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Under False Pretenses: Who Directed the Assassin to Kill the Russian Ambassador in Turkey in 2016?

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Motivation for the assassination of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Ankara, remains shrouded in mystery five years after off-duty Turkish police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas committed the crime during the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara on December 19, 2016. Chaos ensued when Altintas (circled in the photo below) calmly pulled out his duty gun and fired at least eight rounds, shouting in Arabic and Turkish, “Allahu Akbar! Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay the price.”

Speculation about why Altintas acted as he did have run the gamut, but three theories have come to the forefront. First, Turkish government officials blame the Gulen movement, which they designated as a terrorist organization right after the suspicious July 15, 2016, coup attempt. Second, Altintas, who was opposed to increasing economic ties between Turkey and Russia and opposed to Russia’s support for the Assad regime in Syria, operated as a lone actor. Third, suspicion has been cast on the Kurds who are fighting against ISIS. The leaders of both Turkey and Russia were prudent in their statements after the assassination. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said,“I describe this attack on Russia’s embassy as an attack to Turkey, Turkey’s state and nation,” while President Vladimir Putin said that “the crime was a “provocation designed to spoil” relations between Russia and Turkey and “derail the peace process in Syria.”

As might have been expected, the Second Heavy Penal Court of Ankara, which announced its verdict in the assassination case on March 9, 2021, said that the Gulen movement was complicit in Karlov’s death. Russia and experts of the Western world, however, do not support the Turkish government’s theory. This article attempts to shed light on the indictmentsTurkey issued in the Karlov case and delves into questions related to the Gulen theory and the lone-actor theory that need to be reinvestigated. The Kurdish theory is not addressed here because no evidence exists to even suggest that such a scenario is plausible.

Turkey’s Accusations in the Indictment

Like it had done with other investigations of notable attacks in Turkey since the anti-corruption scandals came to light in late 2013, the court accused Fethullah Gulen and his movement of plotting the assassination of Karlov and persuading Altintas to commit the crime. Before examining the details of Karlov’s indictment, however, it is necessary to explain how the Turkish justice system works and why the investigation and prosecution of notable attacks always have the same scapegoats: former police officers, former military personnel, and Gulenists. The December 2013 anti-corruption investigations, which used solid evidence to implicate Erdogan, his family members, and Erdogan’s cabinet, is a prime example. Erdogan accused allegedly Gulenist police officers to plot a scheme to overthrow the government and oust Erdogan from power. Furious about such an unconvincing plan, Erdogan responded by launching a retaliatory crackdown against the Gulenists and subjecting all members of the movement to relentless oppression.

Erdogan’s implacable grudge against Gulen has harmed the credibility of Turkey’s justice system because, now, every investigation is directed to conclude that Gulenists were somehow the perpetrators. This hijacking of the Turkish justice system helps to explain why Turkey was ranked near the bottom of the constraints on government powers category in the 2020Rule of Law Index. The World Justice Project compiles the index each year and reflects how the influential nonprofit civil society organization perceives 128 countries’ adherence to the rule of law. Turkey ranked 124th on the list.

The government’s disregard for the rule of law in Turkey has meant the demise of bottom-up investigations that aimed to collect evidence and then identify the suspect and the rise of top-down investigations that name the suspect first and then fabricate evidence against the predetermined suspect. Prosecutors now routinely use copy-and-paste indictments filled with fabricated evidence presented by intelligence officials. Prosecutors who were opposed to the directives promulgated by Erdogan and his government were accused of being members of a terrorist organization and then put in jail. The indictments prepared after the 2013anti-corruption scandals were no different and include many contradictions that Western countries consider to be suspicious.

Suspicious Investigations by Turkey’s Judicial System

An examination of how the prosecution and conviction systems work in Turkey suggests a pattern of subterfuge that undermines the credibility of the government’s indictment of Altintas for the assassination of Karlov. That pattern involves the use of fabricated and dubious evidence and the statements of secret so-called witnesses provided by intelligence officials and the police for the sole purpose of indicting a perceived enemy of the government. Prosecutors are complicit in the charade, signing the bogus indictments and referring them to the court without question.

