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Turkey’s Crippled Counterterrorist Capacity: How Domestic Purges Represent an International Threat to Europe’s Security

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]urkey has been suffering from terrorism for a long time, losing over 40,000 people in the last 40 years. When the Syrian uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in 2011, Turkey was enjoying a peaceful era with the least causalities lost to terrorism in its recent history. However, this less-violent period quickly started to deteriorate due to new regional conflicts and Turkey’s flawed domestic and international policies.

Turkish leaders considered the Syrian uprising as an opportunity by taking advantage of the situation to further their interests in the region, basically promoting a regime change in Syria by supporting different radical Salafist Jihadist groups in Syria and Turkey. As a result of these flawed policies, the number of terrorist attacks and people killed in Turkey by Salafi-jihadi attacks has skyrocketed since 2014, a surge of more than 400% compared to recent years.

More recently on New Year’s Eve, a DAESH terrorist attacked the Reina Night Club in Istanbul, Turkey, killing 39 and wounding 71 . The Reina Club is one of Turkey’s most well-known and prominent nightlife venues, located on the Bosphorus in the heart of Istanbul and frequented by celebrities and tourists. Soon after the attack, DAESH made a claim of responsibility for the attack. Their followers in different social media mediums praised the attack, calling the attacker a “lion of the caliphate” and publishing a selfie of the attacker along with a video he had taken in the Taksim district of Istanbul . The attacker, later identified as Abdulgadir Masharipov (code name Muhammed Horasani), from Uzbekistan, was finally captured alive on January 16, 2017, in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul. He was detained and interrogated until February 11, 2017.

DAESH and Other Radical Terrorist Organizations in Turkey

To understand the context of the Radical Salafist Jihadi terrorism in Turkey, it is important to understand the history of support for terrorism in the region. In mid-2011, I was the Police Chief of the counterterrorism and operations department in Sanliurfa, Turkey, a city of two million on the Turkish-Syrian border in the South of Turkey. At the time, Turkey’s southern borders were wide open and all Syrian refugees — almost three million — were welcomed . In fact, the influx of refugees was so overwhelming that it became a major security concern for border cities: Sanliurfa alone received over 400,000 refugees in just 20 months. Meanwhile, the flows of logistical support, arms, and explosives continued to move into Syria to different jihadist groups. DAESH became one of the primary beneficiaries of Turkish support , as it had begun to control major border areas and transport material and foreign fighter movements back and forth across borders. Turkey was the only country geographically in close proximity.

In the interim, Turkish politicians thought that not only would DAESH guarantee the defeat of Bassar Assad, it would put a final blow to Turkey’s decades-old PKK problem, as DAESH had started to fight the PKK. With these outcomes in mind, Turkey’s full-fledged support to DAESH, Jabhat-al Nusra, Ahrar us-Sham, and Free Syrian Army continued. For example, as noted in European Union-funded Conflict Armament Research (CAR) reports, almost all DAESH IEDs were produced with explosives, chemicals, electronics and other parts brought in from Turkey. CAR reports also argue the majority of the weapons used or produced by them were sourced from Turkey . Throughout this period of assistance, Turkey’s open policy was to not stop or interrupt the flow of foreign fighters going back and forth across Turkish borders , resulting in over 30,000 foreign fighters joining DAESH ranks.

In contrast to several other opposition groups in Syria, DAESH managed to recruit around 3,000 active Turkish fighters and established a vast and sustainable network within Turkey, through the involvement of mostly Turkish, but also some of foreign, members . That network is involved in recruitment activities, arranging and providing logistical support to operations, financial transactions, and the establishment of numerous terrorist cells inside Turkey. For example, through this network, DAESH established a factory where it produced over 60,000 uniforms for its fighters and hundreds of suicide vests.

On September 23, 2016, the world learned of another reason behind Turkey’s explicit support to DAESH: through the hacking and subsequent release of emails belonging to Berat Albayrak, President Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, the so-called “RedHack” emails revealed Erdoğan family involvement in transferring and selling DAESH oil , making it a little bit clearer as to why it was enjoying so much freedom in Turkey.

