Journal Essay

Shopping for Armageddon: Islamist Groups and Nuclear Terror

Farhad Rezaei

Fall 2016, Volume XXIII, Number 3

Dr. Rezaei is a research fellow at Sakarya Üniversitesi, Ortadoğu Enstitüsü, Sakarya, Turkey. This research received support from the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) in Washington, DC.

Virtually from the inception of the nuclear age, policy makers, intelligence experts and scholars have engaged in a robust debate about ways to prevent nuclear terror. The recent emergence of Islamist jihadi groups that are known to be searching for nuclear or radiological material has given the debate a tone of urgency. At the same time, the supply side of the equation has grown from sporadic and inchoate attempts at smuggling to a more organized market in fissile and radiological material. This combination of factors has arguably increased the probability of a spectacular attack in the not so distant future.

In light of the severity of such a threat, the research on the subject is less than satisfactory. The main problem stems from its segmented nature. A large body of inquiry deals with the technology of constructing a nuclear or radiological device. A number of monitoring agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Union's database on Nuclear Smuggling, Theft and Orphan Radiation Sources (DSTO), among others, have issued reports on the supply side. The demand side, which covers the identity and operational profile of the putative terror groups, the so-called end users, has received less scrutiny, with most devoted to al-Qaeda. Clearly, a better understanding of the problem of a nuclear or radiological (NR) attack requires an integrated approach in which all three dimensions of the complex problems can be investigated.

A key hypothesis of this paper is that terror groups are eager to use an NR weapon because it would provide an extreme form of force multiplier. The related hypothesis is that a maturing market in illicit materials increases the chances for acquisition and fabrication.


In one of the ironies of history, the end of the Cold War diminished the chance of an all-out nuclear Armageddon, but increased the odds of a nuclear or radiological terror attack. As Benjamin Schwartz, a former official in the Department of Defense, put it: "Today, the risk of a single atomic bomb detonating in a city like Dubai, New York, Singapore or Washington, D.C., is higher than at any point in history."1 The reason is based on a straightforward calculation: "One of the unique characteristics of nuclear terrorism is the asymmetry between the number of people required to commit an act and the number of people harmed by the act: it is conceivable that fewer than a hundred people could build and deploy a bomb that kills and wounds hundreds of thousands." A nuclear device is the ultimate force multiplier for radical terror groups, while chemical and biological attacks are difficult to manage and are considered not "spectacular" enough.1

This calculus did not escape policy makers and scientists in charge of nuclear issues. As early as the 1960s, concerns were raised about proliferation to non-state actors. Having described some of these fears, Graham Allison noted, "There is no particular reason that the maker [of the device] need to be a nation. Smaller units could do it — groups of people with a common purpose or a common enemy."2 Between 1964 and 1966, the premier U.S. nuclear facility, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), conducted successfully the "Nth Country Experiment" to test whether a scientist not familiar with nuclear weapons could design one based on open-source materials.3

Though not always publicized, the threat of a handful of individuals acquiring sufficient materials to perpetuate an attack in densely populated areas has preoccupied the highest levels of government and intelligence for decades. But anxiety about such a scenario intensified after September 11, 2001. When, immediately after the attack, a source codenamed Dragonfly informed American intelligence that al-Qaeda had smuggled a nuclear device into the United States, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice described it as a "problem from hell," evoking a previous comment referring to the "sum of all our fears."4 Graham Allison, a noted scholar who served as an assistant secretary of defense for policy in the Clinton administration, addressed the issue in Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe. The 2004 book, which became something of an academic bestseller, concluded that a nuclear catastrophe can be averted by implementing the Three Nos: "no loose nukes," "no new nascent nukes" and "no new nuclear-weapon states." Should the Three Nos be breached, Allison put the probability of a nuclear terror attack between "inevitable" and "highly likely."5

Allison, as the subtitle of his book indicated, was confident that the Three Nos were attainable. In fact, a few short years later, as Benjamin Schwartz put it, Allison's three Nos had turned into three yeses, making a spectacular attack by "malign actors" plausible. Former head of the CIA George Tenet wrote that "one [terrorist] mushroom cloud would change history."6

Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama emphasized that nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists posed the single most important security threat to the nation. In his 2010 address, President Obama explained that nuclear terrorism was a "game changer," the single most important national security threat that we face." It would "destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life."7 The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review listed nuclear and radiological terror along with the more traditional security challenges. The changing threat assessment prompted another analyst to note that a terrorist Armageddon, once a domain of apocalyptic fantasy, "is now the subject by prediction of scientists."8 Still, there is a considerable amount of disagreement on the potential scope and impact of such an attack, due to the technological complexity of the weapons.


Nuclear physicists point out that for an attack featuring a quantity of either highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium, two variants of the so-called Improvised Nuclear Device (IND) could be used. The first, a crude IND, is a gun-type device of the type used in Hiroshima; a projectile made of subcritical fissile uranium is fired rapidly into a target that contains another subcritical mass of fissile uranium. It achieves critical mass when combined to create an explosion. The gun design is simple to fabricate but the critical mass of uranium needed is relatively large. Critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The critical mass of fissionable material depends upon a number of factors, such as density, degree of enrichment, temperature, and the use of a neutron reflector (reflectors surround the fissile material to force neutrons into the chain reaction, resulting in increased reactivity).

Assuming standard density with no reflectors, 52 kilograms of uranium enriched to 90 percent is required to achieve critical mass. The critical mass for lower-grade uranium depends strongly on the level of enrichment: 20 percent U-235 requires over 400 kg; 15 percent U-235 requires well over 600 kg of uranium. Plutonium is considered impractical for the gun method; even weapons-grade Pu-239 is contaminated with Pu-240 elements, which suffer from a propensity toward spontaneous fission. Plutonium also has a shorter time prompt for critical fission than uranium, a fact that virtually precludes tactical terrorist deployment.

The second type of crude IND is based on the implosion method used in the Nagasaki bomb: a sphere filled with either HEU or plutonium is compressed by a converging shock wave resulting from the detonation of a surrounding layer of high explosive. The detonation decreases the material's volume and increases its density by a factor of two to three. The increase in density causes it to reach critical mass and create a nuclear explosion. For the process to work, the compression must be symmetrical; that is, the inward force must hit the fissile core equally at every point. To create this dynamic, a relatively complex design is required; the high explosives placed around the soccer-ball size core must detonate simultaneously at uniformly spaced points. Explosives of different densities must be utilized to focus the resultant shock wave. The implosion method lowers the critical mass needed per event. Assuming standard density, 8 kg of plutonium Pu-239 is required to reach bare criticality. If uranium is used, some 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium is needed.

Quite clearly, the two methods suggest some crucial trade-offs for would-be terrorists. The gun mechanism is easy to construct from readily available materials. In fact, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has developed a number of crude models to help the Nuclear Emergency Support Team, an arm of Homeland Security, to train in disarming a potential terrorist bomb.9 But the amount of material needed to start a reaction is significant and, together with the assembly mechanism, would result in a large and clumsy device weighing up to one ton. Though the nuclear reflectors can lower the weight of the bare minimum of fissile material, their fabrication is not trivial. Reflectors made of beryllium are considered most efficient, but they are not available in the form needed and are difficult to adapt. The plutonium core assembly is more maneuverable but is considered beyond the skills of most would-be terrorist end-users.10

A sophisticated IND is designed to overcome the problems inherent in positioning a crude device. Its small size — with a diameter of one to two feet and a weight of 100-300 pounds — makes it transportable in the trunk of a standard car. Technical advances since 1945, including reduction in size and weight, as well as increases in yield, have made the sophisticated design possible. Nevertheless, the types of skills needed to fabricate a sophisticated model are a barrier to would-be terrorists. Put in statistical terms, the probability of deploying such a device is not high at present, but cannot be ruled out.11

Given these odds, terror groups may want to try to utilize radiological materials. There is a large selection of radioactive isotopes, but only a few are good candidates for terror use: cobalt-60 (60Co), strontium-90 (90Sr), yttrium-90 (90Y), cesium-137 (137Cs), iridium-192 (192Ir), radium-226 (226Ra) and plutonium-238 (238Pu). Radiological materials emit three different types of radiation: alpha rays, which are helium nuclei; beta rays, which are electrons; and gamma rays, which are very high-energy, short-wave-length light. The radioactivity of an isotope is linked to its half-life, the amount of time it takes for 50 percent of the atoms in a sample to decay. The shorter the half-life, the more intense the radiation. Specific activity units are used to measure the decay, and thus intensity, of the reaction, one poplar measure being the curie (Ci) per gram of material (Ci/g). Gamma emitters like cobalt and cesium are considered attractive for fabricating dirty bombs, as they are rapidly absorbed by the lungs.

