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12 Aug, 2009 22:20

Fear grows over terrorists stealing Pakistani nukes

Pakistan’s nuclear sites have been under terrorist attacks in the past two years and fears are growing that terrorists might steal atomic weapons. But there is more to worry about, says security expert Jeff Stein.

The U.S. Military Academy has recently revealed that terrorists have attacked three of Pakistan’s military nuclear facilities during the past two years and there is a serious danger that they will gain access to the country’s atomic arsenal.

The report comes amidst strong fears that the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters can gain control of Pakistan’s military nuclear sites – most of which are located in or near insurgent strongholds in the north and western parts of the country.

Pakistan, for its part, has denied the attacks were anywhere close to facilities connected to their weapons. Eventually the report sowed much confusion, says national security expert Jeff Stein.

“The attacks were at the gate of a vast weapons complex which almost certainly includes nuclear facilities. On the other hand, these attacks don’t seem to have been designed to penetrate the base and get access to nuclear materials. So in one case the controversy is overblown, in the other case it’s worrisome,” Stein explains.

The most dangerous signal the whole situation sends is not that terrorists can get their hand on nuclear weapons – Pakistan stores only components and not ready-to-use nuclear weaponry – but that there are defectors inside the nuclear facilities and military forces of Pakistan who have sympathy with the Taliban.

“They could smuggle, part by part, and somewhere outside they could be assembled. Or they could just be given the knowledge, as a Pakistani scientist gave to North Korea, Libya and so on,” says Stein.

The U.S. government is fully engaged with Pakistani officials on this issue and, so far, officials haven’t seen considerable efforts to break into these installations and steal nuclear weapons, concluded Stein.