- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohammed ElBaradei is ordinarily the model international bureaucrat: cautious and prone to nuance. But in a speech delivered in Washington earlier this week, Mr. ElBaradei was remarkably blunt in addressing the danger that terrorists could obtain nuclear weapons. “We are actually having a race against time which I don’t think that we can afford,” he stated. “The danger is so imminent … not only with regard to countries acquiring nuclear weapons, but also terrorists getting their hands on some of these nuclear materials — uranium or plutonium.” His remarks should serve to remind us that, since the 1990s, the Free World has received numerous warnings that Islamist terrorists realize that nuclear weapons sow fear, and that they are determined to acquire them.

The federal indictment of Osama bin Laden charges that, as early as 1992, he, together with “others known and unknown, made efforts to obtain the components of nuclear weapons.” Shortly after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban out of Kabul in November 2001, Afghan police showed CNN a house used by al Qaeda operatives in an upscale section of the capital. Amid the debris were documents on designing nuclear weapons and setting up front companies to conceal the organization’s activities — including a possible uranium mining project in Afghanistan. “It’s not just a bunch of guys climbing along some jungle gym and going through tunnels and shooting their guns in the air,” said David Albright, a nuclear weapons expert who examined the al Qaeda documents. “These are people who are thinking through problems in how to cause destruction, for a well-thought-through political strategy.”

Since the late 1990s, British intelligence sent agents to infiltrate al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. They reported that developmental work on a dirty bomb had been going forward at a nuclear laboratory in Herat, Afghanistan. The spies smuggled out training manuals on how to use such a bomb. In March, a Pakistani journalist who has been working on a biography of bin Laden’s second in command — Ayman al-Zawahiri — said Zawahiri told him that al Qaeda possessed “smart briefcase bombs” that were available on the black market.

NATO, for its part, is not taking any chances. Last month, it carried out an exercise simulating a dirty bomb attack in Brussels, which bin Laden claimed credit for. Roughly 40,000 people died in the mock attack, and 300,000 were injured. That was just one type of nightmare scenario Mr. ElBaradei was referring to this week.

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