The police investigation that targeted members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a case in point. During this investigation, the police collected solid evidence about the spying activities of IRGC members in Turkey and how they had targeted the U.S. Consulate in Turkey. The government, however, ignored the evidence and shut down the investigation. In another case, the government shutdown a police investigation that targeted the Tahsiye Group, an al Qaeda-affiliated organization led by Mehmet Dogan. Dogan had become a target of the law enforcement when, during a speech, he praised Osama Bin Laden and told his followers that they have a binding duty (fardh) to join Osama Bin Laden’s army in Afghanistan. In a third case, the government relentlessly punished the police investigators who examined several trucks that belonged to Turkey’s Intelligence Office. The investigators found that the trucks contained arms and explosives destined for jihadist groups in Syria. Despite solid evidence and video footage showing arms hidden inside the trucks, the government shut down the case. In yet another case, the government shut down the December 17 and 25, 2013 anti-corruption investigations that implicated Erdogan, his family, and members of his cabinet. Reza Zarrab, the money launderer for the corrupt government officials, transported$20 billion to Iran on a route through Turkey at a time when the European Union and the United States had imposed embargoes on Iran for its ambition to possess nuclear weapons. The police had proved that Zarrab was giving bribes worth millions of euros and dollars to Turkey’s bureaucrats and ministers, but the government disregarded the evidence and released Zarrab and his accomplices. Zarrab, however, was arrested in the United States on March 19, 2016. At Zarrab’s trial, the U.S. prosecutors were able to use all of the evidence—including wiretappings—that the Turkish police had collected within the scope of their corruption investigations from three years ago and which the Turkish government alleged that they had been fabricated by the Turkish police investigators. A fifth case involves the conviction of police officers who allegedly had ignored the killing of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul in 2007. The court announced its verdict on March 2021; however, Dink’s family and the family’s lawyers believed that the investigation had overlooked critical elements and were not satisfied with the court’s decision. The common thread that ties these five cases together is the government’s adamant contention—despite clear evidence to the contrary—that all the defendants were Gulenists who deserved lengthy, and even lifelong, prison sentences. 

The outcome of the government’s investigation of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt differed slightly from its usual strategy. This time, the government accused not only Gulenists but also Americans of plotting the failed coup. Evidence uncovered since then, however, indicates the July 15 coup attempt was one of the most suspicious events of Turkey’s history. Some high level politicians in Turkey have said that Erdogan knew about the coup in advance and did not try to stop it because he believed the fallout from a coup would be to his benefit. The coup, therefore, was not a failed coup but rather a fake coup. The author’s previous articles about the coup emphasizes the idea that a small group of military personnel who were provoked into staging a badly orchestrated coup and paid a colossal cost for doing so, as Erdogan used the event to undermine Turkey’s democracy and turn a democracy into an authoritarian regime.

Details and Questions from the Altintas Indictment

The prosecutor accused 28 suspects in a 600-page indictment and concluded that Gulen was the number one suspect. According to the indictment, the prosecutor made the following accusations:

  • Altintas joined religious meetings of Gulenists before the December 17 and 25, 2013, corruption scandals.
  • An SD card (provided by an anonymous witness) contained encrypted content identified Altintas as a Gulenist and noted that Altintas broke his ties with Gulenists after the December 17 and 25, 2013, corruption scandals.
  • Gulenists directed Altintas to infiltrate and join the radical Islamist group Sosyal DokuVakfi (SDV-Social Fabric Association). The prosecutor based this accusation on the radical slogans Altintas uttered when he assassinated Karlov, believing that Altintas wanted to draw attention away from Gulenists and create the perception that ISIS and al Qaeda were to blame for the assassination.
  • Gulenists created a plan to kill the Russian ambassador (i.e., Karlov) in 2016. The prosecutor based this accusation on an inference he made from one episode in a movie series broadcast in 2014 on a Gulenist media outlet. It was in that episode that a fictitious ambassador was killed.
  • Some Gulenists, using a virtual private network, tapped into the social media accounts of Altintas in Northern Cyprus and then deleted some information and made alterations to those accounts.
  • Altintas met with several Gulenist suspects and was directed to kill Karlov. The prosecutor based this accusation on the results from Historical Traffic Search (HTS) data.

