Islamist terrorists have stepped up their efforts to develop a ‘dirty’ bomb for use against Western targets.
They are exploiting the political chaos in Pakistan in a bid to acquire nuclear material for a ‘spectacular’ attack.
At least one plot has been uncovered involving Pakistani-based terrorists planning to use nuclear material against a major European target.
Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa’eda terror group, whose terrorist infrastructure is based in the province of Waziristan in northwest Pakistan, is known to be trying to acquire nuclear technology to use in terror attacks against the West.
Other militant Islamist groups in Pakistan, such as the newly formed Pakistani Taliban, have also shown an interest in developing weapons with a nuclear capability, according to Western security officials.
Security chiefs fear the mounting political instability in Pakistan will make it easier for militant Islamist groups to develop a primitive nuclear device.
Pakistan is the world’s only Muslim country with a nuclear weapons arsenal, which was developed during the 1990s by the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadir (AQ) Khan.
Dr Khan was placed under house arrest after he was accused of selling the blueprint for Pakistan’s atom bomb to rogue states such as Libya, North Korea and Iran. But the restrictions on Dr Khan’s detention have been eased since President Pervez Musharraf was forced from power.
Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is subject to stringent security safeguards put in place with the help of the American military when Mr Musharraf was in office. But there is mounting concern within Western security circles that Islamic terror groups will gain access to Pakistan’s expertise in developing terrorist weapons containing nuclear material.
“Islamist militant groups want to carry out terror attacks on a massive scale, and there is no better way for them to achieve that objective than to develop some form of primitive nuclear device,” said a senior U.S. security official.
The most likely terror device using nuclear material is a “dirty bomb”, where conventional explosives are fitted with radioactive material.
Security experts believe the detonation of such a device in a city like London would provoke widespread panic and chaos, even though the area of contamination would be relatively small.
Western security officials say they have uncovered evidence that a Pakistani based group was planning to attack a European target with such a device, although details of the planned attack have not been made public.
The sweeping victory of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of murdered Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, in the presidential election at the weekend, has done little to reassure Western diplomats that the security situation in Pakistan is about to improve. Mr Zardari was jailed for nine years on corruption charges, and Western diplomats have little confidence in his ability to provide strong leadership.
“Pakistan is in danger of becoming a failed state, and Mr Zardari’s election victory is unlikely to improve the situation,” said a Western diplomat.