Fri, Nov 30, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Slovakian police foil plot to sell enriched uranium

AP , AFP AND THE GUARDIAN, BRATISLAVA

Alarms over nuclear smuggling were raised on Wednesday night when Slovakian police announced that three men had been arrested in Slovakia and Hungary after allegedly trying to sell radioactive material.

Slovak police said yesterday that the radioactive material was enriched uranium which could have been used to make a dirty bomb.

The suspects, two Hungarians and a Ukrainian, were peddling material enriched enough to be used in a radiological ``dirty bomb,'' Slovak authorities said.

Slovak Police Vice President Michal Kopcik said the three suspects, who were arrested on Wednesday afternoon, were peddling just under 500g of uranium in powder form that investigators believe came from somewhere in the former Soviet Union. "It was possible to use it in various ways for terrorist attacks," Kopcik told reporters.

Two of the suspects were arrested in eastern Slovakia, and the third was arrested in Hungary, Korch said. The suspects were not identified.

Slovakian police told journalists that the authorities in Slovakia and Hungary had been monitoring the activities of the alleged nuclear traders for several months before arresting them.

Western officials have been concerned for years about the risk of nuclear smuggling from the former Soviet Union, although US-funded safeguarding programs have been effective in reducing the danger of nuclear trading.

Eastern Slovakia's border with Ukraine is the EU's easternmost frontier, and authorities have spent millions tightening security in the past few years, fearing terrorists or organized crime syndicates could smuggle weapons, explosives and other contraband into the EU.

Slovakian and Hungarian police worked together on the case for several months, Korch said.

He would not say how long the suspects were under surveillance, or detail how they were arrested and to whom they were trying to sell the material.

Hungary's National Bureau of Investigation had no comment on Wednesday.

Erich Tomas, a spokesman for the Slovak Interior Ministry, said he had no information about the case.

The US embassy in Bratislava also had no immediate comment.

There have been concerns that Eastern Europe could be a source of radioactive material for a so-called "dirty bomb," which would use conventional explosives to scatter radioactive debris. Experts say such a weapon would frighten far more people than it would harm.

Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said the UN nuclear watchdog would be following up on the case.

"It will be important to determine whether the material in question is nuclear," Fleming said.

The agency reported in August that there were more than 250 reported thefts or losses of nuclear material around the world last year.

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