The following questions still need to be answered:

  • Was Altintas really a Gulenist police officer? For example, one of the police reports concluded that Altintas and his family had no relations with the Gulen movement during the time when Altintas killed Karlov. In addition, the Gulenists firmly rejected the idea that Altintas was a member of the movement when he killed Karlov and said that no evidence exists that members of the movement has used violence even though they have been harshly oppressed and all their assets confiscated.
  • Why did the prosecutor not investigate Altintas’ radicalization and his association with suspects linked to al Qaeda?
  • Why did the prosecutor ignore Altintas’ relationships with SDV, a Salafi radical association?
  • Why did the prosecutor fail to identify any suspects after allegedly uncovering some suspicious IP addresses in Northern Cyprus?
  • After examining 30 minutes of HTS  data captured from 500 meters (1,640 feet) away and used for signals intelligence, how did the prosecutor come to a specific conclusion about several individual suspects when the duration of the captured data was short and hundreds of thousands of people were in the area from which the data were obtained?
  • Why did the prosecutor not investigate the person who called Karlov’s wife, Marina, before the assassination? In her statement to the prosecutor, Marina Karlov said that she received a mysterious phone call on December 14 or 15, 2016,from Moscow, in which the caller wanted to know whether her husband had bodyguards to protect him.
  • Why did the prosecutor not question one of the witnesses, Abdulkadir Sen, who was affiliated with al Qaeda and whose brother, Ibrahim Sen, was being held in the Guantanamo Bay prison because of his linkages with al Qaeda? U.S. authorities had accused the Sen brothers of transferring $600,000 to al Shabaab in 2012 and, in 2014, British and French investigators asked Turkish authorities for information about the Sen brothers. When investigators first questioned Enes Asim Silin, one of the witnesses to the assassination of Karlov, Silin said that Altintas and Abdulkadir Sen met on October 8, 2016. Sometime later, Silin suspiciously changed his statement, saying that the two men did not meet on October 8, 2016.
  • Why did the prosecutor not question the weak security at the art museum where Karlov was killed? According to Marina Karlov, her husband went to the exhibition with nobody guard and weapon, and only one security officer (unarmed) was inside the building.
  • Why did Turkish officials fail to provide enhanced security inside the museum when they knew that demonstrations against Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict occurred just a few days before the assassination?
  • Why did not the prosecutor question the possibility of arresting Altintas alive? According to the prosecutor, Altintas entered the art museum at 6:31 p.m., followed by Karlov at 6:45 p.m. Altintas shot Karlov to death at 7:05 p.m., and the police arrived 20 minutes later, at 7:25 p.m. Altintas did not take his own life and instead waited for the police to come to the scene of the crime. Also according to the prosecutor, clashes between Altintas and the police ensued, and Altintas was killed by the police at 7:42 p.m. However, according to the statement of a police officer who took part in the clashes, Altintas fell to the ground, after which another police officer kicked the murder weapon away from the wounded Altintas, and then the police shot Altintasin his head several times. Altintas did not attempt to escape, nor did he attempt to hold anyone hostage. The police, however, chose to kill Altintasrather than capture him alive. The outcome raises the possibility that Altintas wanted to be silenced.

Now the Second Theory: Was Altintas a Lone Actor Inspired by al Qaeda Ideology?

The second theory contends that, in his effort to punish Russia for of its involvement in the Syrian conflict, Altintas acted on his own volition when he assassinated Karlov. Such lone-actor terrorism has been a threat to the world since the early 2010s. Individuals who engage in lone-actor terrorism operate according to their own timetable, are not directed by any terrorist leader or terrorist organization, and may be inspired by one or more radical ideologies. Most lone actors, however, have been inspired by ideologies of either al Qaeda or ISIS. Given that Altintas was a self-radicalized individual with close ties to SDV and given that the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, al Nusra Front,has claimed responsibility for Karlov’s assassination, proponents of the second theory believe that their interpretation of assassin’s motivation has more credibility than any other proposed theory.

Altintas’ Radicalization

Details in the prosecutor’s indictment of Altintas provides clues about how Altintas was self-radicalized. Various models explain how individuals are radicalized, and, according to one of them, radicalization is a four-step process: (1) pre-radicalization, (2) conversion and identification, (3) conviction and indoctrination, and (4) action. At the pre-radicalization step, according to the details of the indictment, Altintas’ introvert personality made him susceptible to being affected by the teachings of the Turkish radical Islamist Nurettin Yildiz. The indictment also noted that Atintas had complained about his family, telling friends that his family was not practicing Islam. According to Altintas family, he drank alcohol and was not a religious person until he attended the Turkish National Police Academy in 2012. In his second year in the academy, family members said, Altintas began to sympathize with radical religious groups and joined the religious programs offered by Yildiz.

At the conversion and identification step, the indictment indicates that in 2013, Altintas began to question his job and Turkey’s approach to Islam. For example, Altintas began to complain about his position as a police officer, telling his friends that it is not appropriate to work in a state until it is ruled by Islamic law, that he was planning to resign from his position as a police officer, and that he was against the democratic elections.

