The Threat of Nuclear Jihad in Central Asia and Russia

By Musa Khan Jalalzai

March 31, 2020

Citizens of five central states have joined the ISIS networks to take the war into the region and inflict fatalities on civilian population. Russia is a strong country in case of law enforcement and intelligence infrastructure, but newly established commando units of the ISIS have gained professional approach to traditional and guerrilla war. As far as foreign fighters and the ISIS are concerned, prior to the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, Central Asia had periodically seen trickles of citizens leaving to fight in Syria and Iraq. In domestic stability, states of Central Asia are better than Pakistan, Afghanistan and some states of the Gulf region, but the fear of chemical and biological war has vanished their dream. The threat of returned fighters moving underground and engaging in terrorist attacks is greater if there is no process to reintegrate and absorb them into a reasonably open society.

It is known that Katibat-i-Imam Bukhari group (KIB) has established two branches. The group’s main fighting force of more than 500 militants, led by leader Abu Yusuf Muhojir. The chechen fighters are also looking for material of dirty bomb abd nuclear weapons to use it against Central Asian and Russian army, but didn’t retrieve so for. They are in contact with some states in South Asia and Middle East to receive fund from these regions, and purchase readymade dirty bomb. Afghan and foreign officials say as many as 7,000 Chechens and other foreign fighters could be operating in the country, loosely allied with the Taliban and other militant groups. According to recent reports, 6,000 militants from Central Asia and the Caucasus have already been enlisted in ISIS ranks. The largest radical group in Uzbekistan, Imam Bukhari Jamaat, has joined ISIS in Syria. Experts say there are over one thousand Uzbek and Tajik militants still fighting under the banner of ISIS.

There are speculations that some Russian technocrates and politicians are stressing the need for the establishing a jihadi group like the ISIS to further the interests of Russia in Central Asia and Middle East and fight against the NATO and American forces in Afghanistan. Russia is now third among top countries from which ISIS receives its recruits. The majority of them come from the North Caucasus, but also increasingly from Central Asia. The most prominent North Caucasians among the ISIS ranks have been the Chechens. Shortly before Russia’s Syria intervention, the Russian government claimed that between 2,000 and 5,000 militants had joined ISIS; weeks after the entry of Russia into the conflict, however, that figure jumped to 7,000 out of a total of approximately 30,000 foreign fighters active within the ranks of the Islamic State. 

If we look at the expertise of these groups, and their multifaceted military trainings, on their return to the region, they might possibly target biological and chemical laboratories and nuclear installations in Central Asia and Russia. There are states they will provide weapons and training to make the region a hell. Newsweek’s Daily Beast blog provided another version of an overspill, already apparently happening in 2010. They quoted a “Taliban sub-commander in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz”: … jihadist allies from Central Asia have started heading home … encouraged by relentless American drone attacks against the fighters’ back bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas … they’re expanding their range across the unguarded northern Afghan border into Tajikistan to create new Taliban sanctuaries there, assist Islamist rebels in the region, and potentially imperil the Americans’ northern supply lines … [beginning] in late winter 2009.… In Kunduz they joined up with fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

In his recent research paper, Leonid Gusev, an expert of Institute of International Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (MGIMO) has noted some consternating cooperative measures and plannings of the extremist groups of Central Asia:

“Central Asian countries experience diverse intersecting influences: they feel changes in the situation in the Caucasus, in the Xinjiang autonomous territory of China, in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Militants from various terrorist groups in the region cooperate, many of them fighting in Syria and Iraq. But the biggest threat to Central Asia’s security is the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban provide organisational and logistics support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Despite sustaining a significant blow, with its main groups squeezed out of the region, it still maintains a presence in the form of underground groups that could become active at any time, joining forces with the radical Tajik opposition and Uyghur separatists. Cells of the Islamic State (ISIS) (a terrorist organisation banned in Russia) also operate in the region……… Tajikistan is a tension hotspot in Central Asia in terms of religious extremism and terrorism. A particular source of danger is neighbouring Afghanistan, where about 60 per cent of the lands along the frontier are engulfed in clashes between government forces and the Taliban and other radical Islamist groups. At the same time, there is almost no security along the Afghan-Tajik border, including the issue of drug trafficking”.

