- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

ANKARA, Turkey Turkish police seized about 33 pounds of weapons-grade uranium, valued at $5 million, and detained two men, Turkey's Anatolian news agency reported yesterday.
If further tests uphold the preliminary police findings, the quantity would be by far the largest yet captured from illegal hands anywhere in the world. The previous record was set in July 2001, when security forces in Georgia arrested several men trying to sell less than 4 pounds of weapons-grade also called enriched uranium to Turkish buyers. Smaller amounts have been captured on several other occasions in the region.
It is not yet clear whether the source of the seizure reported yesterday came from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, but Anatolian described it as coming from an Eastern European country. It was also unclear when the seizure took place.
The Anatolian report said two men were arrested on smuggling charges after authorities acted on a tip-off and stopped a taxicab in the southern province of Sanliurfa, which borders Syria and is about 155 miles from the Iraqi border. The uranium was in a lead container hidden under a seat.
Anatolian gave only the first names of the suspects, which appeared to be Turkish.
Officials at Ankara's Atomic Energy Institute, when contacted by Reuters news agency, would not confirm they had been notified about the material seized from the taxi.
"Our investigation on whether the uranium was destined for a neighboring country is continuing," Anatolian quoted a Sanliurfa police official as saying. Police officials in Sanliurfa and Ankara declined to comment on the case.
Smugglers use Turkey's porous eastern border to import drugs, and hundreds of thousands of migrants illegally cross the rugged border each year on their way to more affluent European Union nations.
Police in Istanbul seized more than 2.2 pounds of weapons-grade uranium in November that had been smuggled into Turkey from an East European nation. The smugglers were detained after attempting to sell the material to undercover police officers.
Though substantial, the 33 pounds of enriched uranium reported seized yesterday is not quite enough to make a "proper" nuclear bomb, according to U.S. government information. About 55 pounds is considered the standard threshold to ignite such a device's searing force. Nuclear bombs also require at least 17.6 pounds of plutonium.
However, the seized amount is likely to work as a crude nuclear bomb, combined with conventional explosives to form a "dirty bomb," or in the worst case blended with previously smuggled and as yet undiscovered amounts of enriched material to form an actual bomb.

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