Two types of radioactive terror attack are possible. The "discrete-source method" involves placing a radioactive material in a public place, either in a solvent to create an aerosol or burned to trigger vaporization. The second, known as a radiological dispersal device (RDD), or "dirty bomb," uses conventional explosives to spread radiological material. In either case, there are three pathways to injury: ingestion, inhalation and direct exposure. Since discrete-source attacks are unlikely to be detected at an early stage, large numbers of unwitting victims might ingest or inhale the material. The amount of damage from a dirty bomb is highly variable, ranging from a small radioactive source (1-10 curies) wrapped in a relatively modest explosive package (100kg) to several thousand curies dispersed by a sophisticated explosive package.

Considering the large number of variables, precise estimates of damage are difficult, but certain generalizations are possible. As a rule, the effects of radiation exposure are determined by the amount absorbed by the body, the type (gamma, beta or alpha), the distance from the source, and the path and length of exposure. The health effects tend to be directly proportional to the dose.12

A radiological attack is not likely to kill a large number of people, but the psychological impact could be considerable; mass panic sets in quickly, bolstered by rumors, misinformation and misconceptions. In the words of one expert, "The fear of ionizing radiation is a deep-seated and frequently irrational carryover from the Cold War." Economic costs can be staggering in densely populated areas, with immediate losses to local businesses and long-term costs for clean-up and decontamination.13

The only radiological accident that could approximate the effects of an attack began in Goiania, Brazil, on September 13, 1987. Metal scavengers stole a capsule containing cesium from an abandoned radiotherapy clinic. They punctured the thick window of the capsule, releasing the material, which glowed blue in the dark. Unaware of the danger, the scrap-metal dealer who bought the assembly took the capsule home, showing it to his family and neighbors who, in turn, obtained portions of the material to display to others. Months later, in March 1988, the authorities realized the danger, but by then the toll proved to be high. A total of 249 people were identified as contaminated, 151 both internally and externally; 49 were admitted to hospitals, five of whom died. Eighty-five buildings were contaminated; 41 were evacuated, and seven were deemed uninhabitable and condemned. Some 124,000 cubic feet of radioactive waste were trucked away. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recovered 1200 Ci of the source material; the rest was apparently widely scattered at low density into the environment.14

Projections of the consequences of a real attack are significantly more ominous. In 2002, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) approximated the impact of three dirty bombs using different materials in different locations. Calculations indicated that a dirty cobalt bomb detonated in one spot in Manhattan would contaminate the entire borough for years. One in 10 residents would develop cancer from residual radiation over a period of 40 years. Since decontamination of such an extensive urban area is next to impossible, massive resettlement would be required.15

This specific type of a scenario, not to mention the even worse impact of an IND, has preoccupied the highest levels of government and the intelligence community. On May 18, 2010, a Continuity of Operation Exercise (Coopex) was held to simulate a nuclear terror attack in Indianapolis using a device originating in Pakistan. The participants were drawn from the ranks of the intelligence and foreign-policy communities, but there was apparently quite a bit of confusion as to how to play the game. Some participant described the exercise as "dumbfounding" and "surrealistic."16


Preventing terrorists from shopping for illicit materials is difficult. In spite of decades of American and international efforts to institute safeguards, the supply side of the terror equation has actually expanded. In 2013, David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), asserted that "the scourge of illicit nuclear trade appears to be worsening and, if left unchecked, it could emerge as one of the most significant obstacles to combating the future spread of nuclear weapons."17 Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, a haphazard business in stolen nuclear materials emerged. As indicated by four databases that monitor illicit trafficking in nuclear and radiological materials, the initial round involved mostly insiders desperate to augment their income or small-time local operators searching for a new business opportunity. After major efforts by the United States and the international community to safeguard former Soviet stockpiles, the number of recorded incidents decreased.18

Still, the data includes only incidents in which diversion of illicit materials was intercepted, either in a sting operation or serendipitously. Some observers suggest that the lists represent only about 20 percent of probable illicit traffic, but the true number is impossible to calculate.19 More worrisome, the decline in the number of reported cases may merely indicate the more sophisticated operations of a maturing market. A large body of research indicates that in the past two decades a "third generation of criminal gangs … of increasing power and complexity" has incorporated terror supplies into their more traditional business — drugs, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. In a world where boundaries between criminal syndicates and terrorists has become dangerously blurred, "drug runners and terrorists became partners in crime." In the realm of nuclear and radiological smuggling, these global networks bring together "suppliers, intermediaries and end-users." As George Tenet famously observed, "In the current market place if you have a hundred million dollars, you can be your own nuclear power."20 Even the determinately optimistic Mohammed ElBaradei, the chief of the IAEA, confessed to his "ultimate nightmare: "the [terror] network's ability to make [or buy] nuclear material."21

While the terror-criminal nexus is global in scope, certain regional hubs hold a particular attraction for Islamist groups. Research indicates that three nodes, in particular, offer supply-side advantages — the South Asian connection, the North Caucuses connection, and the Turkish connection.

Centered in Pakistan, the South Asian node has played an important part in helping nuclear proliferators. The Pakistani nuclear program was a response to security concerns about India, but it blossomed into an ideological imperative to develop the first "Islamic" nuclear bomb. The father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, created the so-called "nuclear bazaar," selling parts and blueprints to Muslim countries such as Iran and Libya. Some in the nuclear establishment were even more ideologically oriented.22 Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a high-level official in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and a devout Muslim highly popular for his scientific interpretation of the Quran, published the treatise Doomsday and the Life After Death: The Ultimate Fate of the Universe as Seen through the Holy Quran. The book focused on the role of science in jihad and the coming nuclear Armageddon that would spark judgment day in fulfillment of Quranic prophesies.23

Mahmood, the director of Pakistan's Khushab Plutonium Production Reactor, along with Chaudhry Abdulla Majid, a nuclear expert at Pakistan's Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology, co-founded the Ummah-Tameer-e-Nau (UTN, Reconstruction of the Muslim Community), a right-wing Pakistani militant organization. Among the group's leaders were retired nuclear scientists, engineers and military personnel including Chaudhry Abdulla Majid. Mahmood and Majid traveled to Afghanistan to meet with al-Qaeda officials to discuss a nuclear device. Mahmood argued that a "Muslim bomb," described as "a weapon for the Ummah" (the world-wide Muslim community), would deter Western powers and change the international system to reflect the renewed greatness of Islam.24

After 9/11, Pakistan's combination of ideological zeal and lightly guarded nuclear stockpiles prompted Tenet and his counterterror expert, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, to visit Islamabad. In a tense meeting, Tenet warned then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that individuals within his nuclear establishment were interested in providing nuclear materials to terror groups. Tenet repeated the same warning when Musharraf came to New York in 2003, but Washington had evidently little faith in the Pakistani government's willingness or ability to safeguard its arsenal. Acting on such concerns, the Pentagon developed a contingency plan to "denuclearize" Pakistan in case of a breach in nuclear security.25