At the conviction and indoctrination step, Altintas seemed to have become an ardent believer in jihadist ideology. For example, Altintas shared extremist messages on a WhatsApp group about Syria and ISIS. He also used hate rhetoric against the United States and said that the United States was inflicting cruelty on the people in Islamic countries. Altintas also was followed the news in Syria and criticized Russian atrocities in Syria.

At the action step, Altintas sought to engage in deeds that would serve his ideology. For example, he wanted to travel to Syria, join a jihadist group, and become a martyr. He also became involved in donation programs that send money to Syria. When investigators examined Altitas’ computer, they discovered that he had downloaded a video in February 2016 titled “Al Qaeda: You Only Are Responsible Yourself,” which began with a speech by Osama bin Laden. Altintas’ computer also contained a draft email to mrtltns@gmail.com, dated July 27, 2015, that Altintas was preparing to be a martyr.

SDV and Salafism in Turkey

Turkey has been one of the top 10 countries with the most jihadists joining al Qaeda or ISIS groups in Syria. In 2015, more than 2,000 Turkish jihadists joined one of these terrorist organizations. Turkey’s government has been criticized for ignoring the activities of jihadist groups in Syria and for allowing the militants to use its borders freely not only to transfer militants but also money and logistics. In 2015, Russian authorities published satellite images purportedly showing Turkish trucks transporting oil from ISIS-controlled areas in Syria. 

Nurettin Yildiz, a retired imam and director of SDV, played an essential role in the radicalization of many individuals, including Altintas. Yildiz is known for his anti-Semitic and jihadist speeches. In one of those speeches, he said, “Jews are the symbols of brutality and enjoy killing of women and children.”Yildiz also is an advocate of Salafism in Turkey and regularly holds meetings and gives sermons on topics such as Salafi-interpreted jihadism and support for jihadists in Syria. He also is a fervent supporter of Erdogan and the AKP. As an example, a page on the SDV website and a google search on Yildiz bring photos of Yildiz with previously-investigated suspects for their roles in transferring arms and explosives to Syria.

After the assassination of Karlov, the al Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria known as Fatah al-Sham Front (formerly al-Nusra Front) claimed responsibility for the assassination of Karlov in a letter the group published online. The letter talks about the “Revenge of Aleppo” and claims that Altintas was not only a riot police officer but also a member of the al-Nusra Front. Erdogan, however, said in a 2016 speech that al-Nusra Front is not a terrorist organization, only to reverse his stance two years later and designated the group as a terrorist organization.

To conclude, Turkey’s Second Heavy Penal Court of Ankara announced its verdict in the Karlov assassination casein March 2021, concluding that the Gulen movement was responsible for the crime. The court ignored an investigation report that said Altintas committed the crime as a radicalized lone actor with link to al Qaeda-affiliated individuals. The court’s decision appears to have been based on a government-directed investigation that declared an alleged perpetrator and then tried to find or fabricate evidence to fit its contrived scenario. In Russia and the Western world, the verdict has been deemed unsatisfactory. It is not realistic, of course, to expect reliable investigations and prosecutions under the current authoritarian regime in Turkey. Further investigation of the Karlov assassination is needed to determine who directed Altintas to kill the Russian ambassador, who was behind the government-directed investigations, who ignored potential evidence that could have led to the identification of the real culprits, who chose not to provide adequate protection for Karlov inside the exhibition, and who directed officers to kill Altintas at the crime scene even though it would have been possible to capture him alive.

Dr. Mahmut Cengiz is an Assistant Professor and Research Faculty with Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) and the Schar School of Policy and Government. Dr. Cengiz has international field experience where he has delivered capacity building and training assistance to international partners in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. He also has been involved in the research projects for the Brookings Institute, European Union, and various U.S. agencies.

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Boko Haram: Religious Based Violence and Portrayal of Radical Islam

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Modern-day global and domestic politics have set forth the trend that has legitimized and rationalized the use of religion as a tool to attain political gravity and interests. Similarly, many religion-oriented groups use religion to shape their political agenda and objectives, often using religion as a justification for their violent activities. Most of these mobilized groups are aligned with Islam. These groups have promoted religion-based violence and have also introduced new waves and patterns in global terrorism. Some prominent organized groups that attain world attention include Boko Haram, ISIS, Al- Qaeda, and the Taliban. These groups have potentially disrupted the political establishment of their regions. Although, a comparative insight delivers that these various organizations have antithetical political objectives but these groups use Islam to justify their violent actions and strategies based on violence and unrest.

