Threat from terrorists using nuclear weapons and speed boats
Britain faces an increased threat from al-Qaeda terrorists using nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, the government has said.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/7499140/Threat-from-terrorists-using-nuclear-weapons-and-speed-boats.html
By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent
Published: 10:00PM GMT 22 Mar 2010
A classified review of the country’s ability to fight an attack by terrorists using nuclear devices or other weapons of mass destruction has recently been completed and an international meeting is to be held in Washington next month to discuss nuclear security.
The threat was also highlighted in three separate unclassified reports published on Monday.
Downing Street released an update to the National Security Strategy in which it stated that “the UK does face nuclear threats now” and added that there was “the possibility that nuclear weapons or nuclear material [could] fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorist groups.”
Another report on the Government’s “Contest” counter-terrorism strategy said there was a danger that the increased expertise of insurgents in making homemade bombs in Afghanistan has increased the threat from a so called radiological “dirty bomb.”
It added that there was a “significant increase in the illicit trafficking of radiological materials, the availability of chemical, biological radiological and nuclear (CBRN) related technologies over the internet and the increased use of CBRN material for legitimate purposes,” which could be acquired by terrorist organisations.
A further report on Britain’s strategy for countering chemical, biological radiological and nuclear terrorism described al-Qaeda as the “first transnational organisation to support the use of CBRN weapons against civilian targets and to try to acquire them.”
It said al-Qaeda had established facilities to conduct research into CBRN weapons when Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban before 2002.
Since then the terrorist group has approached Pakistani nuclear scientists, developed a device to produce hydrogen cyanide and used explosives in Iraq combined with chlorine gas cylinders.
The International Atomic Energy Authority has recorded 1,562 incidents where nuclear material has been lost or stolen between 1993 and 2008, mostly in the former Soviet Union, and 65 per cent of the losses were never recovered.
The government also says the security around stockpiles of decommissioned material is “variable and sometimes inadequate, leaving materials vulnerable to theft by insiders and criminal and terrorist organisations.”
Legitimate uses for such materials also “significantly increases the risk that they may be diverted and exploited by terrorist organisations,” it adds.
Gordon Brown said in a statement on Monday: “The Government is putting in place a package of enhanced nuclear security measures to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to tacking the threat of nuclear terrorism and to encourage other nations to follow suit.”
To deal with the possibility of an attack, the government has set up 18 sites around the country with trained officers who would coordinate the response of the emergency services.
Police and fire services have been given extra equipment to detect potential attacks and more members of the army have been trained in making CBRN devices safe.
The government has also introduced a number of mobile radiation detection units to scan vehicles and foot passengers arriving at ports.
But the latest threat analysis also says the country is at risk from terrorists who could travel into London or other major cities by speed boat.
Lord West, the Security Minister, has admitted there are hundreds of thousands of small boats arriving in Britain unchecked every year.
He also pointed to the dangers from larger container ships that may be carrying chemicals or arms.
It is feared that ships or speed boats could sail into major cities such as London, Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow or Belfast to launch their attacks.
The main Olympic site in Stratford, east London and the sailing venue in Portland, Dorset are said to be particularly at risk.
Lord West said: “I think the public would be surprised to discover that we do not know about every single contact [with a vessel.]”
He said that the various agencies responsible for guarding the coastline did not know “with any clarity what is going on around our coasts.”
A special “strategic horizons unit” within the Cabinet Office has been examining Britain’s vulnerability to terrorists.
They have highlighted the threat from waterborne attack following the attacks on Mumbai in India in November 2008, in which the terrorists arrived in small boats.
To deal with the threat, the government is planning a £350,000 nerve centre at Northwood in Middlesex, the home of Britain’s nuclear deterrent command, to try and spot suspicious boats.
It will be based at the Royal Navy’s top secret Maritime Command Headquarters, which receives intelligence from MI6, MI5 and GCHQ.
The command centre was part of an underground city of 1,500 workers that included the Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood until 18 months ago when they were moved to new quarters above ground following a review of the nuclear threat.
The new National Maritime Information Centre will combine the response of the navy, coastguard, police and fisheries vessels in the event of an attack.
Only ships of more than 300 tons have to carry automatic identification system (AIS) equipment and Lord West said the knowledge about smaller craft was “pretty ropey.”
The increase in the threat from terrorism is highlighted by arrests, which increased to 200 from 178 the previous year.
The Government’s National Security Strategy says there has also been a “diversification of the threat” and a “growth on the capability and ambition” of al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and north Africa.