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Evaluating Al-Qaida’s Nuclear Strategy

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Of all the terrorist threats facing the United States, one stands in a category by itself. If al-Qaida set off a nuclear bomb in a U.S. city, there would be hundreds of thousands of casualties and a landscape uninhabitable for years to come.

A nuclear bomb is the one true weapon of mass destruction.

The likelihood of al-Qaida carrying out a nuclear attack involves two questions: First, does the group have the technical capability? And second, would it really want to use it?

As the top intelligence official at the Department of Energy, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen is the man in the U.S. government whose job it is to worry about nuclear terrorism.

He does not think al-Qaida has a nuclear bomb in its arsenal yet. Acquiring one would be a challenge.

As for the group’s thinking, Mowatt-Larssen imagines Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders sitting around a campfire somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan, debating whether a nuclear attack on the United States would be a good idea.

“I could hear a pro and a con emerging from that discussion,” Mowatt-Larssen says, with “some arguing that it would enhance, exalt the group’s standing historically, others arguing that it would be a disaster.”

Al-Qaida is sometimes portrayed as a terrorist group with an apocalyptic vision, intent mainly on destroying its enemies, without a focus on long-term goals of its own. But Mowatt-Larssen and other terrorism experts argue that it should be seen instead as acting strategically — at least from its own perspective.

Evaluating Al-Qaida’s Nuclear Strategy : NPR.

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Written by Claudia

August 12, 2008 at 3:37 pm

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