More than a decade later, anxiety over the Pakistani program has hardly subsided. The country boasts one of the world's fastest-growing arsenals, with weapons stored on bases and in facilities spread across the country.26 To prevent an American "denuclearization" action and possible sabotage or theft by others, the Pakistani authorities have frequently rotated nuclear weapons and components, augmenting the traffic generated by routine movements for maintenance and upgrades. Instead of using armored and well-defended convoys, the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) has preferred subterfuge, whereby components are moved in civilian-style vehicles on congested and dangerous roads without noticeable defenses. According to a senior U.S. intelligence official, the Pakistanis have begun using this low-security method to transfer not only "de-mated" (mismatched) components but "mated" nuclear weapons.27

In addition, Pakistan had apparently embarked on the production of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW), small assemblies designed to help in a conventional war against a numerically overwhelming enemy. The United States pioneered TNWs to offset Soviet military superiority in Europe during the Cold War; the former Soviet Union and possibly Israel have also fabricated TNWs. Because of their compact size and sophisticated assembly, TNWs are a prize choice for nuclear terrorists.28 To make matters worse, nuclear weapons belonging to Pakistan are not equipped with standard Permissive Action Links (PALs), electronic or mechanical devices to protect against unauthorized use.29

Poised to take advantage of the chaotic and poorly secured nuclear arsenal are South Asian criminal and terror groups. The currently banned Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT), which was behind the Mumbai attack of 2008, has sought to obtain fissile material, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The Pakistani Taliban — Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) — has also showed interest, as have a a handful of other players: Jamiat-ul-Ulema, Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI), Al Badr, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Bait Ullah Mehsud Group, Lashkar-e-Islam, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) and Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP).30 The list of attacks on defense installations indicates the overall danger: the Kamra Aeronautical Complex, one of Pakistan's most heavily protected nuclear air bases, in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012; the Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) in Wah in 2008; the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) local headquarters in 2009; Mehran Naval Air Station in Karachi in 2011; the Peshawar Airport in 2012; the Pakistani Air Force's (PAF) Minhas Airbase in Kamra (Attock) in Punjab in August 2012; the Pakistan Air Force base inside the Bacha Khan International Airport in December 2012; the nuclear plant in Khushab in 2013; and the Naval Dockyard Manorra and the Karachi Jinnah International Airport in 2014.31

Despite the fact that the United States has invested $100 million in improving nuclear defenses, future prospects are not entirely clear. Pakistan is a fragile country whose central government has struggled to project its control over large swaths of territory. The military and especially the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are assumed to be infiltrated by Islamist sympathizers. The possibility that a "new" Khan or Mahmood would emerge within the nuclear establishment cannot be ruled out, and the prospect of an "inside job" is high on the list of dangers. Pointing to a truly nightmarish scenario, some observers warn that Pakistan may disintegrate and its central authority vanish, putting the nuclear stockpile up for grabs.32

Next in line is the North Caucasus node. According to newly published research, conditions in the conflict zones of Chechnya, Abkhazia and North Ossetia, for generating the terror-crime nexus, have been particularly fertile. Having no resources or outside support, insurgent groups have had to rely on drug smuggling and other illicit activities greatly enhanced by the evaporation of law and order. Geographical proximity to the Russian mafia, a leading criminal player, turned the region into a high-profile route in nuclear and radiological trade. By all accounts, criminal syndicates have been behind the theft of fissile and radiological materials in Russia and the former Soviet republics. Organized-crime groups in Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus have established sophisticated mechanisms for smuggling weapons and drugs that could be adapted to the trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive material. Having experience in avoiding detection, knowledge of safe routes, protection by corrupt officials, and an established infrastructure facilitates the smuggling of nuclear and radiological material.33

The Chechen Islamists have repeatedly publicized their interest in acquiring fissile or radiological materials. In November 1995, in an apparent publicity stunt, Shamil Basayev phoned a TV station to announce that a canister of cesium had been found in Ismailovsky Park in Moscow. In September 1999, Islamist fighters associated with the Ibn al Khattab faction attempted to steal a container of nuclear waste from the Radon Special Combine factory in Grozny. In another find, the Khattab forces came upon a burial place of cesium and cobalt isotopes and, in October 1999, took possession of a storage container of medium- to low-quality nuclear waste.34

No NR attack has been attempted in Russia since then, apparently in response to threats of dire retaliation by the Russian authorities. But network analysis indicates that the Chechen Islamists have forged a number of direct paths to the Middle East. In the last few years, the local Salafi Jamaats have become radicalized. In addition, the split within the Chechen-based Jaish al Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) in Syria forced some 500-800 fighters under the command of Amir Salahuddin Shishani and the military emir, Abdul Karim Krymsky, to join ISIS. Most important, Russian security services have moved against the so-called Caucasus Emirate (CE), prompting an exodus of fighters. Although Russia declared ISIS to be a criminal group in February 2015, there is no evidence to suggest that Moscow has tried to prevent CE militants from traveling to the Middle East.35

With its well-established drug-smuggling networks, the Turkish node offers easy access to would-be NR shoppers. Indeed, the IAEA and the United States have documented Turkey's past role in helping both Iran and Libya with their nuclear projects. Between 1993 and 2002, 25 out of the 27 seizures of radioactive materials in Turkey recorded by the Database on Nuclear Smuggling on Theft and Orphan Radiation Sources (DSTO) were due to police and intelligence operations. Only two of the seizures were made by customs control. In the subsequent three years, Turkish authorities recorded 48 trafficking incidents, 47 resulting from radiation control at the country's newly equipped checkpoints on the borders with Georgia and Iraq. The majority of these incidents involved radioactive material found inside scrap metal shipped into Turkey.36

According to the report by Turkey's Department of Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime (KOM), between 1993 and 2009 a total of 112 nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological and drug-trafficking cases were recorded in the country. Of those 112 cases, 13 were apparently nuclear material and radioactive sources; the rest were confirmed to be unprocessed or lower-enriched and depleted materials unsuitable for a nuclear bomb. From 1993 to 2006, 17.142 kg of weapons-grade uranium, four glass tubes containing 500 grams of cesium-137, one tube and 291 grams of americium, unspecified amounts of antinomy and bismuth, and 1.856 kg of scandium were seized. In November 2010, Radikal News Agency reported that the records of the year 2009 show six cases of smuggling that uncovered nuclear, radioactive, chemical and biological materials, as well as selenium, copper iodide and industrial-grade mercury.37

On June 19, 2015, the state-run Anadolu News Agency reported the arrest of two Georgian citizens who tried to enter a checkpoint in northeastern Turkey. They were found to be carrying 1.24 kg of cesium in two glass tubes and 48.23 grams of a mercury-like substance in six tubes — the whole trove valued at $2.5 million — as well as nine precious stones of different colors and sizes. After the police questioned the suspects, a 60-year-old Turkish citizen was also detained for his involvement with the smugglers.38

Finally, there are NR shopping opportunities outside the three nodes. A mothballed nuclear project in Africa is one possible venue. A mysterious break into Pelindaba, a South African storage facility for its abandoned nuclear program, on November 8, 2007, attracted worldwide attention. The four attackers were described as "technically sophisticated"; they fled after being discovered but were never apprehended. Libya gave up its nuclear program in 2003; however, after Muammar Qadhafi was killed in October 2011, some 6,400 barrels of yellowcake uranium were discovered near his stronghold of Sabha. According to a local militia commander, the security vacuum in the country has attracted the attention of al-Qaeda.39

Theft of radiological material provides another opportunity. According to the IAEA, as of December 2013, a total of 2,477 incidents were reported to the IAEA's "Incident and Trafficking Database" (ITDB) by participating states. Of those, 424 incidents involved unauthorized possession and related criminal activities, or attempts to illegally trade or use nuclear material or radioactive sources. There were 664 reported incidents involving the theft or loss of nuclear or other radioactive material and a total of 1,337 cases involving other unauthorized activities, including the unauthorized disposal of radioactive materials or discovery of uncontrolled sources.40

