Terrorist groups are more capable than ever. The unthinkable could already be unavoidable.
Since 9/11 the world has become used to periodic warnings about nuclear terrorism. We don’t like to think about it, and it has become easy to dismiss. People have been talking about this for years and it’s not happened, we reason.
After all, conducting a nuclear attack is hard. But the world is just waking up to the fact that it is faced with attack from terrorist groups of unprecedented strength.
Terrorists More Powerful Than Ever
In the wake of the Brussels attacks, authorities realized that the Islamic State had penetrated far deeper into Europe than they had realized. The network was now “very sophisticated,” the Wall Street Journal quoted a senior United States official saying. “There is a large number [of members], all across Europe,” the official said.
German news site Spiegel Online warned, that “The people behind this terror are proving to be surprisingly farsighted, patient planners and not rash actors—and this applies in both Europe and Syria.”
“This is the new and long underestimated side of [the Islamic State],” it wrote. It described how the Islamic State has a history of sending sleeper agents to infiltrate a target group well in advance of an attack. It appears to be doing the same thing in Europe. “Testimony from deserters suggests the terror organization began establishing sleeper cells in multiple European countries early on, in Turkey in particular,” Spiegel wrote. “According to the former [Islamic State] fighters, they are made up of men who aren’t on any watch lists. This enables [the Islamic State] to elude the vulnerability suffered by many based in Europe—namely that they are known terrorists.”
Guardian Unlimited also claims to have spoken to Islamic State members about their plans for Europe. The group, it writes, has been sending a “new wave” of terrorists to Europe to gather supporters, form groups and “place emphasis on wreaking havoc in Italy, Belgium, France, Germany and the [United Kingdom].” At a meeting of Islamic State leaders, “they talked about which societies would crumble first,” it reported.
Kamran Bokhari made similar points on Geopolitical Futures in an article titled “Counterterrorism and Jihadist Capabilities,” published March 30. “[The Islamic State] and other such groups should be treated like intelligence agencies who have to avoid detection,” he wrote. “And since [the Islamic State] has established a state, it has more resources than similar groups like, al Qaeda.” He warned:
In the case of [the Islamic State], it is not the usual paramilitary group engaged in acts of terrorism. It is staging attacks in numerous countries from East Asia to the West and at the same time controlling territory in the heart of the Middle East. It is a terrorist organization as well as a state. Most observers have yet to recognize that [the Islamic State] has a multi-divisional conventional military capability, which is why it is able to control and administer large swathes of land in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Likewise, for [the Islamic State] to be able to simultaneously execute terror attacks across the world while being hunted by a global dragnet means it has a very sophisticated intelligence apparatus.
Planning a Nuclear Attack
These are just two groups with both the desire and resources to launch a massive attack. There is good evidence that the Islamic State is already planning to go nuclear. In a raid on an apartment used by Islamic State terrorists, authorities discovered video footage of a top official at one of Belgium’s nuclear power plants. In another possible link to the Islamic State, two days after the terrorist attack on the Brussels airport, a security guard for a nuclear plant was shot dead and his access badge stolen.
Salah Abdeslam, one of the key organizers of the Paris attacks, had documents in his apartment about a nuclear research center in Germany, suggesting he had been considering an attack there. German press reported that he had printed information from the Internet about the facility, as well as photographs of the person in charge.
In Eastern Europe, criminal gangs have been caught trying to sell Russian nuclear material to the terrorist group. Getting hold of nuclear material and creating a dirty bomb would be “so easy that many experts are surprised it hasn’t happened already,” wrote Elisabeth Eaves for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
There’s also the potential for terrorists to steal actual nuclear bombs in Belgium as Jeffrey Lewis pointed out in his Foreign Policy article titled “Belgium’s Failed State Is Guarding America’s Nuclear Weapons.”
The Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium is one of the bases that hosts America’s tactical nuclear weapons. In 2001, this base was the target of an al Qaeda extremist named Nizar Trabelsi. In 2010, the same base was penetrated by peace activists. The activists climbed the perimeter fence and wandered around the base for more than an hour, videotaping their escapade. When they were finally caught, base security didn’t even confiscate the videotape!
The peace activists visited the base a second time, and this time got all the way to the bunkers containing the nuclear weapons. They came and went without meeting any security. “It is appalling that the U.S. is so careless with something so deadly dangerous! This is the kind of mistake that will have terrible real-world consequences,” wrote Mr. Flurry.
Lewis wrote, “If you were a Belgian terrorist, why settle for a dirty bomb when you have the option of stealing an honest-to-goodness nuclear bomb?”
There are also potential sources of nuclear material outside of Europe. Since Russia’s invasion of Crimea, cooperation between Russia and the U.S. on the protection of Russia’s nuclear sites has broken down. Security at these sites is vastly improved from the early days of the fall of the ussr, but there are still major flaws.
Russian sites do not have to check to see if any nuclear material has gone missing while under their care. Josh Cohen wrote in the Moscow Times that “some facilities possess thousands of canisters of heu [highly enriched uranium] or plutonium with paper records going back decades, but no one has ever went back to measure each canister to be sure the material is still there.”
There have been a string of scandals at these sites. Cohen went on to warn:
The director of one of Russia’s largest plutonium and heu processing facilities and two of his deputies were arrested for corruption in a multimillion scheme, while a Russian general in command of a nuclear weapon storage site was fired due to massive corruption. A colonel in the Russian Interior Ministry in charge of nuclear security inspections was also arrested for soliciting bribes to overlook security violations.
Most recently, an Associated Press investigation reported four separate incidents where Moldovan police broke up smuggling attempts involving nuclear materials linked to Russian organized crime—one of which involved an attempt by a Russian gang to sell nuclear material to the Islamic State.
With President Vladimir Putin acknowledging that at least 5,000-7,000 people from Russia and other former Soviet states joined the Islamic State, it’s not impossible to imagine Islamic State sympathizers getting their hands on Russian nuclear materials.
There are plenty of ways for a determined group to get nuclear material. Launching a nuclear terrorist attack is not easy. If it were, someone would have done it by now. But these are rich and powerful groups. We’re facing terrorists groups with access to the kind of resources usually available only to nation states.
That warning isn’t easy to dismiss, simply because a nuclear terrorist attack—even if it’s just a dirty bomb—would have earthshaking implications. It isn’t nice to think about, but as expert after expert is warning, it is reality.
But there is hope. The Bible prophecies a short era of nuclear attacks coming soon, but it also gives incredible hope for what lies after. For more about this hope, read our article “The World Will Not End This Way!” ▪
Full article: Coming Soon: Nuclear Terror? (The Trumpet)