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Thursday, February 20, 2003

But if he's not dead...

Mansoor Ijaz outlines Al Qaeda's doomsday scenario over at The Weekly Standard.

AL QAEDA has explosives expertise that is unsurpassed in non-military circles. It gets military-grade C4 charges from China and Iran; it employs Hezbollah and Hamas guerillas trained in the fine arts of detonation devices (witness particularly the maritime attacks against the USS Cole and the French oil tanker); and it has brainwashed legions of men who are willing to die for the cause.

What's missing? Plutonium, and the scientific expertise to build a crude but highly explosive nuclear bomb. (Plutonium is more easily transported without detection and offers a bigger bang for the buck than typical enriched uranium devices.)

Who's supplying the material and expertise? North Korea, and, surprisingly, our ally in the war against al Qaeda, Pakistan. Pyongyang--with a lot of help from China (which is supplying key chemicals to separate plutonium from depleted uranium) and Pakistan (which gave North Korea its uranium enrichment centrifuges and tutored its nuclear scientists)--will be able to churn out Coke cans of plutonium at the rate of one per week by the end of March.

According to my intelligence sources in the Far East, the outlying renegade provinces of Indonesia (Aceh, for example) and the Philippines (where al Qaeda affiliate Abu Sayyaf rules) are infested with senior al Qaeda leaders. Each one is financially empowered to purchase North Korea's plutonium the moment it is reprocessed. Ayman Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two, was reportedly in Indonesia last September, a month before the Bali bomb blast that killed 200 mostly Australian tourists. He could easily be there again.

We also know from published--and so far undisputed--reports that from February 2000 until July 2002, eight senior Pakistani nuclear scientists left their country without obtaining the required No Objection Certificates needed for travel abroad. They remain unaccounted for and at least some are reported to have traveled to Australia and Indonesia.

In a worst case scenario, al Qaeda could construct a crude but effective nuclear device in weeks, if not a month, from Hezbollah C4, North Korean plutonium, and a little nuclear expertise from disaffected Pakistani scientists. Making a "dirty" radiological dispersion device with Strontium or Cesium also remains an option, although it is clear that al Qaeda has the intent and resources to go for weapons that cause maximum collateral damage.

Add to this troubling possibility the fact that the terror group has resorted to the use of seafaring vessels to move its people around, and now has a fleet large and diverse enough that one or two could seamlessly move into a large harbor or congested waterway undetected, and a picture emerges of an unparalleled potential threat to the global economy from the paralysis that could be caused by a crude plutonium bomb exploding in the belly of an al Qaeda ship with bin Laden onboard.

More nightmares.

I can't imagine what it's like working for our counter-terrorist services.

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