The U.S. and Iraqi authorities have serious concerns that terrorists may be gaining access to nuclear and radioactive materials to use in some form of major terror attack.
A State Department official has revealed that the hard-line terror group, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as ISIS or ISIL), has now taken control of around half of the country, potentially allowing it access to forms of low-level radioactive and radiological materials.
The information has been received as a "critical" terror threat by the U.S. State Department, who have formed an alliance with Baghdad in an attempt to detect and recover any materials deemed to be of nuclear significance before they fall into the hands of extremists. The U.S is providing essential equipment, such as radiation detection and identification technology, in order to “locate, identify, characterize, and recover orphaned or disused radioactive sources in Iraq thereby reducing the risk of terrorists acquiring these dangerous materials.”
“The signing and donation of radiation detection equipment reflect the common conviction of the U.S. and Iraqi governments that nuclear smuggling and nuclear and radiological terrorism are critical and ongoing global threats that require a coordinated, global response,” the State Department said in a statement. “Iraq’s central location and the challenging security environment it faces reinforce the urgency with which these problems must be addressed.”
Keeping tabs on the traffic of nuclear materials is proving to be easier said than done as the current turmoil within the country has left several areas ungoverned and essentially lawless, and there are concerns that these areas could be used as a route to smuggle the substances out of the country.
“There are some concerns about the rule of law and security control in parts of the country, that they can’t necessarily control what’s going through their territory, [and] suddenly, even though we haven’t seen radioactive or nuclear smuggling, there’s a concern that if you’re a smuggler from the Middle East, or from the Caucasus, or Central Asia, you’d have a new smuggling route you might want to avail yourself of,” commented a State Department official.
The type of radioactive materials that may be of interest to militant groups include those normally found in medical devices, which could potentially be utilised to make a crude nuclear explosive device.
“This is the kind of thing where if ISIL got its hands on enough radioactive sources or radioactive sources of a sufficient radioactivity level and they decided to turn it into a bomb and blow it up in a market, that would be a very unpleasant thing,” an official said, noting that “there’s no indication that ISIL is planning to do that.”
The hunt for active nuclear materials has become of paramount importance for the U.S. – Iraqi alliance, exacerbated by the relentless march of ISIL throughout Iraq where it seems determined to gain control of the whole country. ISIL has also conquered much of neighboring Syria, and continues to recruit in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“You gotta destroy it. Because if we don’t destroy it, it will get worse. And it will get wider and deeper,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, warning that even U.S. citizens are being recruited to support the radical group. More than 100 have been identified as fighting alongside ISIL in the Middle East, but it is thought that up to 1000 more as yet unidentified U.S. passport holders could be helping to support ISIL.
There may not be any evidence yet to suggest that ISIL have taken possession of any stolen medical devices; however, there is evidence from Iraqi officials that suggests uranium from an academic research project fell into the hands of “terrorist groups” back in July.
In a letter written by Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim, it was revealed that almost 90 pounds of low-level uranium was stolen from Iraq’s Mosul University, according to Reuters.
“Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state,” read the letter, which also outlined concerns that these materials could be “used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.”
The U.S. does not consider this theft to constitute a major terrorist threat as the type of uranium stolen was either relatively inactive or of natural origin, not the type of enriched uranium that would be required to make any type of viable nuclear device. The state official explained that there is no uranium of this type in Iraq “that we know of.”
“It continues to be our assessment that there is no indication ISIL has gotten hold of any material that would pose a non-proliferation threat, and no indication frankly that they are actively [seeking it out] … even if they do control some significant portion of territory in Iraq,” the official said. “There’s been no indication, thankfully, that they are on the lookout for what we would consider to be a WMD.”
“And even if they found it they wouldn’t know what to do with it,” the official added.
Attempts to seize viable nuclear materials may still be proving difficult for the terrorist group, but there are equally concerning reports that ISIL has obtained chemical weapons from a facility in Muthanna.
Combined with other concerning events, such as the recent disappearance of several commercial airliners from Tripoli airport, and the earlier and still unexplained disappearance of the Malaysian flight 370 back in March, the thought of active radioactive substances falling into the hands of such a hard-line terrorist group is extremely sobering. As the anniversary of "9/11" approaches, it is a chilling reminder of the damage that can be done using a passenger plane as a weapon; add a nuclear device to this picture and the devastation could be incomprehensible.
Certainly the tension seems to be mounting: an unidentified source has disclosed that a rise in communications amongst terrorist organizations has been observed by U.S, intelligence agencies as the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks draws near.
“We’ve noticed a significant increase in chatter among Islamic terrorist organizations overseas both on the Internet and phone lines,” said the government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
This is nothing new, as similar spikes in chatter have been noted ahead of previous 9/11 anniversaries, but with ISIL currently grabbing all of the media attention, there are concerns that Al Qaeda’s could make a significant bid for dominance over the Islamic State.
Whitley Strieber’s latest journal entry explains why we should all take this threat extremely seriously, and what we should do in the event of such a major terrorist attack.