Until the beginning of 2016, the Turkish government avoided labeling DAESH a terrorist organization. President Erdogan did not publicly state DAESH was a terrorist organization until the beginning of 2016. Similarly, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu referred to it as a “bunch of frustrated young guys ” and almost openly legitimizing the group in public speeches . Furthermore, since 2014, all ongoing radical Salafist jihadist counterterrorism operations were halted by the new administration and there were no planned counterterrorism operations anywhere in Turkey during 2014 and 2015. The operations in 2016 were mostly reactionary operations. This led to broader support and a warmer approach towards DAESH, especially among the young supporters of Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP. In 2015, PEW public opinion research found 6 million people had a favorable opinion regarding DAESH .

Police and Intelligence Purges and the Rise of the Islamic State

On December 17, 2013, Turkey woke to a scandalous corruption operation against Erdogan’s son and close circles, carried out by the Istanbul Police Department. Erdogan appeared furious about the operation, claiming the operation was in fact a coup against him. Instead of allowing the prosecutor’s office and the police to continue with the investigations, Erdogan immediately began firing and purging the officers involved, eventually closing all the investigations . Following the events of December 2013, Erdogan started to dismantle the Police and Judiciary. Initially, almost all of the police chiefs and officers who were involved with the corruption operations were purged and arrested. Similarly, the prosecutors managing the case and the judges who issued warrants were also purged . The incident became a turning point for the Turkish National Police. Initially, all officers in counterterrorism, intelligence and organized crime divisions in the Istanbul Police Department were fired and replaced with new officers and chiefs . Unfortunately, the new officers and police chiefs were inexperienced and not trained to deal with the complicated cases and threats involved in terrorism and organized crime activities.

On January 19, 2014, after receiving a tip about three trucks carrying weapons to Syrian terrorists, the Adana prosecutor ordered the Gendarmerie and the Police to stop and search those trucks on the Adana highway . As the trucks were stopped, the passengers in the trucks resisted the searches, claiming the cargo belonged to the Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) and could not be searched. When the prosecutor was informed, he insisted the search of the trucks be carried out with the provided search warrant. As the trucks’ cargo was opened, the officers first saw a layer of medicine boxes on top of the cargo. Underneath those boxes they found military-grade weapons and ammunition, including missiles. This incident quickly became a national crisis and Prime Minister Erdogan ordered the release of the trucks in contravention of the prosecutor’s orders . Later on, a prominent journalist, Can Dundar, produced an investigative news article that included pictures and videos of the cargo . Erdogan, however, openly blamed Dundar, claiming espionage, and added that he (Dundar) “would pay dearly ”. Eventually, any officer involved with the stop and search of the trucks, including the prosecutors, judges, police and gendarmerie officers, as well as the journalists, indeed paid a heavy price: first they were fired and then arrested .

By the beginning of 2014, Erdogan realized he could not continue his Syrian operations unless the judiciary and police were transformed and that he could not trust the judiciary and police with his personal and family dealings. This sparked a massive firing and arrest wave throughout the country, mostly involving police chiefs and officers working in the counterterrorism and intelligence divisions and the prosecutors managing their operations. This first wave of national purges resulted in over 10,000 experienced police officers being fired or arrested, basically gutting Turkey’s counterterrorism and intelligence capacity and brainpower. Furthermore, the new chiefs were promptly ordered to not carry out operations against radical jihadist terrorist organizations. This initiative also ensured that DAESH and other Salafist Jihadist terrorist organizations abruptly became untouchable and suddenly started to enjoy a degree of freedom never before experienced in Turkey. This situation lasted until the beginning of 2016. In the years 2014 and 2015, there was not a single planned counterterrorism operation in all of Turkey against DAESH or any other jihadist terrorist organization.