The manifesto of Boko Haram rests on Islamic principles i.e. establishing Shariah or Islamic law in the region. A system that operates to preserve the rights of poor factions of the society and tends to promote or implement Islamic values. Hence, in this context, it negates westernization and its prospects. However, the rise of Boko Haram was based on anti-western agenda which portrayed that the existing government is un-Islamic and that western education is forbidden. Hence, the name Boko Haram itself delivered the notion that western culture or civilization is forbidden. Boko Haram has a unique political and religiously secular manifesto. Boko Haram was formed by Mohammad Yusuf, who preached his agenda of setting up a theocratic political system through his teachings derived from Islam. And countered the existing governmental setup of the Christians. The violent dynamics surged in 2009 when an uprising against the Nigerian government took the momentum that killed almost 800 people. Following the uprising, Mohammad Yusuf was killed and one of his lieutenants Abu Bakar Shekau took the lead.

Boko Haram used another violent strategy to gain world attention by bombing the UN Compound in Abuja that killed twenty-three people. The incident led to the declaration of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organizationby the United States Department. Thus, the group continued the process of violence and also started to seize several territories like Bama, Dam boa, and Abadan. They also extended their regional sphere in terms of occupation using violent strategies. The violence intensified when in the year 2014, 276 girls were abducted from Girl’s school in Chibok. This immediately triggered global outrage and developed an image of religious extremism and violence. This process continued over the years; one reported case articulated that a Christian girl ‘Lean Shairbu’ was kept in captivity for a prolonged period upon refusal to give up her religion. Ever since, the violence has attained an upward trajectory, as traced in the case of mass Chibok abduction and widespread attack in Cameroon in the years 2020 and 2021.

After establishing a regional foothold Boko Haram improvised new alliances especially in 2015 after the government recaptured some of its territories that pushed the militant group near Lake Chad and to the hilly areas. Consequently, Abu Bakar Shekau turned towards international alliance and pledged its allegiance to IS. This created two branches of Boko Haram called Jamat u Ahlis Liddawatiwal Jihad (JAS) headed by Abu Bakar Shekau and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) lead by Musab Al Barnarwai. The ISWAP developed strong social, political, and strategic roots in the region. It has embedded itself socially in the hearts and minds of people by establishing their caliphate and judicial system.

The pattern of religion-based conflicts has transformed the global religious conflicts. That is often referred to as extremist terrorism based on religion. Hence the rise of Boko Haram also involved demographics that complimented their political objectives. As the state of Nigeria is an amalgamation of Christians and Muslims; and has been constructed as a distinct ethno-lingual society, historically. The Christians resided in the South of Nigeria while the Muslims were located in Northern Nigeria. The northern side suffered from poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and public health issues under the government of Goodluck Jonathan. His government was centrally weak and marginalized the Northern side. This also contributed as one of the major factors that granted an edge for the influence and legitimacy of Boko Haram. Therefore, the main reason that triggered the organization and its move was based on Islamic principles of Jihad and Tajdid. This presents new notions of religion to recruit and incorporate more people into their community. The concept of Jihad has been historically driven which reflects and justifies acts against the unjust state and its authority. It also expands the capacity for social hostilities against the non-religious entities promoting hatred and non-acceptance. This also breeds religious extremism and rigidity that further validates the use of violence on their behalf.  Hence Jihad acts as a driving force to strive against the un-Islamic state structure for Islamic religious social fabric. Moreover, this religiously derived conception of violent confrontation has always been legitimized in terms of the historic concept of war and terms of self-defense. 

