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Criminal gangs attempted to sell nuclear weapons to IS: Report

Moldovan authorities say nuclear smugglers that they monitored specifically wanted buyers who would attack the US
A photo of Islamic State members in their de facto headquarters in Syria's Raqqah (AFP)

Gangs with suspect Russian connections have tried to sell nuclear materials to militants operating in the Middle East, including the Islamic State, the Associated Press has reported.

Over the past five years, Moldovan authorities working with the FBI have interrupted attempts by members of criminal organisations, operating in the country, to sell radioactive contraband to groups, according to AP’s investigative report.

However, many of the sellers escaped and other evaded long prison sentences. It is also unclear whether suspects who fled held onto their nuclear wares or if groups were able to buy the material, Moldovan police and judicial authorities said.

Moldovan officials said many of the wiretapped conversations they recorded over their five year operation revealed plots to target the US.

A go-between told an informant posing as a buyer that the nuclear material had to go to “an Islamic buyer” because they would bomb the Americans, one of the investigators told AP.  

"In the age of the Islamic State, it's especially terrifying to have real smugglers of nuclear bomb material apparently making connections with real buyers," Matthew Bunn, a Harvard professor who led a study under the Clinton administration on Russia’s security arsenal, told AP.

Through its Dabiq magazine, IS claimed in May that it supporters in Pakistan could purchase a nuclear device through “weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials in the region” and then transport it through drug-smuggling channels into the US.

Admitting that it was unlikely that the group would actually obtain nuclear weapons, the article, which was attributed to British hostage John Cantlie, said it was “infinitely more possible today than it was just one year ago.

“And if not a nuke, what about a few thousand tons of ammonium nitrate explosive? That’s easy enough to make.”