On July 15, 2016, Turkey was shocked by an unsuccessful coup attempt, giving President Erdogan the leverage and justification to further reshape the country. Following the coup, Erdogan immediately started a massive and unprecedented purge and arrest campaign. Over 140,000 government officials, including military officers, police officers, academics, doctors, and anyone else deemed as opposing Erdogan were purged . In addition, over 85,000 officials were detained and almost 45,000 were arrested. The Turkish National Police took the largest blow, losing over 30,000 officers in this period, including police chiefs and officers who had spent years in the field fighting against terrorism. Similarly, the Turkish military paid a huge price, losing half of its active duty generals and two-thirds of its F16 pilots. Additionally, the judiciary was also a particular target, with a third of prosecutors and judges being fired and/or arrested, well over 4,000 in total.

Conclusions and the Future

These events have resulted in two important outcomes. The first is that Turkey has lost its most experienced manpower and a great deal of wisdom in the fight against terrorism. Additionally, the Erdogan government’s approach toward DAESH and other terrorist organizations ensured that the jihadists were untouchable and if you would like to keep your job, then you would not interfere with their activities. These dramatic and troubling policy changes yield today’s security problems, as DAESH has established a dangerous network of terrorist cells all over the country. Turkey first ignored, then allowed, and finally supported DAESH, assuming that this would keep Kurdish militias in check and would never come back and sting Turkey-as-secret-benefactor. However, as one counter-terrorism expert quipped, “When you invite cannibals to dinner you can expect to end up as the main course.”

As the coalition forces advance in Mosul and start their Raqqa operation, there is no doubt that many DAESH members fleeing will end up in Turkey. Many such defectors we interviewed during our DAESH Defectors Interview project clearly indicated that commanders had been discussing this issue and had already ordered their fighters that in the worst scenario they would shave their beards and cut their hair to blend into societies within close proximity, Turkey being the closest. Therefore, as Mosul and Raqqa fall in the near future, it would be very naïve not to expect a somewhat steady and swarming flow of foreign and local DAESH fighters into Turkey. Alas, Turkey will not be prepared to stop this flow based on a purge of true counterterrorist talent.

Consequently, as the war in Syria and Iraq continues against DAESH, there is a good chance that Turkey might become the next battleground. While the war against DAESH and other Salafist Jihadi terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq appear to make steady progress, the prospect of Turkey becoming a vast safe haven for retreating terrorists cannot be discounted. Turkey’s counter-terrorism capacity is vital for both the country and the West. Thus, this weakened Turkish counterterrorism apparatus, completely self-produced by Erdogan paranoia, threatens not only Ankara but the heart of Europe as well.

Ahmet S. Yayla is an assistant professor at the DeSales University Homeland Security Department and faculty member at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. He is also a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University. Dr. Yayla previously served as a full professor and the chair of the Department of Sociology at Harran University in Turkey. Dr. Yayla is a 20-year veteran of the counterterrorism and operations department in the Turkish National Police and served as the chief of counterterrorism in Sanliurfa, Turkey between 2010 and 2013.

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Cyber-attacks-Frequency a sign of Red Alert for India

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The biggest target is in terms of transportations, nuclear power plants, Power system Operation Corporation Limited, V.O. Chidambaram Port Trust, Telangana State Load Dispatch Centre, logistic industries and research organisations which eventually can lead to destruction of the whole ecosystem. The confidentiality breach in the case of medical data leak as reported by a German cyber security firm –Greenbone Sustainable Resilience wherein Picture Archiving and Communication Servers were linked to public internet without any requisite protection is a point of concern. Then, there are certain individualistic attacks such as hacking email and financial crimes (banking), etc. In the last two years the attacks radar of focus has been defence, government accounts and the vaccine manufacturing companies.

Cyber Security – Individualistic awareness need of the hour

The target of the individual in a peculiar case which led to heinous crimes casted was due to opening of a document which was a bait to install Netwire- a malware. The bait was eventually delivered through a file and what prompted a person to open that link was a Drop box sent to him on his email was actually opening a Pandora Box of malicious command and control server. An emphasis to understand the technicality that Netwire stands for a malware which gives control of the infected system to an attacker. This in turn paves way for data stealing, logging keystrokes and compromise passwords. In the similar vein the Pegasus used the tactic to infiltrate the user’s phones in 2019.

