NEWS & OPINION: Pakistan bombing; Qaeda shift; nuclear vulnerabilities

Pakistan bombing toll rises above 50

As U.S. officials warned of a renewed focus by Islamic miliants on attacks in Pakistan, the death toll climbed above 50 on Friday in a suicide bombing that could herald a perilous election campaign and a harsh new confrontation between extremists and government forces.

Even at the close of a year that has seen dozens of suicide attacks across the country, Pakistanis were horrified by the circumstances of this one in Charsadda, in North-West Frontier Province. The attacker blew himself up in a mosque, killing and maiming worshipers as they gathered to mark one of the holiest days of the Muslim calendar. [complete article]

Gates warns of Al Qaeda shift

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today that Al Qaeda insurgents who were launching attacks in Afghanistan have now shifted their emphasis to Pakistan, increasing the threat in that nation.

Gates said the number of Al Qaeda insurgents and other fighters coming into Afghanistan from Pakistan was down about 40% in Regional Command East, the volatile section of the country controlled by U.S. forces.

Al Qaeda, Gates said, maintains its base in the loosely governed tribal areas on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. But the Al Qaeda fighters, he said, were not focused on attacking Afghanistan from Pakistan. [complete article]

A nuclear site is breached

An underreported attack on a South African nuclear facility last month demonstrates the high risk of theft of nuclear materials by terrorists or criminals. Such a crime could have grave national security implications for the United States or any of the dozens of countries where nuclear materials are held in various states of security.

Shortly after midnight on Nov. 8, four armed men broke into the Pelindaba nuclear facility 18 miles west of Pretoria, a site where hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade uranium are stored. According to the South African Nuclear Energy Corp., the state-owned entity that runs the Pelindaba facility, these four “technically sophisticated criminals” deactivated several layers of security, including a 10,000-volt electrical fence, suggesting insider knowledge of the system. Though their images were captured on closed-circuit television, they were not detected by security officers because nobody was monitoring the cameras at the time.

So, undetected, the four men spent 45 minutes inside one of South Africa’s most heavily guarded “national key points” — defined by the government as “any place or area that is so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilization may prejudice the Republic.” [complete article]

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