Belgian nuclear guard ‘shot and security access badge stolen’
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Two days after bomb attacks at Brussels airport and on a packed metro killed 31 people and injured hundreds, a security guard who worked at a Belgian nuclear plant was murdered and his pass was stolen, Belgian media reported on Saturday.
The French language Derniere Heure (DH) newspaper reported the security guard’s badge was de-activated as soon as it was discovered he had been shot dead in the Charleroi region of Belgium and his badge stolen.
The information could not be independently verified. A police spokeswoman said she could not comment because an investigation was ongoing.
In a nation on high alert following this week’s attacks, the report stokes fears about the possibility militants are seeking to get hold of nuclear material or planning to attack a nuclear site.
Immediately after the attacks, security was boosted around Belgium's nuclear sites, and hundreds of workers were sent home. The country’s nuclear agency also said it had withdrawn the entry badges of some staff and had denied access to other people recently amid concern the nuclear plants could be a target.
According to DH, the suicide bombers who blew themselves up on Tuesday originally considered targeting a nuclear site, but a series of arrests of suspect militants forced them to speed up their plans and instead switch focus to the Belgian capital.
Late last year, investigators found a video tracking the movements of a man linked to the country’s nuclear industry during a search of a flat as part of investigations into the Islamist militant attack on Paris on November 13 that killed 130 people.
The video, lasting several hours, showed footage of the entrance to a home in northern Belgium and the arrival and departure of the director of Belgium’s nuclear research programme.
The material, filmed by a camera in bushes outside the official's home, was reportedly found at the property of Mohamed Bakkali, incarcerated in Belgium for his links to the Paris attackers.
One Belgian newspaper reported that the device was collected by none other than brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui – two of the Brussels suicide bombers.
The threats of ‘nuclear terrorism’
On Thursday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief, Yukiya Amano, warned of the dangers of “nuclear terrorism”, saying that the world needs to do more to prevent it.
"Terrorism is spreading and the possibility of using nuclear material cannot be excluded," Amano told AFP in an interview late Thursday.
"Member states need to have sustained interest in strengthening nuclear security," he said. "The countries which do not recognise the danger of nuclear terrorism is the biggest problem."
Major progress has been made, however, with countries reducing stockpiles of nuclear material.
This month, for example, Japan is returning enough plutonium to make 50 nuclear bombs to the United States.
But according to the International Panel on Fissile Materials, enough plutonium and highly enriched uranium still exist to make 20,000 weapons of the magnitude that levelled Hiroshima in 1945.
A grapefruit-sized amount of plutonium can be fashioned into a nuclear weapon, and according to Amano it is "not impossible" that extremists could manage to make a "primitive" device – if they got hold of the material.
"It is now an old technology and nowadays terrorists have the means, the knowledge and the information," he said.
But he said that a far likelier risk was a "dirty bomb".
This is a device using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material other than uranium or plutonium.
Such material can be found in small quantities in universities, hospitals and other facilities the world over, often with little security.
"Dirty bombs will be enough to [drive] any big city in the world into panic," Amano said. "And the psychological, economic and political implications would be enormous."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)