Belgian police, while searching the home of an Islamic State or ISIS suspect after the Paris bombings last year, found surveillance films taken of a senior researcher at a Belgian nuclear center, which produces a significant portion of the world’s radioisotopes, and his family. Police suspect ISIS terrorists wanted to capture the man or his family members and hold them for ransom in exchange for nuclear materials.
“We can imagine that the terrorists might want to kidnap someone or kidnap his family,” so they can force their target to turn over the radioactive innards of such a device after removing the materials surreptitiously, said Nele Scheerlinck, a spokeswoman for Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control, the nation’s nuclear regulator, NBC News reported.
“We know that it would not require a team of nuclear physicists or even a particularly sophisticated criminal network to turn raw material into a deadly weapon,” an internal Energy Department report on the threat, designated “Official Use Only,” declared in May 2013. “In many cases, a determined lone wolf or a disgruntled insider is all it might take.”
This incident is the first public, confirmed evidence that ISIS is attempting to acquire radioactive material to build a dirty bomb and threaten Western cities. The prospect of obtaining material in this manner is especially troubling as there are hundreds of thousands of nuclear building blocks for a bomb located around the world in medical and industrial sites. Just recently, radioactive industrial material was reported stolen in Iraq.
Thankfully, the Obama administration said at the time that they had no evidence the material was obtained by ISIS for use in a dirty bomb and they were monitoring the situation.
“The potential for a bad outcome when you have ISIS looking at nuclear people is substantial,” said William H. Tobey, a former deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration.