Police, working with the FBI, have thwarted four attempts by smugglers, in Moldova, to sell nuclear material to extremists in the Middle East, over the past five years.
Moldovan police, working in combination with the FBI, are reported to have stopped four attempts by smugglers to sell nuclear material, to extremist groups, in the Middle East, over the past five years.
Most recently, in February, undercover agents were offered a large quantity of radioactive caesium, according to reports by the Associated Press.
Investigators suggest that much of the nuclear material is believed to have originated in Russia. They say that some gangs have alleged links to Russian intelligence services. Moldova is a former Soviet republic.
Police and judicial authorities in Moldova shared the information with the Associated Press, in order to highlight how dangerous the nuclear black market has become, the news agency says.
It is suggested that a deterioration in relations between Russia and the West has made it more difficult for investigators to know whether smugglers are succeeding in selling radioactive material, originating from Russia, abroad.
“We can expect more of these cases,” said Moldovan police officer Constantin Malic, who investigated all four cases, “As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it.”
In many cases seen by Associated Press, deals were broken up by police in the early stages but ringleaders managed to escape – possibly with their nuclear contraband.
In the February case, involving the caesium, the would-be smuggler wanted 2.5m euros (£1.8m) for enough radioactive material to contaminate several city streets.
At a club in the Moldovan capital Chisinau he told a potential client – who was really an informant: “You can make a dirty bomb, which would be perfect for the Islamic State. If you have a connection with them, the business will go smoothly.”
A sample vial of less-radioactive caesium-135 was produced and police pounced, arresting the man and two others.
The other three cases shared with the Associated Press, by Moldova, included three people who were arrested in 2010, after a sawn-off piece of a depleted uranium cylinder was exchanged for cash.
Investigators also broke up a deal in 2011, which was to sell weapons-grade uranium to a potential buyer in the Middle East.
In another case, late last year, a sample of unenriched uranium was exchanged for $15,000 (£9,800). Six people were arrested in connection with the sale, but five others managed to escape custody.
It is not clear whether the cases in Moldova indicate a more widespread nuclear smuggling operations. Eric Lund, spokesman for the US State Department’s bureau in charge of non-proliferation said Moldova had taken “many important steps” to strengthen its counter-nuclear smuggling capabilities.