also appear in Western Resistance, Spero News and He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.

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