Cyber Security – Attacking Power Distribution Systems

The intrusions by Chinese hacker groups in October, 2020 as brought out by Recorded Future was done through Shadow Pad which opens a secret path from target system to command and control servers. And, the main target is sectors such as transportation, telecommunication and energy .And , there are different tags that are being used by the Chinese Espionage Industry such as APT41, Wicked Spider and Wicked Panda , etc.

The institutions backing legitimisation

The Institutions which are at working under the cyber security surveillance are the National Security Council and National Information Board headed by National Security Adviser helping in framing India’s cyber security policy .Then, in 2014 there is the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre under the National Technical Research Organisation mandating the protection of critical information infrastructure. And, in 2015 the National Cyber Security Coordinator advises the Prime Minister on strategic cyber security issues. In the case of nodal entity , India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) is playing a crucial role under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MEITY).But, there is a requirement of clarity in National Cyber Security Policy of 2013 and the needed updates desired in it respectively.

A cohesive approach – Data Protection and Privacy Importance

The Data privacy i.e. the personal data protection bill is an important imperative in which services of private actors can be bridged through a concerned law which is missing link in that sense. The point of Data localisation falls squarely within this dimension of Section 40 and 41 of the draft bill where in the Indian stakeholders have the capacity to build their own data centres .In this contextualisation there also a need to understand certain technicalities involved in terms of edge computing which in a way is enabling the data to be analysed, processed, and transferred at the edge of a network. An elaboration to this is the data is analysed locally, closer to where it is stored, in real-time without delay. The Edge computing distributes processing, storage, and applications across a wide range of devices and data centres which make it difficult for any single disruption to take down the network. Since more data is being processed on local devices rather than transmitting it back to a central data centre, edge computing also reduces the amount of data actually at risk at any one time. Whereas on the other hand, there is insistence on data localisation has paved the way for companies such as Google Pay to adhere to the policy and synchronise their working with the United Payments Interface (UPI).

What do you understand by Data Share?

In the recent case of WhatsApp privacy issue and drawing in parallel other organisation a similar platform such as Facebook and Google shared the data to the third party with a lopsided agreement and with continuance of the data trade business industry. In 1996 the internet was free so was perceived as carte blanche , a safe harbour falling under the Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act in the United States but with the evolution of the circumstances the laws in that specifications are also required to change in that respect. In relations to the Indian law under the Information Technology Act, 2000 under the Section 69 the Indian government has the powers to monitor and decrypt any information that’s store in any computer resource but on certain conditions such as in regards to the sovereignty, defence and security of the country.

Cyber-attacks understanding on the International Forums

In terms of Lieber Code of Conduct of 1863 or be it Hague Convention of 1899 there is a need of updating the definitions and where in the cyber army falling under the categorisation  of civilians , not possessing any of the warfare weapons cause the main weapon that they possess is a malware which is invisible but can have deep repercussions leading to destruction of that particular economy altogether .So, in recent evolving circumstances there is an undue importance to for the target country to respond with equal force and having a right to self-defence in this manner regardless of the attack being from a non-state actor from a third country and masquerading under the civilian garb .Henceforth , there a thorough understanding of the complex environment that one is dealing with , there is undue emphasis to change and respectively update with the current world.

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Incidents of Uranium Theft in India: Depleting Nuclear Safety and International Silence