As a radical and contemporary religious belief; Jihad is regarded as the manifestation of religious violence and extremist terrorism. The establishment of the caliphate and state-like institutions represents a radical Salafist view regarding the establishment of the Islamic state structure. The ISWAP acts as a pseudo-state or state with in state that has established its authority and control. The reflection of another religious proclamation ofTajdid refers to the renewal of religious norms that aims at reconstruction or reset of social structure in accordance with Islamic values. Jihad and Tajdid collaboratively serve to generate notions about the reset of the political framework as an Islamic state system. The socio-religious reconstruction is particularly divergent from the western one. As western societies are often pluralistic, while Boko Haram’s vision aims as establishing Islamic social composition. Moreover, the western setup provided constitutional provisions to women in terms of rights, freedom, education, and liberty. This completely contradicted their conceptualization of women. Hence, this also generated gender-based violence as means to protect Islamic values. This was closely witnessed during the abduction of girls from their school. Furthermore, Islamic radicalization has been pursued through different channels that have extensively contributed to narrative building amongst the population, propaganda, and the development of a religious mindset in the African region. One of the most prominent tactics used for the purpose has been achieved through the propagation of literature. The scholars started to preach about Jihad and its implications since the 15th Century. The channel continues to date where the teachers preach about these scholarly findings that further encourages the youth to turn towards radical Islamization. The degree of radicalization elevates as Boko Haram propagates the concept of exclusivism that tends to oppose other value systems and beliefs. This creates a rift the society and deteriorates the sense of co-existence. As a result, Boko Haram represents a destructive paradox that promotes religious extremism and violence through misinterpretation of Islamic principles. Pursuing the political agenda of Boko Haram under the banner of Islamic law; which is power-oriented and would help them maintain dominance politically, economically, and territorially in the African region.

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Security of nuclear materials in India

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Terrorism

The author is of the view that nuclear security is lax in India. More so, because of the 123 Agreement and sprawling  nuclear installations in several states. The thieves and scrap dealers even dare to advertise online sale of radioactive uranium. India itself has reported several incidents of nuclear thefts to the international bodies. The author wonders why India’s security lapses remain out of international focus. Views expressed are personal.  

Amid raging pandemic in the southern Indian state of Maharashtra, the anti-terrorism squad arrested  (May 6, 20210) two persons (Jagar Jayesh Pandya and Abu Tahir Afzal hussain Choudhry) for attempting to sell seven kilograms  of highly-radioactive muranium for offered price of  about Rs. 21 crore. The “gentlemen” had uncannily advertised  the proposed sale online.. As such, the authorities initially dismissed the advertisement as just another hoax. They routinely detained the “sellers-to-be” and forwarded a sample of their ware to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.  They were shocked when the centre reported that “the material was natural uranium”.  As such the squad was compelled to book the duo under India’s Atomic Energy Act, 1962 at Nagpur police station (Explained: ATS seizes 7 kg uranium worth  Rs. 21 crore from a scrap dealer…Indian Express May 7, 2021).

Not a unique incident

The event, though shocking, is  is not  one of its kind. Earlier, in 2016 also, two persons were arrested by Thane (Maharashtra) police while they were trying to sell eight to nine kilograms of depleted uranium for Rs. 24 crore.  It is surmised that sale of uranium by scrap dealers in India is common. But, such events rarely come in limelight. According to Anil Kakodar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, `Factories using uranium as a counterweight in their machines are mandated to contact the Atomic Energy agencies and return uranium to them. They however resort to short cuts and sell the entire machine with uranium in scrap’.

India media scarcely report such incidents. However, Indian government sometimes reports such incidents to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to meet disclosure requirements. According to international media reports (February 25, 2004), India reported 25 cases of “missing” or “stolen” radio-active material from its labs to the IAEA.  Fifty-two per cent of the cases were attributed to “theft” and 48% to the “missing mystery”.  India claimed to have recovered lost material in twelve of total 25 cases.  It however admitted that 13 remaining cases remained mysterious.

India’s reports such incidents to the IAEA to portray itself as a “responsible state”.  It is hard to believe that radio-active material could be stolen from nuclear labs without operators’ connivance.

Nine computers, belonging to India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation establishment at Metcalfe House, New Delhi, were stolen. India communicated 25 cases of ‘stolen or missing’ uranium to the IAEA. In different incidents, uranium in varying forms and quantities continue to be recovered from scrap dealers and others by Indian authorities. The recoveries include fifty-seven pounds of uranium in rod form, eight kilograms in granular form, two hundred grams in semi-processed form, besides twenty-five kilograms in radioactive form, stolen from the Bibi Cancer Hospital.

Too, the ‘thieves’ stole three cobalt switches, worth Rs. 1.5 million, from Tata Steel Company laboratory at Jamshedpur (Jharkhand). A shipment of beryllium (worth $24 million), was caught in Vilnius, on its way to North Korea. Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea. A New Jersey-based Indian engineer Sitaram Ravi Mahidevan was indicted for having bypassed US export procedures to send blue-prints of solenoid-operated valves to North Korea.

We know that the Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship, carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea.  The oxide is an essential ingredient of rocket casings and is, as such, prohibited for export to “rogue” countries.