Typical of such incidents is the container of iridium-192, used for industrial radiography, that was stolen in Cardenas, Mexico, in April 16, 2015. In 2013, a Mexican truck carrying cobalt used for cancer treatments was stolen by thieves on its way to a waste-storage facility.41 The theft of the material sparked international concern because, as noted, cobalt-60 could be used in a dirty bomb. According to the IAEA, 146 cases of the unauthorized use of nuclear and radioactive material were reported to the agency in 2013; similar amounts of material went missing in 2014 and 2015.42

These numbers may be skewed upwards because of the current methods of recording the incidents, according to Matthew Bunn, an expert in nuclear terrorism at Harvard University. Bunn noted that "there are about 20 cases of smuggling of plutonium or HEU that are well-documented in the public record." He argued, "There are many hundreds of cases involving radioactive materials, but these are not well-sorted into ones of real significance (e.g., someone attempting to sell a large Cs-137 source to terrorists) versus largely irrelevant ones e.g., an industrial worker with a source in the back of his truck forgetting he needs a permit to take it across a border."43

Overall, stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium are better guarded today but not beyond reach of putative terrorists who may be able to avail themselves of some of the former Soviet HEU that went missing and has not being recovered.44 Ironically, plutonium stolen from the lightly guarded civilian reactors would be of little use since fabricating a plutonium core device is hard, and reprocessing plutonium into weapons-grade uranium is even more difficult. Procuring an "off the shelf assembly" in Pakistan or elsewhere would be hugely valuable, but the probability is low, not least because of the advances in nuclear forensic analysis.45 Still, the record of the Islamist terror groups demonstrates their deep commitment to create an Armageddon-style event. As George Tenet put it, "the terrorist groups are endlessly patient" in their desire to change history.46


Compared to the large body of literature on the rationale underlying state proliferators, there is very little theoretically oriented research on the motives of non-state actors to seek nuclear or radiological weapons. As indicated, terror actors, like states, would like to use NR as the ultimate force multipliers to achieve their goals. Since nuclear forensics is hardly foolproof, the prospect of escaping attribution, and thus retribution, adds to the allure of such weapons. In this sense, terror end-users can be conceptualized as rational players akin to state proliferators.

But the goals of the terror actors, in general, and the Islamists, in particular, offer a range of difficult-to-classify scenarios. On the one end of the spectrum, terrorists could use an NR event to cause mass casualties, create widespread economic havoc, and inflict profound psychological trauma on the target population. On the other end, some terror players have considered a spectacular attack as an ideal way to precipitate Armageddon. In 1995, members of the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system to expedite the end of the world predicted by their leader, Shoko Ashara.

Considered from this perspective, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood's book, Doomsday and the Life After Death, was clearly apocalyptic. As he put it, "Doomsday will be a sudden event marked by a great blast. Maybe, it will be due to some catastrophic man-made devices such as the sudden detonation of a large number of nuclear bombs." On the other hand, the Pakistani nuclear scientist and his UTN colleagues were not averse to a more limited NR event to facilitate the coming together of the Ummah.47 At the time, American papers reported that Mahmood's scientific peers wondered about his mental state. American intelligence officials were even more concerned. As one official stated, "This guy was our ultimate nightmare," adding, "He had access to the entire Pakistani program. He knew what he was doing. And he was completely out of his mind."48

But Mahmood's mixture of rational pragmatism and mystical thinking appealed to Islamist terror groups. Just as consequentially, Mahmood was influenced by Israr Ahmed, a medical doctor and theologian whose 1968 book, Islamic Renaissance: The Real Task Ahead, captured the imagination of the Pakistani elites. Ahmad explained that Islam was on the verge of overcoming its ambivalence toward science and putting itself on the path of a new renaissance. Having united in the spirit of revitalization, Muslims would overcome the West and the Zionists, which would lead to the rebirth of the caliphate. In the 1970s, Ahmad went on to establish Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group dedicated to advocating for the caliphate, an idea that had a great appeal to the would-be jihadist.49

Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian-born theologian, was another leader of the Islamist revival movement. Known as the "father" of the jihadists, Azzam wrote that uniting the Ummah would require an arduous external jihad. In his view, "defending the lands of the Muslims is each man's most important duty," and that "fighting [the enemy] is compulsory for each and every Muslim on earth." Moving from theory to practice, Azzam established the al-Qaeda organization in 1989.50


After the death of Azzam on November 24, 1989, Osama bin Laden set out to implement his mentor's vision for global jihad. While fighting a traditional guerrilla warfare against the Soviet army in Afghanistan, bin Laden had developed an interest in weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He envisioned this as a way to continue the next stage of global jihad. In 1998, in an interview with Time magazine, the al-Qaeda chief stated that "acquiring weapons of mass destruction was a religious duty of all Muslims, and one that was fully in accordance with Islamic precepts as defined by Allah." In the same year, Bin Laden issued a proclamation: "The Nuclear Bomb of Islam," declaring that "it is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God."51

Fouad Hussein, who interviewed a number of Islamists imprisoned in Jordan in the late 1990s, including Abu Musab al Zarqawi, wrote a book about al-Qaeda's blueprint for restoring the Caliphate. The Arabic-language book, Al-Zarqawi: al-Jeel al-Thani al-Qaeda (Al-Zarqawi: Al-Qaeda's Second Generation), published in 2005, revealed a seven-stage path toward the "definitive victory" that is the caliphate by 2020. According to al Zarqawi and his colleagues, by that time the rest of the world would be so beaten down by "Muslim power" that the Caliphate would be a resounding success.52

Abu Musab al-Suri (aka Mustafa bin Abd al-Qadir Setmarian Nassar, or Umar Abd al-Hakim), a Syrian Islamist and former member of the al-Taliaa al-Muqtila (the Fighting Vanguard), a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated jihadi group founded by Marwan Hadeed, offered a similar postulate. In his book, The Call for a Worldwide Islamic Resistance, al-Suri, a key leader and strategist of the global jihadist movement, discussed jihad for the twenty-first century. As one commentator put it, al-Suri wanted to "bring about the largest number of human and material casualties possible for America and its allies, a plan that involved jihadists obtaining WMD."53

Bin Laden's well-known efforts to procure nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction followed al-Suri's strategy. Al-Qaeda tried to buy uranium from South Africa, fabricate its own devices, and even look for "off the shelf" products. It reportedly negotiated with the Chechen mafia to buy tactical nukes and with Russian crime figures to obtain the material for a radiological bomb.54 Al-Watan al-Arabi magazine reported in November 1998 that Bin Laden had forged links with organized-crime figures and offered Chechen criminal gangs $30 million worth of opium in exchange for nuclear warheads. The publication claimed that a team of five nuclear scientists had been assembled from Turkmenistan, led by an Arab who had worked on the Iraqi nuclear program.55 In August 2001, Bin Laden met with UTN emissaries Mahmood and Majeed to ask for help in assembling a nuclear or radiological device. After 9/11, however, al-Qaeda's NR prospects diminished considerably. Bin Laden was forced into hiding along with his lieutenants and foot soldiers, UTN was dissolved, and Mahmood and Majid were arrested. Not much came from his ill-conceived plans either.

