How terrorism in the West compares to terrorism everywhere else

Since the beginning of 2015, in the Middle East, Africa and Asia there have been 50 times more deaths from terrorism than occurred in Europe and the Americas. Yet when it comes to news coverage, no doubt that ratio is inverted to an even greater extreme, creating the impression among much of the population in the U.S. and Europe that we are the primary target of global terrorism.

These are the raw numbers:

Europe and the Americas: 658 deaths in 46 attacks

The rest of the world: 28,031 deaths in 2,063 attack

Here in a graph, along with further analysis, the Washington Post provides some of the details.


The misguided logic of keeping calm in the face of terror

Emile Simpson writes: Statistically, there is a minuscule individual chance of being killed by terrorism in the West.

Commentators will delight in finding comparisons that capture the apparent absurdity of being frightened by terrorism — perhaps telling us that more people are killed by bee stings than terrorism, or that there is more chance of being killed in a car crash than having your kids crushed by a terrorist-driven truck, or such like. Be resilient, they’ll say. Statistically speaking, we’re good here. Statistically speaking, we should all calm down, keep cool heads, and celebrate peace in the West.

But the statistical approach utterly misses the point. The essence of terrorism is that it is not just any sort of crime. It is a crime against the very fabric of the state, as the timing of the attack on Bastille Day was perhaps intended to emphasize.

To view terrorism through the lens of the personal risk of death implies an impoverished, almost nonexistent, view of the state — that is, the community of citizens that is the basis of all political life. In the statistical view, the state evaporates into a collection of atomized individuals who care only about themselves. A peace that requires — even applauds — a sort of numb, cold acceptance in the face of events like Thursday’s and calls it resilience is a rather pathetic peace to celebrate.

Peace depends on the stability of the political order. That political order has an identity in its own right. There is, in other words, a nation behind the state; when the state is attacked, the nation is attacked. Responding to terror with a cold, individualized, statistical message only opens the doors to Europe’s populists, who then appear the only ones not allergic to the recognition that the nation, a body with its own history, culture, and identity, has been wounded. Their response to that is identity politics, which is the path to social disaster. But until the political mainstream stands up for the idea that the state does have certain basic values that demand the loyalty of all its citizens — not just in terms of the law but in spirit as well — they can’t expect to tame today’s populist zeitgeist. [Continue reading…]


The Nice attack heralds a new kind of terror — one we can’t define


Peter Beaumont writes: After attacks such as Nice, we demand answers. A requirement to understand is necessary both to protect ourselves in the future and to deal with the consequences of horror. What was the motivation? Are there links to other individuals? How did the killer arrive at the decision to kill?

That desire to understand is hardly a new phenomenon, although modern media have made it more pervasive. Joseph Conrad, in the complex character of Verloc – the anarchist bomber, double agent and provocateur of the The Secret Agent – was an early explorer of this territory.

White people who buy guns to shoot up cinemas and schools are put into one category: “lone wolves”. And inevitably the focus is on psychological and social problems. Individuals from a Muslim background are instantly placed in another category: “terrorists”. But when it comes to attacks such as those in Nice and Orlando, the distinction is increasingly unclear.

If those two attacks – as seems very possible – were as much about the inadequacies of the attackers as about Islamic State; if Isis, or simply the fact of the attention given to such mass killings claimed by Isis, is no more than a nudge that legitimises, in the perpetrator’s mind, mass killing – then perhaps there is no meaningful distinction. [Continue reading…]


Trump is wrong about Saddam Hussein

Hayder Al-Shakeri writes: As an Iraqi, I learned about the values on which the United States of America was built during an exchange semester in the US. I admired those values and respected Americans for believing in them. But Donald Trump contradicts some of those very principles. In a speech on Tuesday, I heard him praise the way Saddam killed “terrorists” without reading them rights or even letting them talk. This is not the American system that I was taught – nor these the values I respected.

“Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Right? He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk, they were a terrorist, it was over,” Donald Trump said in his speech.

It is true that Saddam killed many people. Saddam killed men and women, kids and minorities and many others who stood up to him. Most of them were not terrorists, though. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been wasted under his leadership/dictatorship. Iraq, in his opinion, might have looked better during his time, but Iraqis back then suffered greatly.