Nuclear trafficking in South Asia was a key concern while the nuclear blacke marketing networks of Pakistani generals and some mafia scientists were uncovered in Libya to Syria, Malaysia and Afghanistan. Recent media reports identified Moldovan criminal groups that attempted to smuggle radioactive materials to Daesh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) in 2015. Cases of nuclear smuggling in Central Asia were made recent cases. Muhammad Wajeeh, a Research Associate at Department of Development Studies, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Abbottabad Pakistan in his research paper (Nuclear Terrorism: A Potential Threat to World’s Peace and Security- JSSA Vol II, No. 2) has reviewed a consternating threat of nuclear terrorism in South and Central Asia:

“ISIS is believed to have about 90 pounds of low grade uranium (which was seized from Mosul University in Iraq aer the invasion of the city in 2014) that can be used in the Dirty Bomb’s to create serious panic among the public. In 2015 and 2016, ISIS became the leading high profile jihadist group in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, ISIS carried out attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, killing 130 civilians and injuring more than 100 people. The ISIS carried out a series of three coordinated suicide. Bombings in Belgium: one at Maalbeek Metro Staon, Brussels and two at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, killing about 32 civilians and injuring 300 people. During the aacks, a G4S guard working on the Belgian nuclear research center was also murdered and it le the world believing that the ISIS has a potenal plot to aack the nuclear facility either to steal the radioacve material for dirty bomb or to release the radioactive material and waste into the atmosphere. These aacks also raised the issue of nuclear security aer a discovery made by the Belgian authorities that the ISIS has kept an eye on the local nuclear scientists and their families. Moreover, two Belgian nuclear power plant workers at Deol having knowledge of the nuclear sites joined ISIS and could provide assistance to exploit them for terrorist purposes. On March 30, al‐Furat, the media wing of ISIS, threatened attacks on Germany and Britain on the eve of Washington Nuclear Security Summit 2016”.

Nuclear terrorism remains a constant threat to global peace. Access of terrorist organizations to nuclear material is a bigger threat to civilian population. Terrorist groups can gain access to highly enriched uranium or plutonium, because they have the potential to create and detonate an improvised nuclear device. Since the ISIS has already retrieved nuclear materials from Mosul city of Iraq, we can assert that terrorist groups like ISIS and Katibat Imam Bukhari, and Chechen extremist groups can make access to biological and nuclear weapons with the help of local experts. Nuclear facilities also often store large amounts of radioactive material, spent fuel, and other nuclear waste products that terrorists could use in a dirty bomb. Without access to such fissile materials, extremist and radicalized groups can turn their attention toward building a simple radiological device. The most difficult part of making a nuclear bomb is acquiring the nuclear material, but some Muslim and non-Muslim state might facilitate the ISIS, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Chechen extremist groups and Afghanistan and Pakistan based groups to attack nuclear installations in Russia and Central Asia.

The ISIS magazine (Dabiq-May 2015) published article of British journalist John Cantlie, in which he warned that the ISIS terrorist group had gained capabilities to launch major terrorist attack: “Let me throw a hypothetical operation onto the table. The Islamic State has billions of dollars in the bank, so they call on their wilāyah in Pakistan to purchase a nuclear device through weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials in the region. The weapon is then transported overland until it makes it to Libya, where the mujāhidīn move it south to Nigeria. Drug shipments from Columbia bound for Europe pass through West Africa, so moving other types of contraband from East to West is just as possible. The nuke and accompanying mujāhidīn arrive on the shorelines of South America and are transported through the porous borders of Central America before arriving in Mexico and up to the border with the United States. From there it’s just a quick hop through a smuggling tunnel and hey presto, they’re mingling with another 12 million “illegal” aliens in America with a nuclear bomb in the trunk of their car”.