In 2002, Jose Padilla, an American convert to Islam known as Abdullah al-Muhajir, was arrested for planning a radiological attack. Before returning to the United States, Padilla spent time in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan,where he was allegedly trained in building a dirty bomb. In 2005, the British terrorist Dhiren Barot started his training with al-Qaeda. He was later charged with intending to commit acts of terror either in London or New York, but it was not clear whether Barot had acquired any radiological material.56

American intelligence analysts believed that, even in hiding, Bin Laden was highly keen to carry out a truly spectacular attack. In 2010, Mowatt-Larsen, by then a fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University, warned that al-Qaeda had not abandoned its goal of a mass event. In 2010, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair shared with Congress the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community. He stated, "Al-Qaeda maintains its intent to attack the homeland — preferably with a large-scale operation that would cause mass casualties, harm the U.S. economy or both."57

There is no doubt that Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over when Bin Laden was killed in May 2011, would have liked to deploy a nuclear or radiological device in order to outshine 9/11. By that time al-Qaeda was facing tough competition over recruits and resources from its two spin-offs, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Indeed, the newer and more aggressive groups seemed to be better positioned to carry out the NR mandate.


Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was formed in January 2009 through the merger of al-Qaeda in Yemen and al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Considered highly active and dangerous, AQAP grew from 200-300 fighters in 2009 to more than 1,500 in 2015.58 AQAP prospered under talented leaders such as Qasm al-Rimi, known as Abu Hureira al-Sanaani; Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the organization's chief bomb maker; and Abu Musab al-Suri, a Syrian Islamist and strategist of the global jihadist movement.59

Virtually all of the group's doctrine was drawn from the same theoretical writings that guided al-Qaeda. Abu Musab al-Suri actually considered Yemen to be well suited for jihad and a potential safe haven, should al Qaeda be forced out of Afghanistan.60 Al-Suri's writings were said to influence Anwar al-Awlaki, an American jihadist who became a prominent leader of the group after returning to Yemen in 2004.

From the outset, AQAP demonstrated technological proficiency. Two sophisticated attempts to blow up airplanes demonstrated the high level of its engineering and organizational talent. On October 29, 2010, two packages, each with a bomb consisting of 300 to 400 grams of plastic explosives and a detonating mechanism, were found on separate cargo planes. In one of the packages, an alarm clock on a mobile phone attached to a bomb was set to go off in mid-air over the eastern United States. The bomb was fabricated to avoid detection by airport police and security experts. In another attempt, in May 2012, AQAP had dispatched a suicide bomber from Yemen with instructions to board a flight to the United States with the experimental bomb hidden in his underwear. Anwar al-Awlaki was behind these attempts, and the bombs were constructed by the skillful Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.61

AQAP published step-by-step do-it-yourself instructions on how to make a dirty bomb on its website, Almasadah Al-Jihadiah (the place of the bravest jihadi men). The site was run by a group whose aim is to promote and propagate terror activities in the region. A member of the group, known as the Mujahid Sheikh Abu Al-Harith Al-Sawahiri, provided a step-by-step recipe on the site for making a dirty bomb, starting with tear-gas canisters, to higher-grade bombs, including those using uranium. The site has also posted an excerpt from a fatwa justifying the killing of foreigners in Muslim countries.62

The technical prowess of AQAP did not escape the attention of the intelligence community. In February 2012, the U.S. director of national intelligence testified before Congress that the group had expressed interest in acquiring WMD to carry out an attack in the United States.63 To avert such danger, the United States launched a sustained counterterror campaign against AQAP. Al-Awlaki and many top leaders such as Nasir al-Wuhayshi, Said Ali al-Shihri, Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi and Harith bin Ghazi al-Nadhari were killed in drone strikes, but Ibrahim Asiri is still on the loose. He was said to be training others to create a strong technical cadre that would not only augment AQAP's bomb-making effort, but also take his place in case of his death.64 While still capable of launching complex operations, the overall capabilities of the AQAP, however, seemed to have been degraded by the targeted killing. The 2014 Annual Threat Assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency noted: "From its base of operations in Yemen, the group remains resolute in targeting the Homeland, as well as U.S. and Western interests in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula. However, ongoing counterterrorism pressure is likely slowing and/or delaying some attack plans."65

In yet another twist, the growing civil war in Yemen has complicated counterterrorism operations and taken the pressure off AQAP. The chaos may give AQAP another opening, a chance to ramp up terrorist plotting against the West, while also asserting itself as the defender of Sunni Muslims across Yemen. The vacuum allowed AQAP to grab territory and to focus on rebuilding its strength to restart terror operations around the world. Additionally, Yemen's civil war could be the ideal theater in which a deadly alliance between al-Qaeda and ISIS may emerge.


Originally known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the franchise was headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had little fealty to al-Qaeda. While in prison in Jordan, al-Zarqawi, as noted, nourished a more ambitious, even apocalyptic vision for the jihadi movement. Upon his release in 1999, al-Zarqawi traveled to Afghanistan but, contrary to expectations, did not join Osama bin Laden. As a matter of fact, acting under the influence of Abu Musab al-Suri, he criticized the al-Qaeda leaders for their gradualist approach to the caliphate. Like the Syrian revivalist, al-Zarqawi wanted to establish a caliphate in the Middle East first and then invite jihadist fighters from around the world to fight the infidels.66

After the American invasion in 2003, al-Zarqawi moved to Iraq, where as the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, he staged a series of extremely brutal attacks against American forces and Shiites alike. Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, his former mentor, and Bin Laden denounced al-Zarqawi for his spectacular acts of terror, especially against the Shiites. But Bin Laden, marginalized and on the run, was forced to embrace al-Zarqawi, granting him the title Emir of Iraq. American forces killed al-Zarqawi in 2006, and his successor, Abu Omar al Baghdadi (Hamid Dawood Mohammed Khalil al-Zawi), declared himself to be the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq.67

Abu Omar was killed in an American strike in 2010, paving the way for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Hashimi al-Qurashi (Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri) to assume the leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Taking advantage of the civil war in Syria, al-Baghdadi expanded operations into Syria, where, in 2013, he announced the founding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or the Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIL), also known by the Arabic name Daesh. The following year, al Baghdadi proclaimed the founding of a worldwide caliphate with himself as a caliph and he renamed his organization the Islamic State (IS).68

Under al Baghdadi, ISIS moved closer to fulfilling its plan of a spectacular attack using WMD, especially NR. At the theological level, through al-Zarqawi, al-Baghdadi was in tune with the Islamist revivalists who sought to create a caliphate and proclaimed the coming apocalypse. As one expert noted, for ISIS, the end of days was the most important issue, to the point that alleged sightings of the Mahdi were bandied about. According to the prophetic methodology of the caliphate, the final Armageddon-like battle between the armies of Rome — a reference to Western powers — led by the anti-Messiah and the jihadists would be fought in Dabiq, in northern Syria, conveniently located in ISIS territory.69

Apocalypse aside, violence against the West was considered an essential part of ISIS strategic thinking, an idea first articulated by Abu Bakr Naji (Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah). In his 2004 e-book Idarat at-Tawahhus: Akhtar marhalah satamurru biha l ummah (Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage through Which the Umma Will Pass), Naji urged the use of extravagant violence to manage the affairs of the Islamist state. The book, dubbed the Islamist Mein Kampf, was very popular among ISIS leaders, who have applied it to daily conduct in the territories under their control. But Naji also advised al-Baghdadi and his colleagues to attack the West to draw it into a counteroffensive in a wide swath of Muslim land, a conflagration expected to generate masses of jihadi volunteers. But al-Baghdadi was under no illusion that small-scale terror would provoke the West; as al-Suri had alleged, even Bin Laden's 9/11 attack was not big enough to trigger a war between the civilizations. In any event, al-Baghdadi and the top leaders became convinced that nothing short of an NR event would befit the caliphate.70