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Terrorism

In yet another incident of the capture of nuclear-related materials from unauthorized persons in India has made headlines in the Indian media but largely ignored in the international media. On 4th June 2021, as reported in the Indian media, the authorities arrested seven people possessing approximately 6.4 kilograms of Uranium in the Eastern State of Jharkhand. This is the second time in less than a month where Indian authorities have captured such a gang in an attempt to sell uranium illegally. An incident of the same nature was reported just a few days ago in May 2021 where authorities apprehended unauthorized persons, who were trying to sell nearly 7 kilograms of natural uranium on the black market. Notably, Indian authorities themselves believe that these events might be linked to a “national gang involved in illegal uranium trade”. This is a very serious issue because it means two things; first, that Indian local uranium reserves, radioactive nuclear materials, and facilities are not protected and are prone to black marketing. Secondly, this scenario has emerged because India is not adhering to international bindings of nuclear safety and security such as UN resolution 1540 and (Convention on Physical Protection on Nuclear Material) CPPNM under IAEA to secure its materials, reserves, and facilities. But, the most damaging aspect in this scenario is the discriminatory behavior of the international community, which is criminally silent on the violations of norms, practices, and regulations necessary for nuclear safety and security.

Though in both incidents, Uranium was in natural condition, which cannot be used for making bombs; however; it should be of great concern, as even in its natural state the Uranium can spread considerable radioactivity if used with conventional explosives. Moreover, Indian authorities themselves are considering that these activities could be linked with national gangs involved in the illegal supply of uranium. This raises the point that actually how much natural uranium is illegally sold in the black market by India. Since these are only incidents that are being reported in the Indian media, there might be many incidents that have never been reported. Also, this gang was captured from near the area where Indian Uranium mines of Jharkhand are allocated, the likelihood of access of non-state actors to these mines cannot be denied. These incidents are critical for international security and stability because such radioactive material when sold in black markets could be brought by the non-state and states aspiring for nuclearization. Unfortunately, in such a scenario all the efforts currently going on to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons would be hampered. The recurring of these incidents reflect that India, despite being a member of CPPNM is not ensuring the protection of its nuclear materials from theft and sabotage by proper regulations, stringent mechanisms, and control. Other than CPPNM, India has also signed UN resolution 1540, which makes it mandatory for the states to ensure security regulations, mechanisms, equipment required for the security of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) from the non-state actors. But, surprisingly, so far the UN or any other international organization has not taken notice of these recurring events. Rather, these mishaps by Indian authorities are shoved under the carpet. These incidents have been reportedly re-occurring in India, media reported these events in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2019, and now again in 2021. 

Nuclear safety and security is a national matter of any state; however, against the backdrop of the potential damage, which these weapons can bring, they have become an international concern. Specifically, to an extent, where states are sometimes criticized, lauded, and sometimes rewarded for their behavior in this realm. In this regard, India appears as an exceptional case, where the formation of Nuclear Suppliers Group NSG to stop such events in the future has its roots in the Indian so-called peace nuclear explosion (PNE) in 1974. Ironically, a few years down the road, the same NSG gave a waiver to India for conducting nuclear export. Moreover, India was made part of many other regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement. Although, these decisions were carried out in lieu of geo-political realities, where the West regards India as a balancer against China but it gave a free hand to India. Even the US-based NTI Report on Nuclear Security Index gives India less score in nuclear safety and security regulations. At a time when many nuclear theft-related incidents have occurred in India in recent years, disgracefully, India still desires to become a member of NSG based on its so-called nuclear record.

To sum up the situation, the occurrence of back-to-back nuclear theft-related incidents has further exposed India’s nuclear credentials and its non-adherence to international practices of nuclear safety and security. If legal bindings such as CPPNM and 1540 would not be implemented in the future by India, the South Asian stability, as well as the international security, would be undermined. Moreover, if the international non-proliferation continues to remain lenient towards states like India, the rest would likely regard the international non-proliferation mechanism not just as discriminatory but even as hoaxing. Many states might prefer to proliferate for their own interests, which would not serve the non-proliferation mechanism and regime. A very candid example is that today even after two years of the last NPT review conference, the next has not been conducted and chances are that it might not be conducted this year.

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Uranium is being traded freely in the open market in India

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Terrorism

The Times of India has reported that a special police team arrested seven persons and recovered 6 Kgs of Uranium from them following raids at different parts of the city on Thursday. Bokaro SP Chandan Kumar Jha said, “We have seized the yellow substance and will send it to experts for tests. Uranium is a highly radioactive substance used at nuclear facilities.”

