There’s no way to know for sure how many nuclear extremist plots have been quashed over the years by law enforcement and military operations, but one foiled transaction last February could have put nuclear materials in the hands of ISIS.
The Associated Press, via ABC News, reports that the FBI, working with local authorities, have headed off four attempts in the last five years to sell nuclear materials to Middle Eastern extremists. The sellers in each case have been Eastern European gangs with possible Russian ties, and a plot foiled in February 2015 may have involved an ISIS-connected buyer.
That plot involved a smuggler in Moldova with suspected Russian sources who sought to sell a large amount of radioactive cesium on the black market. According to the Associated Press, the smuggler claimed to be looking specifically for a buyer with ISIS connections.
Fox News spoke to an unidentified source in law enforcement who confirmed that the FBI had seized an unspecified “harmful illegal chemical material.” However, the source would not confirm that the “illegal chemical” was cesium, that the buyer was connected to ISIS, or that the plot had involved Middle Eastern extremists at all.
The same source also told Fox News that the material that the smuggler in Moldova was trying to sell was “not bomb worthy” and “not radioactive.”
According to NBC News, the ISIS connection is tenuous but still troublesome. During the sting operation, an informant working with the Moldovan police used a cover that positioned himself as a representative of ISIS. So there may have been no actual ISIS connection, but it does appear that the smuggler was perfectly willing to sell deadly radioactive materials to ISIS.
The Associated Press reports that Moldovan authorities have foiled other plots to specifically sell nuclear material to Middle Eastern extremists like ISIS.
In a case from 2011, Moldovan authorities stopped an attempted sale by a group led by a Russian known as “the colonel.” The Moldovans believed the ringleader to be an officer with the FSB, which is the successor agency to the KGB. The plot involved the potential sale of bomb-grade uranium and plans to construct a dirty bomb.
According to the Associated Press, wiretaps revealed that the intent of the plot was specifically to sell the bomb plans and nuclear materials to Middle Eastern extremists.
“He said to the informant on a wire: ‘I really want an Islamic buyer because they will bomb the Americans,’” Constantin Malic, a Moldovan police officer involved in the sting operation, told the Associated Press.
In recognition of Malic’s efforts in stopping the illegal sale of nuclear materials, the FBI presented the Moldovan police officer with an award this past May, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. However, Moldovan authorities have since disbanded Malic’s team.
In the meantime, the man arrested in connection with the attempted sale of bomb-grade uranium and dirty bomb plans to extremists is now out of jail, according to the Associated Press, and the man known as “the colonel” was never caught in the first place.
According to the Associated Press, Andy Weber, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, has previously pointed out how dangerous it could be if extremist terrorists like ISIS are able to connect with organized crime and buy nuclear materials.
“It would be deeply concerning if terrorist groups are able to tap into organized crimes networks to gain the materials and expertise required to build a weapon of mass destruction.”
While it seems like the reports of a nuclear extremist plot to buy cesium last February are exaggerated, these foiled attempts only shine a light on the fact that groups like ISIS have a clear path to obtaining nuclear materials if they are able to make the right connections.