Among the world's foremost terrorist organizations, the Al-Qaeda is the most determined and most likely to come into possession of a nuclear warheads sooner or later A future nexus between the Al-Qaeda and the intransigent North Koreans cannot be ruled out as both share a pathological hatred for the Americans and can be expected to go to any length to cause moral and material damage to the American way of life and cause casualties to American soldiers. Even if a terrorist group manages to buy or steal a briefcase nuke, It would find it extremely difficult to unlock modern safety devices like Permissive Action Links and specially designed tamperproof seals whose sole purpose is to prevent the accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
The age of terror has spawned a new threat — the awesome power of the briefcase nuke. A few years ago, General Alexander Lebed of Russia had gone public with the startling admission that a number of Russia’s atomic demolition munitions (ADMs), popularly known as briefcase bombs, were missing. Since then fears have often been expressed that some of them may fall into the hands of terrorist organizations. After September 11. 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, scenarios that were considered alarming Nave now assumed nightmarish proportions.
Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda has threatened retaliation by all means for US attacks against the Taliban. The recent wave of anthrax bio-terrorism further reinforced the belief that nuclear terror is now’ a credible threat. Speculations that extremists in the Pakistan army may overthrow General Musharraf and that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons may fall into jihadi hands have also heightened tensions. With the defeated Taliban finding it expedient to cross over the Durand Line into Pakistani territory, these apprehensions now seem even more real. The Al-Qaeda’s resistance movement in Iraq is growing more menacing by the day. Among the world’s foremost terrorist organizations, the Al-Qaeda is the most determined and most likely to come into possession of a nuclear warheads sooner or later A future nexus between the Al-Qaeda and the intransigent North Koreans cannot be ruled out as both share a pathological hatred for the Americans and can be expected to go to any length to cause moral and material damage to the American way of life and cause casualties to American soldiers.
Terrorists can acquire briefcase nukes by purchasing them in the black market, if General Lebed’s disclosure is credible and such a market exists, by stealing them from a nuclear-armed nation’s arsenal, or by assembling then alter acquiring the raw materials. These mini-nukes could have low (single digit) or even sub-kiloton yields. Even if a terrorist group manages to buy or steal a briefcase nuke, It would find it extremely difficult to unlock modern safety devices like Permissive Action Links (PALs) and specially designed tamperproof seals whose sole purpose is to prevent the accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
Activating the weapon would require special technical skills and intimate knowledge of sophisticated electronic codes. Only a few nuclear scientists with experience in the assembly of ADMs could be expected to have the skills necessary for the purpose. Overcoming the hurdles of breaking electronic locks would be infinitely more difficult and. besides state-of-1 heart supercomputers and personnel trained to operate them, would require a highly advance:! intelligence gathering system. Neither Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, nor any of the other large terrorist organisations supporting it is likely to have acquired the ability to trigger a modern briefcase nuke that it may have bought or stolen, especially if the Tritium triggers needed to ignite them have decayed.
However, it is possible that these terrorist organisations may have themselves developed and assembled a crude mini-nuke or may do so in the near future. The gun-type nuclear device, that uses high explosives (HE) to fire a subcritical highly enriched uranium (HEU) projectile into another sub-critical uranium cylinder to form a solid HEU critical mass, maybe the easiest to fabricate. Designs for such a nuclear bomb have been floating on the Internet ether for years. Still, such an effort would need hundreds of millions of dollars to procure the ingredients, the ingenuity of volunteer or mercenary nuclear scientist and oodles of luck. Though the development of a practically usable warhead presents a complex challenge, it would be irresponsible to assume me that it cannot be done.
Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, there have been credible reports of many out of work nuclear employed by North Korea and other states of concern, the erstwhile rogue nations, others may have had no compunction in loaning their skills to whoever asked if the right amount of money was on offer preferably in US dollars.
Also, Pakistani nuclear scientists with a jihadi inclination may have volunteered to work for Al-Qaeda, as was reported soon after General Musharraf’s coup. The arrest of three Pakistani nuclear scientists and their subsequent handing over the US intelligence agencies for questioning in October 2001 had an ominous ring about it. Two of the three were senior scientists who had set up an NGO called Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (Reconstruction of the Muslim Ummah) in Afghanistan after retirement. This NGO, with its membership comprising mainly nuclear scientists and military officers, is known to have had close links with Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It is quite likely that these scientists were actively engaged in assembling rudimentary nuclear weapons for the Afghan terrorists with fissionable material smuggled from the former Soviet states. There have been reports that at least one Central Asian nuclear weapons expert works for bin Laden. The covert involvement of the ISI is also a distinct possibility. Hence, a crude, untested, jihadi nuke may already have been developed by Al-Qaeda.
The real danger of nuclear terrorism is that the terrorist organizations may assemble “dirty bombs” in which high explosives (RDX or TNT) are used to blow up and scatter uranium or other radioactive materials over a large area. Spent nuclear fuel rods that are stolen and radiation waste from cancer facilities in large hospitals and irradiation centres could be used as the “core” in such crude nukes. Though such dirty bombs will not cause horrendous casualties, if exploded in large Western cities, they will create a fear psychosis that will add to the paranoia that already grips ordinary people after the September 11 attacks.
Another likely consequence of the future possession of nuclear weapons by terrorist groups would be developed by the US of low-yield mini-nukes that can be delivered with precision against deeply buried hard targets. Such targets could include the shelters of terrorist leaders and their facilities for weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
India’s major North neighbours are both nuclear-armed. While the threat of state-sponsored both share nuclear terrorism India can be said to be low because of the risk of disclosure and subsequent retaliation, intelligence assessments must take into account the high probability of crude nukes being used by jihad terrorists. Such bombs may be assembled by the terrorists themselves or supplied to them by the perpetrators of the ongoing proxy war. Crude nukes can cause large-scale casualties if detonated on a carefully selected target in the largest metros with high population density.