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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal
  

Terrorist Intentions

Shoko Asahara is the founder of the religious doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo that was responsible for releasing deadly sarin gas onto the Tokyo underground in 1995.  It is believed that the group had originally sought to acquire nuclear material to use in the attack. (Photo Source: AP)
Shoko Asahara is the founder of the religious doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo that was responsible for releasing deadly sarin gas onto the Tokyo underground in 1995. It is believed that the group had originally sought to acquire nuclear material to use in the attack. (Photo Source: AP) 

Groups that seek to commit nuclear terrorism are intent on causing mass death and destruction, or at the very least threatenening to do so, to achieve their political objectives.  The lingering fear of radiation will instill a unique type of terror in their adversary's population. Also, they are groups that are willing to take on a high degree of risk, and open themselves up to harsh retaliation by their adversary.   According to Charles Ferguson and William Potter, in their book "The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism," there are four terrorist categories of greatest concern for nuclear terrorism:

  • Apocalyptic Groups: Extremists whose ideology is based on a religious belief that the end of the world is near. These groups engage in terrorism when they choose to be an active and violent participant in precipitating doomsday. Their belief is that a catastrophic act of violence will be a catalyst for Armageddon.  An example is the Aum Shinrikyo cult that attacked the Tokyo Metro with sarin gas in 1995. Their aim was to destabilize the Japanese government, and bring about a world war.  It was later discovered that the group had originally sought to acquire a nuclear weapon for their attack, but were unsuccessful in procuring a weapon or eliciting the necessary technical support to construct their own weapon.
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    Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov (center) has promised further attacks on Russia. (Photo Source: AFP)
    Traditional Nationalist/Separatist Groups: These groups terrorize to achieve political concessions for an ethnic or tribal group. Their intent is to achieve national independence or the redress of grievances against the state or another ethnic group. However, they might be hesitant to use nuclear terrorism for fear of harsh retaliation against their constituency. An example is the separatist movement in Chechnya, which in 1995 placed a cesium source in a Moscow park and reportedly plotted several attacks on nuclear facilities throughout Russia.  In the past, they demonstrated the capability to acquire radiological material as well as the willingness to commit acts of horrific violence, but construction of an IND could be the threshold they are reluctant to cross.
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    Police officers try to open a van containing Greenpeace activists, which is blocking the way for a nuclear waste transport vehicle. (Photo Source: The Guardian)
    Single-Issue Groups: Groups that want to change policies or norms relating to a specific social or political issue.  Anti-nuclear groups are an example of single-issue extremism that may commit nuclear terrorism to promote awareness or concern.  Some speculate a group that holds objection to nuclear weapons or nuclear power could use nuclear terrorism to force the widespread abandonment of nuclear policies.
  • Politico-Religious Groups:  These groups have religious ideologies that guide their political objectives.  They use religious interpretation and rhetoric to justify their actions and goals. This category includes groups such as the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), the Lambs of Christ, and Al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda has specifically made numerous statements about acquiring nuclear weapons.  There have been several reported attempts by Al Qaeda to acquire nuclear weapons and materials.  The group has made several statements justifying the use of nuclear weapons in achieving their goals.  They are widely perceived as the most creditable nuclear terrorism threat, because they demonstrate the necessary intent and are believed to have the capability to conduct an attack. Other Christian, Islamic, or Jewish terrorist groups may also pose a nuclear terrorism threat, depending upon the particular State being analyzed.

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