Nuclear terror risk to Britain from al-Qaeda
2010-03-25 0:00

By Duncan Gardham |

[Ed note: Message - ’Eternal vigilance’ or ’fear and obey’?]

"Britain faces an increased threat of a nuclear attack by al-Qaeda terrorists following a rise in the trafficking of radiological material, a government report has warned."

Bomb makers who have been active in Afghanistan may already have the ability to produce a "dirty bomb" using knowledge acquired over the internet.

It is feared that terrorists could transport an improvised nuclear device up the Thames and detonate it in the heart of London. Bristol, Liverpool Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast are also thought to be vulnerable.

Lord West, the Security Minister, also raised the possibility of terrorists using small craft to enter ports and launch an attack similar to that in Mumbai in 2008, when more than 150 people were killed.

The Government is so concerned about the threat that it is setting up a command centre to track suspicious boats.

The terrorism threat level was raised from "substantial" to "severe" in January after the failed attempt to blow up an aircraft over Detroit on Christmas Day.

Three separate reviews of the country’s ability to prevent a major terrorist attack were published simultaneously yesterday, before an international meeting on nuclear security in Washington next month.

Downing Street released an update to the National Security Strategy in which it stated that "the UK does face nuclear threats now" and added that there was "the possibility that nuclear weapons or nuclear material [could] fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorist groups".

The International Atomic Energy Authority recorded 1,562 incidents where nuclear material was lost or stolen between 1993 and 2008, mostly in the former Soviet Union, and 65 per cent of the losses were never recovered.
Another report, on the Government’s "Contest" counter-terrorism strategy, said there was a danger that the increased expertise of insurgents in making bombs in Afghanistan had increased the threat from a radiological "dirty bomb".

It added that there was a "significant increase in the illicit trafficking of radiological materials, the availability of chemical, biological radiological and nuclear (CBRN) related technologies over the internet and the increased use of CBRN material for legitimate purposes", which could be acquired by terrorist organisations.

A third report, on Britain’s strategy for countering chemical, biological radiological and nuclear terrorism, described al-Qaeda as the "first trans national organisation to support the use of CBRN weapons against civilian targets and to try to acquire them".

The report said security around stockpiles of decommissioned material was "variable and sometimes inadequate, leaving materials vulnerable to theft by insiders and criminal and terrorist organisations".

Legitimate uses for such materials also "significantly increases the risk that they may be diverted and exploited by terrorist organisations".

It added that al-Qaeda had established facilities to conduct research into CBRN weapons when Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban before 2002.

Since then the terrorist group had approached Pakistani nuclear scientists, developed a device to produce hydrogen cyanide, which can be used in chemical warfare, and used explosives in Iraq combined with chlorine gas cylinders.

The possibility of an attack launched from speedboats was highlighted by Lord West, speaking at the new National Maritime Information Centre in Northwood, Middlesex. He said hundreds of thousands of small boats arrived in Britain unchecked every year. “I think the public would be surprised to discover that we do not know about every single contact [with a vessel],” he said.

He said the agencies responsible for guarding the coastline did not know “with any clarity what is going on around our coasts”.

The maritime centre will receive intelligence from the security services and combine the response of the navy, coastguard, police and fisheries vessels in the event of an attack.

The Government has already set up 18 sites with officers who would co-ordinate the emergency services in the event of a CBRN attack.

Police and fire services have been given extra equipment to detect potential attacks and more members of the Army have been trained in making CBRN devices safe.

The Government has also introduced mobile radiation detection units to scan vehicles and passengers arriving at ports.

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