A Precedence of Threats to Belgium’s Nuclear Energy Facilities

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The Islamic State (IS) attack last week in Brussels was believed to be the worst attack on Belgium soil since World War II. However, IS had initially plotted to infiltrate the country’s nuclear energy sector.

Present: 2015-2016

While conducting raids last November after the Paris attacks authorities discovered surveillance tapes of Belgium’s atomic energy chief in the home of Mohammad Bakkali, who is believed to have rented two of the apartments used by the Paris terrorists.  Bakkali has been held in custody since the raid of his apartment in Brussels last November.

The 12 hours of footage raised concerns to law enforcement that the energy chief was either going to be kidnapped or be forced to give the terrorists access to the facility. Radioactive isotopes in the nuclear plants could be used to build a dirty bomb.

Intelligence officials believe now that the El Bokraoui brothers had plotted to attack Belgium’s nuclear sector, but where deterred after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam.

Nuclear facilities in France and Belgium were put under the highest alert and guarded by French and Belgium military after the tapes were discovered. Le Derniere Heure reported that two men were suspected of videotaping the atomic chief and now evidence shows it was most likely the El Bokraoui brothers.

Security Guard Mysteriously Killed at Home

The Doel and Tihange nuclear plants saw an increase of 140 Belgium military personnel after Didier Prospero, who worked for G4S security at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre in Fleurus, was gunned down in his home along with his dog. Reports indicate his security badge was stolen as well, but deactivated after news of his death was made public.

Police are investigating this as a criminal incident and not as an act of terrorism, but some feel that the killing of a security guard at a nuclear facility just days after the Brussels bombing is more than a coincidence, and there is fear that assailants could be trying to gain access to the facility to build a dirty bomb.

Past Incidents: 2012-2014

According to the New York Post, several Belgian nuclear employees have had their security clearances revoked due to fears of potential IS plots. In 2012, two Belgian nuclear workers traveled to Syria to fight for the IS. IIyass Boughalab, was killed and the other was jailed when he returned to Belgium on terrorism related charges, but released last year. They fought in the same brigade as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the master mind of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Boughalab who had a criminal record and found guilty of absentia by supporting “Sharia4Belgium”,  but his parents remain he was not indoctrinated until after he had been working at the plant for some time.

In 2013, two individuals managed to scale the fences of a nuclear facility in the City of Mol, break into a laboratory and steal equipment. Highly dangerous isotopes such as cesium-137 are produced at Mol.

In November 2014, a nuclear employee at the same plant turned on a valve which released 65,000 litters of oil used to lubricant the turbines, this caused the reactor to overheat. A spokesman for the nuclear agency said it was a deliberate act of sabotage, but they were not sure if the act was a vengeful employee or if he did have connections to terrorism.

Conflicting Opinions on Nuclear Facilities Safety:

Yukiya Amano, Chief of the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA), noted, “Terrorism is spreading and the possibility of using nuclear material cannot be excluded. Member states need to have sustained interest in strengthening nuclear security.”

John Brennan, Director of the CIA, did note that IS has used chemical weapons in attacks against the Peshmerga forces. So they could have the capabilities to develop a dirty bomb.

Sebastian Berg, spokesman for the federal agency in charge of Belgium’s nuclear facilities noted, “they were concerned about a bombing inside the plant, or a 9/11 style attack with an aircraft.”

Jan Jambon, the Belgian Interior Minister, told the Belgian parliament last month that there was no threat to the country’s nuclear facilities and that they are secure.

Most nuclear security experts feel that the El Bokraoui brothers would most likely have been unsuccessful in attacking a nuclear facility or gaining access to it. First, nuclear facilities are military hardened with several layers of physical and armed security. Second, a dirty bomb is a weapon of mass disruption and not a weapon of mass destruction.

On March 31, 2016, about 50 world leader will gather in Washington, D.C. for a summit to discuss the security of materials in the 1,000 atomic facilities across the world.

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