Saddam led Iraq into long wars lasting several years, during which Iraqis had to fight for what he believed in. He committed genocides against his people and eventually Iraq had up to 250 mass graves spread around in the country. Saddam went after anyone who opposed him – he didn’t care about violating basic human rights or democracy.

Through such acts, Saddam was able to instill terror in his people, making them afraid to whisper a word. That is how Saddam dealt with terrorism, by terrorizing everyone so no one would be able to speak or stand up to him. In that way, the state looked orderly and people seemed in a better place than right now. [Continue reading…]


Control and fear: What mass killings and domestic violence have in common

Amanda Taub writes: One of the first things we learned about Omar Mateen, the gunman in the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., was that his ex-wife said he had beaten her severely until she left him in 2009.

If it sounds familiar that a gunman in a mass shooting would have a history of domestic violence, it should.

In February, Cedric Ford shot 17 people at his Kansas workplace, killing three, only 90 minutes after being served with a restraining order sought by his ex-girlfriend, who said he had abused her. And Man Haron Monis, who holed up with hostages for 17 hours in a cafe in Sydney, Australia, in 2014, an episode that left two people dead and four wounded, had terrorized his ex-wife. He had threatened to harm her if she left him, and was eventually charged with organizing her murder.

When Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, analyzed F.B.I. data on mass shootings from 2009 to 2015, it found that 57 percent of the cases included a spouse, former spouse or other family member among the victims — and that 16 percent of the attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence.

Social scientists have not settled on an explanation for this correlation, but their research reveals striking parallels between the factors that drive the two phenomena.

There are, of course, a tangle of factors behind every murder, especially terrorism inspired by foreign groups. But research on domestic violence hints at a question that often arises from seemingly inexplicable events like Mr. Mateen’s massacre of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub — what drives individuals to commit such mass attacks? — and sheds light on the psychology of violence. [Continue reading…]


Watch out for the terrorism ‘experts’

Whenever an act of violence gets widely described as an act of terrorism, the one thing we can be confident about while facts remain hard to come by is that there will be no shortage of “expert” opinion — a lot of it resting on very dubious foundations.

Consider, for instance, this assessment by Robert Pape, the director of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism.

One month after the December 2015 San Bernardino attacks that murdered 14, killers Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik appeared in the pages of [the ISIS magazine] Dabiq. It is almost certain that [Orlando shooter, Omar] Mateen will appear in the next issue.

It may also emerge that Mateen watched ISIS videos that seek to recruit Westerners, an area in which their propagandists have excelled. If so, he was a perfect fit for the profile of previous ISIS recruits.

A male in his late 20s, with a connection to the Middle East, but who is not necessarily a traditionally devout Muslim, Mateen ticked many of the boxes that ISIS looks for. Reports from former co-workers and family members paint the picture of an individual who became increasingly withdrawn and radicalized, but maintained an outsized ego and liked to snap selfies. In other words, prime recruitment material.

ISIS offered Mateen a step-by-step blueprint for terror, from target selection to tactics, and told him that if he followed their instructions he would be a hero.

This guidance has been laid out by ISIS in online communications. “Hit everyone and everything,” wrote ISIS in a March 2015 magazine article, a commandment that the group’s operatives have followed in choosing soft targets like nightclubs, sports stadiums, and airplane terminals in Paris, Brussels, and now Orlando.

This timing as well may be no accident. ISIS posted an audio clip in late May asking its followers to schedule attacks for the holy month of Ramadan, which started on the evening of June 5. The content of the message is especially relevant in the case of Orlando.

In one chilling passage, the speaker states, “The smallest action you do in their heartland is better and more enduring to us than what you would if you were with us. If one of you hoped to reach the Islamic State, we wish we were in your place to punish the Crusaders day and night.”

Orlando brings up a new specter of fear for Americans. Instead of trained ISIS operatives slipping into our country to form sleeper cells, we must now confront the reality that “lone wolf” attackers are far from alone when we consider the world of training and online inspiration at their fingertips.

Mateen’s appearance in the next issue of Dabiq is not “almost certain” — on the contrary, it seems increasingly unlikely.

