After returning from his militant adventures in Kashmir, recently sentenced British terrorist Dhiren Barot recounted his experiences in the book The Army of Madinah in Kashmir. Writing under his alias ‘Esa al-Hindi, he lashed out against Western powers’ interventions in Muslim lands, advising that “in the face of such an adversary, the solution may only be ‘flank protection’ to be carried out upon the soil of all interfering nations” . Heeding his own advice, Barot subsequently endeavored to engage in feasibility studies of various types of large-scale attacks on Western targets, including the employment of radioactive materials. A detailed examination of his research activities has revealed numerous potential lessons to be learned for those charged with preventing radiological terrorism, three of which are mentioned below.
According to his own writing, Barot initially conceptualized the decision to incorporate radioactive materials into his attack scenarios much in the same way as one would decide between attaching nails or ball bearings to a pipe bomb (i.e. as an after-thought). He quickly discovered, however, that radioactive materials had enough potential to be addressed as a primary weapon rather than simply as a secondary consideration . Barot’s surprisingly detailed research unsettlingly reveals just how accessible and instructive the relevant literature is concerning radioactive materials and their potential for malicious use. For example, Barot was able to obtain numerous public documents concerning the potential effects of Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDDs), including employment scenarios. The literature available greatly assisted Barot’s investigation of the core obstacles that would need to be overcome for a successful RDD operation.
Another significant consideration is that Barot approached targeting selection and methods of attack for radiological weapons based on, among other things, the simplicity of the plan and availability of resources. This is in line with the traditional practice and advice of al-Qaeda operatives and strategists. Correspondingly, he recommended that acquisition of radioactive sources should be based on ease of access rather than the hazardous effects of the source. The inference was that high activity sources (usually the most harmful) were also the most difficult to secure access to, and thus were to be in most cases avoided in favor of less radioactive, yet more accessible sources.
Barot also addressed access primarily in terms of the potential for operatives to purchase the radioactive materials in question. He stated that, “there are a few large and powerful radioactive devices…however, for the time being we do not have the contacts that would allow us to purchase such items (previously we had one but he has since been arrested).” To date, the prevailing fear of regulatory authorities has been the theft of radioactive sources, not so much the purchase.
In light of these lessons learned from the Barot case, those charged with the prevention and mitigation of attacks involving radioactive materials should clearly reassess protection and regulation standards for all categories of sources regardless of deterministic effects. There is also an immediate need to renew serious discussion of the permissibility of technical and other literature for public release. Ironically, the release of Barot’s documents—even though partially sanitized—could potentially be of assistance to those interested in conducting such attacks in the future.
1. ‘Esa al-Hindi, The Army of Madinah in Kashmir, (Makhtaba al-Ansaar Publications, 1999): p. 116.
2. All references to Barot’s research on radioactive materials in this article come from documents released by the London Metropolitan Police Service entitled “Rough Presentation for Gas Limos Project,” “Hazards,” and “Final Presentation.”