Police said the accused, suspected of being part of a national gang involved in the illegal uranium trade, searched for customers and fixed its price at Rs 50 lakhs per kg. Notably, a kilogram of Uranium sells for around Rs 18 crores in the global market, sources said. For the first time, Uranium has been seized in this industrial town, but in other parts of India, similar cases were reported several times recently.

Those arrested have been identified as Bapi Da alias Bapi Da alias Bapi Chandra, Anil Singh, Deepak Kumar, Krishna Kant, Hare Ram Sharma, Mahavir Mahto, and Pankaj Mahto. They are residents of different parts of the district. Deepak and Bapi have a criminal history. It is illegal to possess Uranium without a license in India, and violation of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, can attract stringent punishment.

Jha said police received information that some criminals are preparing to sell Uranium. A nine-member team headed by Chas DSP Mukesh Kumar and City DSP Kuldeep Kumar were involved in the raids. “It is still unclear how they got their hands on the radioactive metal. During interrogation, they mentioned West Bengal, Giridih, and a few other places. Seven mobile phones and a motorcycle were also seized from them,” he said.

Notably, Jharkhand is among a few states in the country that has uranium mines. Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) also has a uranium processing plant at Jaduguda, about 150km from Bokaro city.

Sources said police are also investigating to ascertain whether the arrested accused have any links with a similar racket busted by Maharashtra Anti- Terror Squad (ATS) on May 5 after it nabbed two persons. A total of 7.1 kg of natural Uranium worth Rs 21.3 crore was seized from the duo identified as Jigar Jayesh Pandya (27) and Choudhary (31).

It is a severe failure of the Government that hazardous materials are accessible by common people. It is the state’s responsibility, and the state must ensure the safety of the ordinary people. However, PM Modi has different priorities and over-engaged in non-issues. His focus to undermine minorities and the illegal occupation of Kashmir has made him over busy and left no time to safeguard the public interest. His extremist policies and brutalities against minorities are strongly condemned.

It is not the first time that Uranium has been traded like a regular commodity in the open market. It can be dangerous for India as well as the whole world. The law and order situation in India has deteriorated adversely, and criminals may avail this opportunity. The worst scenario will be if the RSS Hindu extremists got access to Uranium, then, definitely, the subcontinent is a one case. The fanatic RSS members are so vulnerable that they can go to any extent without considering the consequences.

Therefore it is appealed to the International community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the UN to take serious notice and place preventive measures on the ground.

Being the next-door neighbor, Pakistan is under threat and has a responsibility to highlight such severe violations and may involve the international community to avoid similar cases in the future.

Pakistan on Friday, describing the reports of yet another incident of attempted illegal sale of Uranium in India as a “matter of deep concern,” reiterated its call for the thorough investigation of such incidents and measures for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion.

In a statement, FO Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said the similar incident in Maharashtra last month and other such reports in the past “are a matter of deep concern as they point to lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as the possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India.”

The UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) make it binding on states to ensure stringent measures to prevent nuclear material from falling into the wrong hands, the statement noted.

“Pakistan reiterates its call for [a] thorough investigation of such incidents and measures for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion,” it added.

The press release said it was “equally important to ascertain the intent and ultimate use of the attempted uranium sale given its relevance to international peace and security as well as the sanctity of global non-proliferation regime.”

Uranium is used in several areas, including nuclear explosives and medical techniques. The very fact that some people stole or illegally mined Uranium raises concerns about nuclear safety and security in India. It also indicates the possibility of a nuclear market existing in India that could be connected to international players.

Pakistan had voiced serious concern last month, too, after reports of the Maharashtra seizure emerged, pointing to gaps in state control mechanisms there.

“We have noted with serious concern the reports about the seizure of more than 7kg natural uranium from unauthorized persons in India,” Chaudhri had said at the time.“Security of nuclear materials should be the top priority for all countries,” he added.

“There is a need for a thorough investigation of the matter as to how such sizeable quantity of uranium could become available outside any state control and identify the gaps which made this possible.”

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