If Mateen had ever ventured to Raqqa, he would have risked meeting his own grisly end by getting thrown off a rooftop.

As for the features that distinguished this young man as “prime recruitment material” for ISIS, if those include a liking to take selfies, the pool of potential so-called lone wolves ready to kill for ISIS must now span every corner of the globe.

The ISIS directive to “hit everyone and everything,” certainly leaves a lot of latitude when it comes to the choices made by any individual killer. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t underestimate the capacity of ISIS recruits to engage in some elementary strategic thinking.

After Larossi Abballa murdered an off-duty police officer and his female companion in France this week, the killer took to Facebook to present his goals:

Mr. Abballa’s Facebook post from Monday night made clear that he wanted to terrify and destroy those he deemed “unbelievers,” people he had come to hate. He also wanted to encourage other lone wolves to do the same.

“It’s super simple,” he said, looking into the camera. “It’s enough to wait for them in front of their offices; don’t give them any respite. Know this, whether you are a policeman or a journalist, you will never feel calm again. One will wait for you in front of your homes. This is what you have earned.”

Boasting that he had “just killed a policeman and I just killed his wife,” he called on fellow believers to give priority to killing “police, prison guards, journalists.” He specifically named several writers and journalists, adding rappers to the list because, he said, they “are the allies of Satan.”

Although a gay nightclub in Orlando fits the indiscriminate directive of “everyone and everything,” it wasn’t an obvious target for someone wanting to strike fear across a nation.

Abballa clearly wanted an isolated murder to be treated as a threat to the state. Mateen’s motives, however, remain far from clear. Indeed, an attack on the LGBT community would be an ill-conceived way of attacking America, given that there are so many conservative Americans who are homophobic.

It has been reported that the gunman took his wife at least once to the location of the nightclub for “reconnaissance,” and yet regulars there say he had visited the club repeatedly for several years — so why the need for reconnaissance? If he didn’t want his wife to be aware of his prior connection, this may have been an exercise designed to obscure his familiarity with his target and mislead his wife about his motives.

The specter of lone wolf attacks in America is certainly a fear that ISIS wants to promote, but terrorism experts and the media need to avoid amplifying that fear without due cause. The evidence, so far, indicates that those who plot alone are the exception rather than the rule.

[A] Reuters review of the approximately 90 Islamic State court cases brought by the Department of Justice since 2014 found that three-quarters of those charged were alleged to be part of a group of anywhere from two to more than 10 co-conspirators who met in person to discuss their plans.

Even in those cases that did not involve in-person meetings, defendants were almost always in contact with other sympathizers, whether via text message, email or networking websites, according to court documents. Fewer than 10 cases involved someone accused of acting entirely alone.

The extent of Mateen’s radicalization remains unclear, but anyone who professed to have ties to ISIS, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah at a time when these groups are at war against each other, seems less like a committed jihadist than someone who was clumsily constructing a fake identity.

Lastly, for those who remain fixated on images of scary Middle Eastern guys, it’s worth being reminded that Omar Mateen was in so many regards an ordinary American — as can be seen in this video clip which apparently shows him when he was working as a G4S security guard around 2012.



Who defines ‘terrorism’?



Why it’s premature to call Omar Mateen a terrorist

Each time an atrocity takes place in which innocent people become targets of indiscriminate violence, there is a rush to brand the violence as terrorism.

This has little to do with any widely accepted definition of the term and much more to do with a need to voice outrage and mobilize a forceful response.

If on one side everyone’s shouting “terrorism!” while others are voicing doubt, the doubters instantly get cast as being soft on terrorism.

From what we know at this time, I’m inclined to believe that the massacre in Orlando was a mass-murder/suicide disguised to look like a terrorist attack.

It has already been widely reported that Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, said his son got “very angry” two months ago when he saw two men kissing in Miami. This was presented as evidence of the gunman’s existing and strong homophobia.

There are now indications that the foundation of Mateen’s homophobia may have been extreme ambivalence around his own homosexuality.

The Associated Press reports:

The ex-wife of the shooter at a gay Florida nightclub says the man enjoyed nightlife, but she’s not sure if he had any homosexual tendencies.