Pakistan bashing

Despite recurrent incidents of theft of uranium or other sensitive material from indiandian nuclear labs, the IAEA never initiated a thorough probe into lax security environment in government and private nuclear labs in india. However, the international media has a penchant for creating furore over uncorroborated nuclear lapses in Pakistan. The Time magazine article ‘Merchant of Menace’, had reported that some uranium hexafluoride cylinders were missing from the Kahuta Research Laboratories.  Pakistan’ then information minister and foreign-office spokesman had both refuted the allegation.  Masood Khan (foreign office) told reporters, `The story is a rehash of several past stories’.

Similarly,  Professor Shaun Gregory in his report ‘The Security of Nuclear Weapons’ contends that those guarding about 120 nuclear-weapon sites, mostly in northern and western parts of Pakistan, have fragmented loyalties. As such, they are an easy prey to religious extremists.

Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon, also draw a gloomy portrait of the situation in Pakistan. In their article, published in The New York Times, dated November 18, 2007, they predicted that extremists would take over, if rule of law collapses in Pakistan. Those sympathetic with the Taliban and al-Qaeda may convert Pakistan into a state sponsor of terrorism. They pointed to Osama bin Laden’s meeting with Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, former engineers of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission (having no bomb-making acumen).

They claimed that U.S. military experts and intelligence officials had explored strategies for securing Pakistan’s nuclear assets. One option was to isolate the country’s nuclear bunkers. Doing so would require saturating the area, surrounding the bunkers, with tens of thousands of high-powered mines, dropped from air, packed with anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions. The panacea, suggested by them, was that Pakistan’s nuclear material should be seized and stashed in some “safe” place like New Mexico.

Rebuttal

The fact is that the pilloried Pakistani engineers had no knowledge of weaponisation (“When the safest is not safe enough,” The Defence Journal -Pakistan), pages 61-63). The critics mysteriously failed to mention that Pakistan is a party to the UN Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials. The steps taken by Pakistan to protect its nuclear materials and installations conform to international standards. The National Command Authority, created on February 2, 2000, has made fail-safe arrangements to control development and deployment of strategic nuclear forces. Pakistan’s nuclear regulatory authority had taken necessary steps for safety, security, and accountability of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, facilities, and materials even before 9/11 incident. These controls include functional equivalent of the two-man rule and permissive action links (PALs). The indigenously-developed PALs are bulwarks against inadvertent loss of control, or accidental use of weapons. So far, there has been no security lapse in any of Pakistan’s nuclear establishments.

Abdul Mannan, in his paper titled “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Sabotage of a Spent Fuel Cask or a Commercial Irradiation Source in Transport”, has analysed various ways in which acts of nuclear terrorism could occur in Pakistan (quoted in “Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries beyond War”). He has fairly reviewed Pakistan’s vulnerability to nuclear terrorism through hypothetical case studies. He concludes that the threat of nuclear terrorism in Pakistan is a figment of imagination, rather than a real possibility.

There are millions of radioactive sources used worldwide in various applications. Only a few thousand sources, including Co-60, Cs-137, Ir-192, Sr-90, Am-241, Cf-252, Pu-238, and RA-226 are considered a security risk. The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has enforced a mechanism of strict measures for administrative and engineering control over radioactive sources from cradle to grave. It conducts periodic inspections and physical verifications to ensure security of the sources. The Authority has initiated a Five-Year National Nuclear-Safety-and-Security-Action Plan to establish a more robust nuclear-security regime. It has established a training centre and an emergency-coordination centre, besides deploying radiation-detection-equipment at each point of nuclear-material entry in Pakistan, supplemented by vehicle/pedestrian portal monitoring equipment where needed.

Fixed detectors have been installed at airports, besides carrying out random inspection of personnel luggage. All nuclear materials are under strict regulatory control right from import until their disposal.

Concluding remarks

Nuclear controls in India and the USA are not more stringent than Pakistan’s. It is not understood why the media does not deflect their attention to the fragile nuclear-security environment in India. It is unfortunate that the purblind critics fail to see the gnawing voids in India’s nuclear security.

The ‘research work’ by well-known scholars reflects visceral hatred against Pakistan. The findings in fresh ‘magnum opuses’ are a re-hash or amalgam of the presumptions and pretensions in earlier-published ‘studies’. It is time that the West deflected its attention to India where movements of nuclear materials, under the 123 expansion plan, are taking place between nuclear-power plants sprawling across different states.

Above all, will the international media and the IAEA look into open market uranium sales in India.