Writings in the ISIS magazine Dabiq, named after the alleged location of the Islamist Armageddon, reflected this thinking. For instance, "The Perfect Storm," an article apparently written by the captive journalist John Cantlie in May 2015, declared that ISIS had every intention of striking the United States on a grand scale using a nuclear device or some other unspecified devastating means. Cantlie added that the onslaught against America will surpass all "the attacks of the past."71 According to Ahmad Rashidi, a British medical student who spent time with ISIS before escaping to Turkey: "ISIS is planning something bigger than 9/11. They want to do something more, better than the World Trade Center."72 Indeed, Abdullah Ahmed al-Meshedani, a member of the highly secretive six-man war cabinet, issued a manifesto proclaiming WMD to be a high priority for ISIS. The document, seized by a unit of Iraqi Special Forces in March, 2014 was apparently distributed among top commanders to familiarize them with the ISIS NR doctrine.73

Much as ISIS clearly articulated the theology of a spectacular conflagration, its plans to obtain the necessary weapons have been quite hazy. Haji Bakr (Samir Abd Mouhammad al-Khleifawi), a former colonel in the Iraqi army who was imprisoned in Camp Bucca with many of the future ISIS leaders, set up a special unit for procuring and fabricating WMD. But Bakr, who had some WMD expertise, was killed in January 2014 by a rival group. His unit has continued to operate under conditions of extreme secrecy.74

Compared to its "sister" organizations, ISIS has been well positioned to implement its apocalyptic plans. After occupying Mosul, ISIS confiscated 40 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) from Mosul University in July 2014. While LEU is not suitable for use in an IND per se, ISIS-allied websites claimed that the Islamic State has used the material to construct a dirty bomb. ISIS jihadists engaged in an online discussion about the destructive power of the alleged bomb and the devastation it would wreak on London. For instance, British explosives expert Hamayun Tariq, going by the name of Muslim-al-Britani, posted the now-deleted Tweet: "O by the way Islamic State does have a dirty bomb. We found some radioactive material from Mosul University. This sort of a bomb would be terribly destructive if went off in LONDON becuz [sic] it would be more of a disruptive than a destructive weapon."75 Others expressed joy over the prospect of blowing up a large Western city.

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, acknowledged the theft of the uranium. He noted that "terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state," adding that such materials can be used in manufacturing WMD: "These nuclear materials, despite the limited amounts mentioned, can enable terrorist groups, with the availability of the required expertise, to use it separately or in combination with other materials in its terrorist acts."76

In June 2015, an ISIS force took possession of the large Al Muthanna Chemical Weapons Complex, where Saddam Hussein had manufactured chemical weapons. In a letter distributed to the United Nations on July 8, Iraq stated that remnants of 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin were kept in the facility along with other chemical warfare agents. On June 12, the site's surveillance system showed that some equipment had been looted. Though ISIS used some of the chemicals in an attack against the Kurds in July 2014 and in August 2015, as noted, neither chemical nor biological weapons have been considered adequate for a spectacular terror event.77 Al-Meshedani suggested getting hold of Iran's nuclear secrets or purchasing nuclear weapons from Russia in exchange for control of the oil fields in Iraq.78 Perhaps most ominously, on December 7, 2015, Yukia Amano, the IAEA chief, warned that violent extremists may get hold of nuclear or radiological material in order to fabricate dirty bombs.79

Pakistan, a top destination in the network of nuclear smuggling, has received a great deal of attention from the organization. The Pakistani media reported that a group of 10 commanders from ISIS visited Baluchistan to seek an alliance with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Baloch freedom movement. The commanders arrived a few weeks after Maulana Fazlullah, chief of a group of TTP, voiced support for the Islamic State and swore allegiance to al-Baghdadi.80 Syrian and Turkish suppliers who work for ISIS have mentioned urgent requests for the so-called "red mercury" that allegedly possesses nuclear powers. Something of an urban myth, that substance does not exist in reality but has been pushed by fraudsters in the smuggler community.81

Whatever strategy ISIS would use to obtain its doomsday weapon, "The Perfect Storm" article and other sources indicate that the organization has amassed more than a billion dollars. Oil smuggling from Iraq and Syria has been a major source of income, as have royalties (private-sector taxes), zakat (a tax levied to help the poor), external donors, and ransom from kidnappings of foreign citizens and journalists among others. Taxing and extorting money from local businesses and taking control of 62 government and private banks in Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and other cities have added to the cash flow. Looting of the region's rare and valuable antiquities along with sales of other looted goods has been very profitable. According to Cantlie, ISIS has more than enough resources to purchase nuclear weapons and fissile or radiological materials from traffickers or corrupt officials in Pakistan or elsewhere."82 Even after a new round of intensive Western attacks on the self-proclaimed caliphate, spurred by the November 14, 2015, terror attack in Paris, ISIS is still considered a highly serious terror player. Both French intelligence sources and a secret British intelligence report noted an unspecified ISIS threat of a dirty bomb, in addition to chemical and possibly biological attacks.83

For instance, Jamie Shea, deputy assistant secretary-general for emerging security threats at NATO, has warned that there is a "justified concern" that jihadists are trying to obtain chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and to develop new methods of evading security measures such as implanting in human bodies and hacking driverless cars to launch attacks in Europe. According to the official, the group may be splitting in two, with one part trying to protect the caliphate, and the other concentrating on setting up terror cells in Europe. It may call upon one of its European cells to fabricate a "dirty bomb" to launch an attack. Evidence demonstrates that the group can operationalize a nuclear attack if left unchecked.84


The analysis of the writings of the Islamist revivalists leaves little doubt that a nuclear or radiological attack on a Western city, preferably in the United States, is an essential part of the caliphate project. More troubling, NR terror is not conceived as an eschatological event, but a rational strategy to provoke massive Western retaliation followed by a recruitment bonanza. As the theologians who inspired ISIS see it, the multitudes of Islamist fighters would then face the West in an apocalyptical battle of Dabiq.

AQAP and ISIS, in particular, have shown keen interest in perpetrating a spectacular attack that could overshadow 9/11 by a significant magnitude. Undoubtedly, a purloined "off the shelf" device or one manufactured by a sympathetic nuclear scientist like A.Q. Khan would be ideal for a mega-catastrophe. Barring such a low-probability event, homegrown manufacturing is apparently the most realistic route. But, as indicated, even a primitive IND is not trivial to fabricate. Given these high technological barriers, Islamist terrorists would probably do better to try assembling a radiological device, as the materials are easier to obtain. Whether a dirty bomb would satisfy the requirement for a spectacular mass attack is not clear, and it is probably safe to assume that terror groups have not made a final decision on the issue.

A stringent intelligence effort is needed to analyze and prevent nuclear terrorism, arguably the defining threat of the twenty-first century.


1 Benjamin Schwartz, Right of Boom: The Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism (Overlook Press, 2012), 731-732.

2 Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (Henry Holt and Company, 2005), 1, 8.

3 John A. McPhee, The Curve of Binding Energy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000); and Benjamin Schwartz, Right of Boom, 572.

4 Schwartz, Right of Boom, 733.

5 Allison, Nuclear Terrorism, 1, 8.

6 George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm; My Years at the C.I.A. (Harper Collins, 2007), 280.

7 Graham Allison, "A Failure to Imagine the Worst," Foreign Policy (January 22, 2010).

8 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010,; Benjamin Schwartz, Right of Boom, 732, 1032, 1043; and Robert Wuthnow, Be Very Afraid, The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats ( Oxford University Press, 2010), 8.

9 Allison, Nuclear Terrorism, 95.

10 Mark Carson, "Can Terrorists Build Nuclear Weapons?" Nuclear Control Institute (Washington, D.C.),

11 Benjamin Cole, The Changing Face of Terrorism: How Real is the Threat from Biological, Chemical and Nuclear Weapons? (I.B.Tauris, 2011), 37-38.