Sitora Yusufiy spoke to CNN on Tuesday from Denver.

She says: “When we had gotten married, he confessed to me about his past … that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife, and there was a lot of pictures of him. … I feel like it’s a side of him or a part of him that he lived, but probably didn’t want everybody to know about.”

Regulars at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando including Ty Smith, say that Mateen had been seen there on numerous occasions over an extended period.

Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times.

“We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times,” Smith said. “He told us he had a wife and child.”

When asked about those sightings, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said he had no information.

Another Pulse regular, Kevin West, told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen messaged him on and off for a year using a gay chat app.

Fox News reports:

Smith’s husband, Chris Callen, told the Canadian Press that Mateen had been to Pulse regularly for “at least three years.”

Jim Van Horn, 71, told the Associated Press he was a frequent patron at Pulse and said another “regular” there was Mateen.

“He was trying to pick up people. Men,” Van Horn said late Monday outside the Parliament House, another gay club.

If the sight of gay men kissing provoked so much rage in Mateen, why would he have been a regular at a gay nightclub for several years, using Jack’d, a gay dating app, and trying to pick up men?

The indications suggest that what Mateen hated most was being gay. No doubt, the fact that he had been raised a Muslim, would have made his own conflicted feelings that much more intense and difficult to resolve.

To go on a rampage at the conclusion of which the gunman could reasonably expect to be killed, may have been conceived as a murderous effort to purge himself of his own feelings. And if he felt such a deep need to bury his own homosexuality, it would make sense to conjure the impression that this was an act of terrorism — and one that would predictably be applauded by ISIS.

But we don’t know — at this point, much of the above remains conjecture.

Nevertheless, since this is at least a plausible explanation for what happened in Orlando on Sunday, it’s worth looking at Donald Trump’s reaction to the massacre and considering the wildly inappropriate actions he would probably have taken had he been the president at this time.

In the name of a forceful response to terrorism, Trump would be rounding up Muslims and shutting down airports. He would (and is) fueling national Islamophobic hysteria. And all in the name of fighting terrorism.

In other words, at a time when wise leaders would be promoting gun control and encouraging similarly troubled young men to embrace their own sexuality rather than turn to violence, Trump would be creating a national security crisis.

Which is exactly why terrorism is a word that should be used with extreme caution.


French authorities given broader powers to fight terrorism

The New York Times reports: The French Parliament on Wednesday approved a law that gives the police and judicial authorities new powers to detain terrorism suspects, put people under house arrest and use deadly force to stop attacks.

The Senate, France’s upper house of Parliament, approved the bill by a show of hands. The National Assembly, the lower house, had already approved it.

The measure is the latest in a series of legislative changes that the government of President François Hollande has pushed through to give the authorities greater policing powers after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last year, sometimes prompting debates over civil liberties. [Continue reading…]


Cavorting with extremism: UK cracks down at home, befriends extremists abroad

By Brian Whitaker, May 18, 2016

Today Queen Elizabeth will deliver her annual speech to the British parliament setting out the government’s programme for the next 12 months. High on the list of proposals is a renewed effort to combat “extremism”, and one idea is to establish a register of “extremists” – similar to the register of sex offenders – intended “to stop radicals infiltrating schools, colleges, charities and care homes, where they could brainwash vulnerable young people or disabled adults into violence”.

The problem with this, as with the rest of the government’s “counter-extremism” policy, is how to define “extremism”. In a recent article for The Independent, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael explained:

“The [government’s] current definition of extremism as ‘the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’ is drafted so widely that it will not only catch terrorist sympathisers but perhaps even those who oppose the government, believe the monarchy should be abolished or disagree with same-sex marriage.”

But the problem goes deeper than that. Last Sunday a spectacular event featuring TV celebrities and 900 horses was held at Windsor Castle to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. The royal family were in attendance and, seated at the Queen’s right-hand side was a man who by any reasonable interpretation of the government’s definition would be considered an extremist: the king of Bahrain.

