Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nuclear Sting in Eastern Europe: Officials say crime ring has uranium - 27th Sept 2011

AP: Investigators following up on a nuclear sting in eastern Europe suspect that a crime syndicate was trying to sell weapons-grade uranium to buyers in North Africa.

Officials in Moldova, a former Soviet republic, told The Associated Press that 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of highly enriched uranium remains in criminal hands and is probably in another country.

Though that is a fraction of what is needed for a bomb, the investigation has provided fresh evidence of a black market in nuclear material probably taken from poorly secured stockpiles in the former Soviet Union.

U.S. authorities have been aiding the Moldovans in the international search for a Russian believed to be the ringleader of the smuggling operation. They also are searching for a North African man who they believe attempted to buy the uranium in Moldova before fleeing the country.

Neither suspect has been publicly identified. The North Africa link, though, has worried officials because terrorist groups such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb are in the region. The concern is raised in a report prepared by the staff of Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Should the existence of a legitimate buyer (or middleman) from a region with a history of terror cells be confirmed, then the case would be substantially more alarming than other recent fissile material interdictions, where official agents were the sole potential buyer," said the report, which was obtained ahead of its release Tuesday. Read More