February 09, 2004

Report: Al-Qaeda Has Obtained Tactical Nuclear Explosives

Here's the report. Obviously, the verisimilitude is tough to nail down. I'm skeptical for a few reasons that I'll get to in a second.

"Al-Qaida has obtained tactical nuclear explosive devices that can fit inside a suitcase, Israel Radio reported Sunday night citing the Al-Hayat newspaper. According to the Arabic daily based in London, the devices are not intended for use, except in the event that the existence of the organization is threatened. The report said that members of Osama bin Laden's group purchased the devices from Ukrainian scientists who sell them to anyone willing to pay the price." [emphasis added]

Al-Qaeda is feeling pretty beaten down these days (yes folks, despite all those vast resources plowed into Iraq, the war against al-Qaeda continues to be prosecuted firmly by the Bush Administration) so might be leaking such fake stories to al-Hayat to pretend they have a mega-deterrent capability.

And, of course, does anyone really believe that if they did have their hands on a nuclear device--that they wouldn't be aiming to vaporize lower Manhattan tomorrow?

Even if the existence of the organization wasn't, er, threatened?

After all, rational decision-making based on Politburo-style caculations re: mutually assured destruction isn't quite how the Mohammed Atta's of this world think, n'est ce pas?

So this story is almost certainly bogus. But, of course, someday some such group might very well get their hands on a tactical nuclear device.

All the reason for policymakers to grapple with these issues ever more urgently.

UPDATE: A slightly more detailed Haaretz report here. And al-Jazeera has a story up too.

MORE: Given such stories, we shouldn't be letting wrangles over "liability rules" hold up such efforts, wouldn't you say?

Posted by Gregory at February 9, 2004 02:10 AM
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