12 U.S. NRC Fact Sheet, United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Public Affairs, December 2012,

13 Peter Zimmerman and Cheryl Loeb, "Dirty Bombs: The Threat Revisited," Defense Horizons 38, (January 2004): 1-12.

14 Ibid.

15 Allison, Nuclear Terrorism, 57-58; and "Testimony of Henry Kelly, president, Federation of American Scientists before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations," Federation of American Scientists, March 6, 2002,

16 Bob Woodward, Obama's Wars (Simon & Schuster, 2011), 496.

17 David Albright, Andrea Stricker and Houston Wood, "Future World of Illicit Nuclear Trade: Mitigating the Threat," Institute for Science and International Security, July 29, 2013,

18 NSEP, "Threats to Nuclear Security: Introduction," Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal,; and "Other Malicious Uses of Radiological Materials," Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal,

19 The author's efforts have failed to get an answer from the database managers.

20 Carole C. Dorsch and Glenn E. Schweitzer, Superterrorism, Assassins, Mobsters and Weapons of Mass Destruction (Plenum Tradee, 1998), 165-194; Moses Naim, How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy (Anchor Books, 2005), 121; Ludmila Zaitseva and Kevin Hard, "Nuclear Smuggling Chains: Suppliers, Intermediaries, and End-Users," American Behavioral Scientist 46, no. 6, (February 2003): 822-844; and David Albright, Paul Brannan and Andrea Scheel Stricker, "Detecting and Disrupting Illicit Nuclear Trade after A.Q. Khan," Washington Quarterly 32, no. 2 (2010): 85-106.

21 Mohamed Elbaradei, The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times (Metropolitan Books, 2011), 126.

22 Farhad Rezaei, "Iran's Nuclear Program, 1979-2015: A Case Study in Proliferation and Rollback," (Ph.D Thesis, University of Malaya, 2015).

23 Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, The Doomsday and Life after Death: The Ultimate Fate of the Universe as Seen through the Holy Quran (Islamabad: Holy Quran Research Foundation [HQRF], 2010).

24 Schwartz, Right of Boom, 915-6; and Ofira Seliktar, Navigating Iran: From Carter to Obama (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 79-80.

25 Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, 265-267, 285; and Mark Fitzpatrick, Overcoming Pakistan's Nuclear Dangers, Adelphi Series, Chapter 3 (The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2014).

26 Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon, "A Normal Nuclear Pakistan," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 29, 2015,

27 Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder, "The Ally From Hell," Atlantic, December 2011,; and Michael Kugelman, "One More Reason to Worry about Pakistan's Nukes," National Interest, January 10, 2014,

28 Kugelman, "One More Reason to Worry about Pakistan's Nukes."

29 Anders Corr, "Deterrence of Nuclear Terror: A Negligence Doctrine," Nonproliferation Review 12, No. 1 (2005): 127-147; and Fitzpatrick, Overcoming Pakistan's Nuclear Dangers.

30 "Panjab Hukomat Ny ṣavby Min 110 Intahāʼī Matlvb Dahesht Gardvn Ky Fehrest Jary Kardy (Meet the 110 most wanted terrorists in Punjab)," Qudrat Newspaper, March 10, 2015,

31 "Taliban Ny Kamra Hamly Ky Zamy Dary Qabul Kerly (The Taliban Claimed Responsibility for the Kamra Attack)," Dawn Newspaper,; "Karachi Min Mehran PNS Min 10 Dahmaky, 6 Dahesht Gerd Halak Ur 2 Gereftar (Attack on Mehran Naval Air Station in Karachi, 10 Blasts; 6 Terrorists were killed and 2 Arrested),", May 22, 2011,; Adnan Qaiser, "Pakistan's Nuclear Insecurities: The United States Factor," CDA Institute, April 28, 2015,; Ryan Clarke and Stuart Lee, "The PIRA, the D-Company, and the Crime-Terror Nexus," Terrorism and Political Violence 20, no. 3 (2008): 376-308; and "Indian Terror Leader Reportedly Sought Nuclear Bomb," Global Security Newswire, Nuclear Threat Initiative, January 2, 2014,

32 Fitzpatrick, Overcoming Pakistan's Nuclear Dangers; Stephen P. Cohen, "Pakistan's Road to Disintegration," Council on Foreign Relations, January 6, 2011,; and Goldberg and Ambinder, "The Ally From Hell."

33 Svante Cornell and Michael Jonsson, Conflict, Crime, and the State in Post-Communist Communist Eurasia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2014); and R. W Lee, Smuggling Armageddon: The Nuclear Black Market in the Former Soviet Union and Europe (St. Martin's Griffin, 1999), 78.

34 Yossef Bodansky, Chechen Jihad: Al Qaeda's Training Ground and the Next Wave of Terror (Harper, 2008).

35 "Voennoi Obozrevatel, Glavatar kavkazskih boevikov v Sirii prisiagnul novomu lideru grupirovki Ïmarat Kavkaz (The leader of the Caucasian militants in Syria swore the new leader of the group 'Caucasus Emirate')," Voennoi Obozrevatel (Military Observer), July 13, 2015,; and Domitillia Sagramaso, "The Radicalization of Salafi Jammats in the North Caucasus: Moving Closer to Global Jihadist Movement?" Europe-Asia Studies, 64 (May 2012): 561-595.

36 International Atomic Energy Agency, Illicit Trafficking Database (ITD), Quarterly Reports, 2003-05.

37 "The Nuclear Fraud Heart Beats in Turkey,", November 14, 2010.

38 "Three People Arrested at Turkish Border for Chemical Smuggling Worth $2.5 Million," Hurriyet Daily News, June 19, 2015.

39 "Theft of Missiles and Chemical Materials (Uranium Center) from Sabha,",

40 "IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB) Incidents of Nuclear and Other Radioactive Material Out of Regulatory Control, 2014 Fact Sheet," International Atomic Energy Agency, 2014,

41 "'Dangerous' Radioactive Material Stolen in Mexico," BBC News, April 16, 2015,

42 IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB) Incidents of Nuclear and Other Radioactive Material out of Regulatory Control, 2014 Fact Sheet.

43 Mathew Bunn, interview with the author, conducted by email on August 22, 2015.

44 Lyudmila Zaitseva and Friedrich Steinhäusler, "Nuclear Trafficking Issues in the Black Sea Region," Non-Proliferation Papers 39 (April 2014).

45 Vitaly Fedechenko, "Nuclear Forensic Analysis as a Response to Nuclear Terrorism Events," Defence Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism 65 (IOS Press, 2009), 127-133.

46 Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, 280.

47 Sultan Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood, Doomsday and the Life After Death, 98.

48 David E. Sanger, "Obama's Worse Pakistani Nightmare," New York Times, January 8, 2009.

49 Israr Ahmed, Islamic Renaissance: The Real Task Ahead (Lahore: Markazi Anjuman Khuddam-Ul-Quran, 1968).

50 Abdullah Azzam, "Defense of the Muslim Lands: The First Obligation after Faith," English translation work done by Brothers in Ribatt (2002), 320.

51 "Wrath of God: Osama bin Laden Lashes Out Against the West," Time, January 11, 1999,,8599,2054517,00.html; and U.S. Department of State, "Fact Sheet: The Charges against International Terrorist Usama Bin Laden," Released by the Bureau of South Asian Affairs U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, January 20, 2001,

52 Fouad Hussein, Al-Zarqawi: al-Jeel al-Thani al-Qaida (Al-Zarqawi: the second generation of al-Qaeda), (Amman: Dar al-Khayal Publications, 2005).

53 Abu Musab al- Suri, Davat-el Moqawemah Al-Islamiah Fi Jamia' Anhā Alālam (the call for a worldwide Islamic resistance), accessed December 2004, 383; "Abu Musab al- Suri .. Al-general Al-filsoof (Abu Musab al- Suri..philosopher general),", October 26, 2014,

54 Rensselaer Lee, "Nuclear Smuggling, Rogue States and Terrorists," China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 4, no. 2 (2006): 25-32.