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Intelligence

Biological warfare: A global security threat

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Biological warfare is not a new concept in arena of international politics as it has been used as a tool to sabotage enemy in previous centuries. Biological weapons are a sub-category of Weapons of Mass destruction (WMDs) in which there is a deliberate use of micro-organisms like pathogens and toxins to cause disease or death in humans, livestock and yields.Form its usage in 14th century by Mongols to its usage by imperial Japan during 1930s-40s against Chinese, it has always been a threat to global security. The evolution of bio-weapons can be broadly categorized into four phases; first phase includes the post WWII developments with the evident use of chlorine and phosgene in Ypres.The second phase was marked by the use of nerve agents like tabun, cholinesterase inhibitor and anthrax and plague bombs. The initiation of third phase was marked by the use of biological weapons in Vietnam war during 1970s where deadly agents like Agent orange were used. 4th and last phase include the time of biological and technological revolution where genetic engineering techniques were at their peak. Traditionally they have been used in wartime in order to defeat enemy but with the emergence of violent non-state actors, bioterrorism is another potential threat to the security of states. There are certain goals that are associated with the use of biological weapons. Firstly, it is purposed to hit to economy of the targeted country, breaking down government authority and have a psychological effect on masses of the targeted population. It is also a kind of psychological warfare as it may hit a smaller number of people but leaves impact on wider audience through intimidation and spreading fear. It also creates natural circumstances under which a population is induced with disease without revealing the actual perpetrator.

With the advancement in genetic engineering techniques more lethal biological weapons are being produced everyday around the world. Countries which are economically deprived are more likely to pursue such goals as it is difficult for them to go for heavy military sophistication keeping into consideration their poor economic conditions. Biological weapons serve as inexpensive tool for developing countries to address their issues in prevailing international security environment. During the initial decades of cold war, united states of America (USA) and Soviet Union went for acquiring tons of biological weapons alongside nuclear proliferation.

 The quest for these weapons reduced during 1970s with the formation of Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). This convention was presented in 1972 before countries and finally came into force in 1975 with 150 countries who signed this convention and 140 countries who fully joined this treaty. This convention prohibits any biological weaponization in order to promote peace and stability around the world. But this convention has obvious defects as it is unable to address many issues like it doesn’t prevents itself the use of biological weapons but just reinforces 1925 Geneva Protocol which forbids the use of bio-weapons. Convention allows ‘defensive research’ to which there are many objections that what is incorporated into this defensive research. It is non-binding to the signatory states and in case if countries are proliferating it lacks the effective oversight techniques to look after them either they are pursuing these biological weapons capabilities or not. Since the inception of this convention till now it has clearly failed in stopping the countries from acquisition as well as usage of these weapons. This is evident as there were many cases after 1975 where these weapons were used as in 1980s when Iraq used mustard gas, sarin and tabun against Iran and many other ethnic groups inside Iran. Another incident which was highlighted was Sarine nerve gas attack in Tokyo subway system leaving thousands injured and many got killed. In post-cold war era, however, the number of these attacks reduced as much attention was shifted to terrorism after 9/11 attacks with the change in global security architecture.

“Anthrax letters” in post 9/11 attacks revealed yet another dimension of bio-weapons which was the threat of bioterrorism from non-state actors. US became a victim of bio-terrorism when in 2001 a powder was transported through letters containing bacterium called anthrax infecting many people. One purpose which terrorists have is to make general masses feel as if they are unsafe in the hands of their government which can be best achieved through the use of these weapons. The fact that biological weapons are cheaper and more devastating than conventional weapons make it more likely for biological weapons to be used by terrorists. Also, the fact that they are easy to hide and transport and a smaller quantity can leave long-lasting impacts on larger population makes these weapons more appealing.  Now that we are facing a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19 which according to some conspiracy theories is a biological weapon pose even more serious challenge to the international security in coming decades. There is no such scientific research which proves Corona Virus as a biological weapon but the realization here is that whether or not it is a biological weapon but world was least prepared for it. Not only the developing countries but also developed states suffered more despite having enormous medical infrastructure. The fact that there has been decline in the incidents related to bioterrorism should never let us think that there is no possibility of such attacks. The fact that world failed to handle Covid-19 puts a question mark on the credibility of measures if we are faced with bio-terrorism. The medical community as well as general population needs to develop an understanding of how to respond if there is such attack. At the international level there is a dire need to develop some strong norms which discourage the development and use of such weapons in any capacity.    

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