[Read more…]


How to stop prisons from turning criminals into terrorists


Cullen Thomas writes: Each time I learn of another terrorist who spent time in prison, I’m taken back to my own prison time. In 1994, I was caught smuggling hashish into South Korea and spent three and a half years imprisoned there. Since then I’ve struggled to understand the nature of confinement and its effects on the individual.

It’s a striking and clear pattern that many of the most notorious terrorists of the modern era spent time in prison. Salah Abdeslam, the suspect behind the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, was imprisoned in Belgium with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who lead the Friday the 13th attacks in Paris last November.

Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris earlier in 2015, were imprisoned in France’s massive Fleury-Mérogis, Europe’s largest prison.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, before he became right-hand man to Osama bin Laden, was radicalised in Egyptian prisons. As Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006), put it, Zawahiri ‘entered prison a surgeon. He came out of it a butcher.’ [Continue reading…]


Invasion of Iraq ‘undoubtedly increased the threat’ of terrorist attacks in UK, said then-head of MI5

Richard Norton-Taylor writes: We can confidently make some assumptions about the Chilcot inquiry, whose report has just been delivered to the Cabinet Office for “national security checks”. It will strongly criticise Tony Blair for promising George Bush that the UK would join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 but keeping parliament and the public in the dark; attack ministers, mandarins and top brass alike for allowing Blair to delay military preparations; and damn the catastrophic failure to prepare for the subsequent occupation of the country.

What has received far less attention is the devastating evidence Chilcot heard about the invasion making Britain more vulnerable to terrorism. Blair has always dismissed suggestions that his foreign policy decisions were in any way responsible for encouraging terrorist attacks and “radicalising” young British Muslims as a charge perpetuated by “the left”.

The evidence to Chilcot contradicts his assertion. Lady Manningham-Buller, head of MI5 at the time, bluntly told the inquiry the invasion “undoubtedly increased the threat” of terrorist attacks in Britain.

She said she communicated her view to Blair via Whitehall’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). “The number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and statements of people as to why they were involved,” all pointed to the increased terrorist threat to the UK. [Continue reading…]


Anders Behring Breivik’s inexplicable crime


Karl Ove Knausgaard writes: Norway is a small country. It is also relatively homogeneous and egalitarian. This means that the distance from top to bottom is short, and that great disasters affect the entire populace. For example, every Norwegian knows someone who knows someone who died when the Alexander Kielland drilling rig capsized, in 1980 — I recall that my brother had a schoolmate whose father died in the disaster — or when, a decade later, a ferry, the Scandinavian Star, burned and a hundred and fifty-eight of the passengers died. There is also something deeply sincere, almost innocent, about Norwegian culture. Practically every time something about Norway or one of its people appears in the foreign press, the Norwegian media mention this with pride. And every May 17th, National Constitution Day, people don their nicest clothes, whether these be bunads, suits, or dresses, retrieve their flags and ribbons with Norwegian colors, and spill onto the streets to watch children sing songs about Norway, while everyone shouts hurrah and waves flags in a show of patriotism that encompasses every layer of society and plays out in every part of the country. The celebration takes place without irony and is essentially unpolitical — both the left and the right are united in this sea of flags and children. This says something about the country’s egotism, but also about its harmlessness.

It was out of this world that the thirty-two-year-old Anders Behring Breivik stepped when, on the afternoon of July 22, 2011, he set out from his mother’s flat in Oslo’s West End, changed into a police uniform, parked a van containing a bomb, which he had spent the spring and summer making, outside Regjeringskvartalet, lit the fuse, and left the scene. While the catastrophic images of the attack, which killed eight people, were being broadcast across the world, Breivik headed to Utøya. That was where the Workers’ Youth League had its annual summer camp. There Breivik shot and killed sixty-nine people, in a massacre that lasted for more than an hour, right until the police arrived, when he immediately surrendered.

He wanted to save Norway. Just a few hours before detonating the bomb, Breivik e-mailed a fifteen-hundred-page manifesto to a thousand recipients, in which he said that we were at war with Muslims and multiculturalism and that the slaughter of the campers was meant to be a wake-up call. He also uploaded to YouTube a twelve-minute video that revealed, with propagandistic simplicity, what was about to happen in Europe: the Muslim invasion.