55 Riyad Alam-al-Din, "Report Links Bin-Laden, Nuclear Weapons," Al-Watan Al-Arabi Newspaper, November 13, 1998.

56 James Risen and Philip Shenon, "U.S. Says It Halted Qaeda Plot to Use Radioactive Bomb," New York Times, June 10, 2002; and Duncan Gardham, "Muslim Was Planning Dirty-Bomb Attack in UK," Telegraph, October 31, 2006.

57 Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, "Al-Qaeda's Nuclear Ambitions," Foreign Policy, November 16, 2010,; and Anthony L. Kimery, "Al-Qaeda Still Pursues WMD Attack; AQAP Calls For Attacks," Homeland Security Today, February 9, 2010,

58 "Yaman: Al-Qaeda Tahajom Sajn Al Mokalla va Tatlaqu Sarah Alsajna" (Yemen: Al-Qaeda attacks Mukalla Prison and release prisoners),, April 2, 2015.

59 "Man Howa Ibrahim Alsiri?" (Who is Ibrahim al-Asiri?), Al-Shara Al-Yamani, April 21, 2014,;, "Al-Qaeda Yaman Halakat-e Sarkardey-e Khod Ra Taeed Kard," Paygah Etelaresani-e Jenayat-e Daesh, June 16, 2015; Al-harakat Al-eslamiyah, "Abu Musab al-Suri, Algeneral Alphilsof," Al-harakat Al-eslamiyah, October 26, 2014,; and Okaz, "Qaed Tanzim Alqaeda 'Abu Miqdad al-Kindi' fi Aydiy Alsaltat Alyamaniah, (Al-Qaeda leader "Abu Miqdad Canadian" in the hands of the Yemeni authorities),", March 18, 2011,

60 Abu Musab al-Suri, "Al Tajareb Al Jihadiyah: Sahat Alamal Alasasyeah, Almostahdafa Bejahad Alarhab Alfardi" (the jihadi experiences: the main arenas of operation for individual jihad), Sada al-Malahim (the Echo of Epic Battles) 8 (Fall 2011): 18-20.

61 Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane, "Qaeda Plot to Attack Plane Foiled, U.S. Officials Say," New York Times, May 7, 2012; and Alomanaa, "Qaeda Alyaman Tatoad Amrika Be Amaliyat Noiya Abar Ghonbolat ZakiyaYatam Tafjiraha An Baad Va La Yomken Kashfoha Be Ajhazah Almatarat" (al-Qaeda Yemen attacked an American base with smart bomb that could not be detected by airport facility),, December 30, 2014,; Vikram Dodd, Richard Norton-Taylor and Paul Harris, "Cargo Plane Bomb Found in Britain Was Primed to Blow up over U.S.," Guardian, November 10, 2010; and "Al-Qaeda Plot: Flight Ban on Freight from Somalia," Telegraph, November 1, 2010.

62 Saad Al-Matrafi, "Terrorist Website Drops Dirty Bomb," Arab News, March 11, 2005,

63 "AQAP Wants WMD, Official Says,", February 17, 2012,

64 "Man Howa Ibrahim Alsiri? (Who is Ibrahim al-Asiri?)," Al-Shara Al-Yamani, April 21, 2014,

65 Michael T. Flynn, "Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, " United States Senate, Annual Threat Assessment, February 11, 2014,

66 Ahmed S. Hashim, "The Islamic State: From Al-Qaeda Affiliate to Caliphate," Middle East Policy 21, no. 4, (Winter 2014): 1-20.

67 "Abu Omar al-Baghdadi,", April 15, 2015.

68 Asharq Al-Awsat, "Al-hukumah Al Iraqiya Tazil Alqamoz va Tahem Qaziyah E'teqal Al-Baghdadi" (Iraqi government removes the mystery and resolves the issue of the arrest of Al-Baghdadi), Asharq Al-Awsat, April 29, 2009.

69 William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (St. Martin's Press: Macmillan, 2015).

70 Abu Musa al Suri, Dawat al-muqawamah al-islamiyyah al-alamiyyah (The Global Islamic Resistance Call), (Internet: Archive, December 2004); and Abi Bakr Naji, Idarat at-Tawahus: Akhtar marhalah satamurru bihal ummah (Management of Savagery) (Cairo: Markaz Al-Darasat va Al-behos Al-Islamya, 2004).

71 John Cantlie, "The Perfect Storm," DABIQ, no. 9, (2015): 74-79.

72 Richard Engel and James Novogrod, "The ISIS Prisoner: A Month in Captivity in the Islamic State," NBC News, January 26, 2015,

73 Miles Amoore and Richard Kerbaj, "Jihadist Plot to Grab Iran's Nuclear Secrets," Sunday Times October 5, 2014,

74 Hesham Naji, "Howiyata Ahamo Esterategi Ladi Tanzim Daesh" (The identity of the strategist of the Daesh organization),, April 20, 2015; and Samir Ali Mandi, "Man Whoa 'Haji Bakr' wa ma Whoa Dawr Albathieen Fi So'od Daesh?" (who is the "Haji Bakar," and what is the role of the Baathists in the rise of Daesh),, April 10, 2015,

75 "Daesh Tadei Emtelakaha Qonbolat Qazrah Baad Serqataha 40 KG Uranium Men Al Mosul" (ISIS claims ownership of dirty bomb after stealing 40 kg of uranium from Mosul), Alsumaria News, December 1, 2014,; Amre Sarhan, "ISIS Claims Constructing Dirty Bomb after Stealing 40kg of Uranium," Iraqi News, December 2, 2014,; and Hamayun Tariq, Twitter post, "O by the way Islamic State does have a dirty bomb," November 29, 2014, /Sniper_Muslim (account since suspended).

76 "Alaraq Yablaq Alumam Almutahidah An 'Daesh' Estawli Ala Mavad Noviya" (Iraq of the United Nations that "Daash" seized nuclear material), Sabq, July 10, 2014,

77 "Daesh Yastakhdem Selah Alkimiyawi Fi Kubane" (ISIS uses chemical weapons in Kobani),, October 14, 2014,; and "Alakrad Yashtabehona fi Hojom Kimyawi Shena Daesh" (Daesh Is suspected of a chemical attack against Kurds),,

78 "ISIS Document Discloses Plans to Seize Iran's Nuclear Secrets," Economic Times, October 5, 2014,

79 AFP, "UN Watchdog Warns Extremists May Seek Nuclear Material," December 7, 2015,

80 "Daesh Ki Vafdni Balochestan Min Jundullah Group Ki Ghiadat Si Molaghat Ki" (ISIS visits militants in Balochistan: Jundullah spokesman), Nawaiwaqt, November 12, 2014,

81 C. J. Chivers, "The Doomsday Scam," New York Times, November 19, 2015,

82 Patrick B. Johnston, "Countering ISIS's Financing," RAND, November 2014; "Daesh Chegoneh be Yeki az Sarvatmandtarin Gorohhaye Shebhe Nezami Tabdil Shod?" (how ISIS became one of the wealthiest paramilitary groups),", June 26, 2014,; "Mashine Adamrobaee Daesh" (ISIS kidnapping vehicle), BBC Persian News, September 25, 2015,; and John Cantlie, "The Perfect Storm."

83 Rory McKeown, "ISIS 'Mass Producing' Mustard Gas Ready To Use Against the West," Daily Star, November 6, 2015,; and Adam Withnall, "ISIS's Dirty Bomb: Jihadists Have Seized 'Enough Radioactive Material To Build Their First WMD'," Independent, June 10, 2015,

84 Tom Whitehead, "NATO Raises 'Justified Concern' That ISIL Is Plotting Nuclear Attack On Britain," The Telegraph, April 19, 2016; and Rachel Middleton, "Fears Brussels Cell Was Plotting Radioactive Attack after 11 Nuclear Workers' Access Passes Revoked," International Business Times, March 25, 2016,