On 25 March 2016, Daily Telegraph reported militants plan to attack the Brussels nuclear plant: “In the wake of claims the Brussels attackers had planned to set off a radioactive ‘dirty bomb’, Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency said: “Terrorism is spreading and the possibility of using nuclear material cannot be excluded. The material can be found in small quantities in universities, hospitals and other facilities. “Dirty bombs will be enough to (drive) any big city in the world into panic. And the psychological, economic and political implications would be enormous,” said Mr Amano. One security expert suggested that the terrorists could have been plotting to kidnap the nuclear researcher they had been filming with a view to coercing the scientist into helping them make a ‘dirty bomb’. The Newspaper reported. State sponsorship of nuclear terrorism in Central Asia is matter of great concern as some states support terrorist groups such as the ISIS, Taliban, Katibat Imam Bukhari, Chechen groups, and Lashkar-e-Toiba, and provide dangerous weapons. These states can sponsor terrorist groups to launch nuclear attack inside Russia or Central Asia.

In yesteryears, President Vladimir Putin seemed to be after nuclear weapons for another reason—to show that Russia was still a great power to be reckoned with. As President Putin elaborated in an interview with Oliver Stone, whether America’s motives are truly just centered on corporate welfare or not, the position the U.S. was putting him in requires him to respond to the heightened threat. Soon thereafter he claimed in his annual address to the Duma an entire new generation of heavy MIRV (Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle) missiles, one of which could kill every major city in Texas; nuclear-powered cruise missiles with essentially unlimited range for evading U.S. defenses; virtually undetectable nuclear torpedoes for destroying American coastal cities and major ports; and hypersonic delivery vehicles which completely skew the balance of Mutually Assured Destruction by reducing the amount of time that policy makers have to decide whether to go to nuclear war from 15 or 30 minutes to perhaps less than five.

Modern diplomacy (29 March 2020) in its short comment noted frustration of the US army and Pentagon vis-a-vis emerging security threats and modern technologies: “The technological superiority of the United States armed forces is being challenged by new and evolving threats constantly being developed by potential adversaries. To counteract these challenges, the country’s Department of Defense (DoD) is expected to spend an estimated $481 billion between 2018 and 2024 to identify and develop new technologies for advanced weapon systems, giving rise to numerous revenue opportunities in this space”. Before this, in February 2018, BBC reported Moscow’s condemnation of US military proposals to develop new, smaller atomic bombs mainly to deter any Russian use of nuclear weapons. Russia’s Foreign Minister called the move “confrontational”, and expressed “deep disappointment”. The proposals emerged from concerns that Russia might see current US nuclear weapons as too big to be used. The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the US of warmongering in its statement, issued less than 24 hours after the US proposals were published.

Musa Khan Jalalzai is a writer, journalist and, a research contributor in Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) Greece, and London. He has been contributing articles and research papers in Global Security Review USA, Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies, Daily Times, The Nation, Telegraph, Times of London, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, The New Nation Bangladesh, New Yorker, and Journal (Fautline) of the Institute for Conflict Management Delhi India since 1994. His intellectual experience is up to 30 years extensive research in political analysis, Pakistan, Afghanistan, terrorism, Taliban, the ISIS, nuclear and biological terrorism, and intelligence analysis. His skills cover counterterrorism, the EU and UK law enforcement analysis, and intelligence and security crisis in Asia and Europe. From 1992-1994, he worked as a research scholar in Pakistan’s Institute of National Affairs (PINA), and authored two book on the war in Persian Gulf in 1993. He has been helping the UK law firms, and courts in demonstrating fear of persecution of asylum seeker by expert opinion reports since 2009. He completed MA in English Literatures, Diploma in Geospatial Intelligence, University of Maryland Washington DC. He can speak, and write English, Pashto, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Dari, and Saraiki languages. His all books are available at amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and Google.

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