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The ISIS and a Nuclear Weapon in West Asia

The ISIS has claimed it is closer to buying a nuclear bomb from Pakistan and smuggling it into the US. In an article, titled the “The Perfect Storm” apparently penned by British hostage John Cantlie for the terror group’s magazine, Dabiq, they say that the scenario is ‘more possible today than it was just one year ago’. In this exclusive article for the USI, Colonel GG Pamidi states that while the risks of ISIS getting a nuclear bomb are small, they are not zero.

By Colonel GG Pamidi@

Introduction

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has garnered attention for their brutal barbarism, including crucifixion, beheading and cleansing of ethnic and religious minorities[1]. We have never encountered a terrorist group like the ISIS. Their demonstrated brutality in killing large number of innocents is shocking, but this kind of terrorism has now become familiar over the past several months. Even though al-Qaeda has enjoyed a long presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, ISIS has quickly captured the imagination of some Muslims in this part of the world. ISIS flags and materials now appear not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in different parts of the world, including the Indian sub-continent. As evidenced in recent months, the ISIS has added three capabilities that catapult the threat beyond anything seen before: control of large, urban territories, huge amounts of cash, and a global network of recruits[2].

While the risks of ISIS getting a nuclear bomb are small, they are not zero. The group represents the greatest nuclear terrorist threat the world has faced since Osama bin Laden talked with Pakistani nuclear scientists about how he could build a bomb. In July 2014, there was news of the disappearance of approximately 88 pounds of uranium from Mosul University that ISIS had claimed on Twitter in December 2014 that they had in their possession to make the ‘dirty bomb’ and had  drawn ‘terror’ plans for London, confirming fears raised by Iraq back in July 14[3].

Latest ISIS Claims

The Islamic State has claimed it is closer to buying a nuclear bomb from Pakistan and smuggling it into the US. In an article, titled the “The Perfect Storm” apparently penned by British hostage John Cantlie for the terror group’s magazine Dabiq, the ISIS claims that the scenario is ‘more possible today than it was just one year ago’. In the article, it is claimed that the ISIS has billions of dollars and describes a ‘hypothetical operation’ which involves it buying a nuclear bomb ‘through weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials’ in Pakistan. It describes how the device could be smuggled into North America over land and by boat. “Perhaps such a scenario is far-fetched but it’s the sum of all fears for western intelligence agencies and it’s infinitely more possible today than it was just one year ago,” it adds.[4]

With the vast resources that that the ISIS has and the huge number of potential recruits that it has in Pakistan, the ISIS may be banking on illicitly acquiring the nuclear material for a bomb from vulnerable storage sites in Pakistan, and possibly nuclear expertise as well. It needs no reiteration that many areas in Pakistan that house nuclear warheads have comeunderattack by the Pakistani Taliban. Perhaps, most troubling is the recent announcement that its six leading leaders have pledgedallegiance to ISIS[5].

The rising ISIS threat, the Pakistani links with an assorted number of jihadist groups, the continuing stockpile of security weaknesses and now the open assertion by the ISIS that they are close to acquiring a nuclear weapon are again raising red flags all over the world.

The Arabs and the ISIS

It is a misconception to believe that the ISIS enjoys widespread support among the Arab nations. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia, Jordan and even Egypt are all against the ISIS. They are all sworn enemies of both the ISIS and Iran. From information and leaks, it is now believed that they have decided to create a joint force to confront the new challenge from ISIS in Iraq and in Syria and to control the tension emerging from Libya and Yemen[6].

While Iran poses an existential threat to the other Sunni nations, it is the ISIS that is the immediate danger. Saudi Arabia has long dreamt of possessing a nuclear weapon and it is no secret Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will.[7] So today, the Middle East or to describe it more aptly, West Asia is fast becoming a far more dangerous place than it already is. While nuclear weapons are no deterrence against a terrorist group, nuclear weapons against a violent jihadist group in control of vast swathes of territory opens up horrifying possibilities.

Conclusion

As brought out in the article penned by Castlie: “As the territory of the Islamic State crosses from one border to another like a wildfire that is burning out of control, it’ll be only a matter of time before the Islamic State reaches the western world.”[8] As the British Home Secretary Theresa May puts it “If the ISIS consolidates its control over the land it occupies, we will see the world’s first truly terrorist state” with “the space to plot attacks against us.”[9]

If ISIS gains control of or gets an ally in Pakistan, it could gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Given the inhumanity of ISIS, that possibility should fill everybody with foreboding; ISIS is a group that might very well use nuclear weapons to advance their cause. Says Karl Kaltenthaler, a professor at the University of Akron and an expert on the rise of Islamic extremism, “The message they’re trying to convey is they are brutal to their enemies, and they are righteous in their cause. If you mess with them, you’re going to pay a high price, and they will stop at nothing to achieve the triumph of their vision for Islam.”[10]

The redeeming fact is that the threat from the ISIS has been well understood by the Pakistanis too. The statement from the top Pakistani military as well as civilian officials denouncing terrorism behooves well. To quote the Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, “The Pakistani leadership, in civvies and in uniform, are on one page. We must fight for our existence, and the existence of all humanity.”[11]

[1]C. ChristineFair, “Is Pakistan in ISIS’ Crosshairs?” Boston Review, 16 October 2014.

[2]JosephCirincione, “ISIS will be in position to get nuclear weapons if allowed to consolidate power, resources, says expert.” New York Daily News, 30 September 2014.

[3] Colonel GG Pamidi “The Islamic State Make Its Terror Plans Even More ‘Dirty’”. USI Strategic Perspective, 08 December 2014.

[4] Jenny Stanton, “ISIS claims it is ‘infinitely’ closer to buying a nuclear weapon from Pakistan and smuggling it into the US.” Daily Mail, 22 May 2015.

[5] “Six Pakistan Taliban Leaders Swear Allegiance to ISIS: Spokesman.” NBC News, 14 October 2014. Accessed at http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isisterror/sixpakistantalibanleadersswearallegianceisisspokesmann225386 on 26 May 2015.

[6]  MicahHalpern, “Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt Unify to Battle ISIS—Is Iran Next?” The Observer, 03 June 2015. Acccessed at http://observer.com/2015/03/saudiarabiajordanandegyptunifytobattleisisisirannext/  

[7] Mark Urban, “ Saudi nuclear weapons ‘on order’ from Pakistan”. BBC News, 06 November 2013. Accessed at  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24823846

[8] Jenny Stanton, ibid..

[9]JosephCirincione, ibid.

[10]BobTaylor, “ Can ISIS get access to nuclear weapons through Pakistan?” Accessed at http://www.commdiginews.com/worldnews/canisisgetaccesstonuclearweaponsthroughpakistan-30378/ on 24 May

[11]OmarWaraich, “ ISIS Faces a Crowded Landscape of Terror in Pakistan.” The Time, 26 February  2015. Accessed at  http://time.com/3720070/isispakistanterror/ on 26 May 2015.

 

@Colonel GG Pamidi is presently the Deputy Commandant of the Mechanised Infantry Regimental Centre, Ahmednagar. Earlier, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation, USI and is a life member of the USI.

(Article uploaded on         May 2015 )

 

Disclaimer : The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI. 

 

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