The shock in Norway was total. After the Second World War, the most serious political assault in the country had been the so-called Hadeland Murders, in 1981. Two young men, members of a small neo-Nazi underground movement, Norges Germanske Armé, were killed. Breivik’s crime was radically different. The television broadcasts of the scene were chaotic; the journalists and anchorpeople were just as affected by the events as the people they were interviewing; one read in their eyes and their body language incredulity, shock, confusion. The usual detachment with which news is delivered had collapsed. Indeed, at that moment it seemed as if the world stood open. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in a bomb and gun rampage in 2011, lives in conditions that would seem luxurious by American incarceration standards: a three-room suite with windows that includes a treadmill, a fridge, a television with DVD player and even a Sony PlayStation.

But on Wednesday, a Norwegian court found that the government had violated his human rights, concluding that his long-term solitary confinement posed a threat to his mental health. Mr. Breivik has virtually no contact with other inmates and is subjected to frequent strip searches and searches of his cell. At a trial in March, he argued that his isolation amounted to torture.

Judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic of the Oslo District Court, who oversaw the trial, which was held at the prison for security reasons, found on Wednesday that prison officials had violated an article of the European Convention of Human Rights that prohibits “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” She directed the government to reduce the extent of Mr. Breivik’s isolation — though she did not specify how — and ordered the government to pay Mr. Breivik’s legal fees of 331,000 kroner, or about $40,600. [Continue reading…]


Obama’s counterterrorism strategy ‘an abject failure,’ says former official


The New York Times reports: The banging on the door jolted Sal Shafi awake. F.B.I. agents were looking for his son. “Where’s Adam?” they yelled. “Where’s Adam?”

Terrified, Mr. Shafi led the agents, guns drawn, up the stairs toward his son’s bedroom. He watched as they led his 22-year-old son away in handcuffs, backed by evidence of Adam Shafi’s terrorist ambitions.

He had come to the attention of officials not by a well-placed informant or a sting operation. His father, concerned and looking for help, had simply picked up the phone and led the government right to his son. For months, over the objections of his lawyer, Mr. Shafi had been talking to the F.B.I., believing he was doing the right thing.

“My God,” he thought, soon after the arrest in July. “I just destroyed Adam.”

Had things been different, Mr. Shafi, 62, a Silicon Valley executive, might have become a much-needed spokesman for the Obama administration’s counterradicalization campaign. Who better to talk to other parents about the seductive pull of terror organizations? Trust the government, he would tell them. They do not want to take away your children.

Despite nascent efforts to steer young people away from terrorism, the government’s strategy remains largely built on persuading people to call the F.B.I. when they first suspect a problem. [Continue reading…]


What is a dirty bomb and how dangerous is it?

By Robert J Downes, King’s College London

The worrying news that individuals affiliated with the so-called Islamic State have undertaken hostile surveillance at a Belgian nuclear research facility has created growing speculation about the group’s nuclear ambitions.

Nuclear weapons and dirty bombs are frequently mentioned in the same breath. However, they are two distinct technologies. Understanding the differences between these weapons and the damage they can cause can ground speculation in reality – and help us work out the most likely route a terrorist organisation such as Islamic State may take in the future.

There are two types of actual nuclear weapon – fission and thermonuclear devices. Fission bombs are fuelled with fissile material such as uranium and plutonium. When detonated, the atoms in the weapon’s core split and release huge amounts of energy – producing a nuclear explosion. Thermonuclear weapons use a fission bomb to ignite special fuel, consisting of light hydrogen isotopes. These nuclei are forced together – undergoing nuclear fusion – releasing an even larger explosion.

There are no indications that a terrorist group has obtained any fissile material to date. If they could it would be possible for them to build a fission device, although this does pose a huge technical challenge. While highly engineered weapons need only a few kilograms of fissile material, a crude terrorist-built design would require far more. Thermonuclear weapons, on the other hand, are too complex for terrorist groups to develop.

An easier option for a terrorist group would be to build a dirty bomb or, technically, a radiological dispersal device. These do not rely on complex nuclear reactions. Instead, conventional explosives are used to disperse radioactive material, contaminating an area with elements such as radioactive isotopes of cobalt, caesium or americium.

[Read more…]