ISIS is going shopping... for a nuke

Some of the latest propaganda coming out of ISIS seems to indicate that they’re not satisfied with being the JV team and are looking to move up to the major leagues. Rather than just taking over the occasional town or embarking on genocidal purges, at least some of the terror group’s leadership is pondering the possibility of investing their cash in tactical weapons. They tossed out this idea by way of an article written by British hostage John Cantlie, who frequently publishes their English language advertising. It’s important to remember that, at least for the time being, this is still probably little more than saber rattling to make themselves look more important, but it offers an alarming possible scenario.

“Let me throw a hypothetical operation onto the table,” the article continues. “The Islamic State has billions of dollars in the bank, so they call on their wilāyah in Pakistan to purchase a nuclear device through weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials in the region.”

It admits that such a scenario is “far-fetched” but warns: “It’s the sum of all fears for Western intelligence agencies and it’s infinitely more possible today than it was just one year ago.

“And if not a nuke, what about a few thousand tons of ammonium nitrate explosive? That’s easy enough to make.”

An attack launched by Isis against America would ridicule “the attacks of the past”.

“They’ll [Isis] be looking to do something big, something that would make any past operation look like a squirrel shoot, and the more groups that pledge allegiance the more possible it becomes to pull off something truly epic.

Assuming they could get their hands on one, would they actually use it? When it comes to terror sponsoring nation states, I’ve heard the argument made (in at least somewhat convincing fashion) that countries like Iran and North Korea may desire nukes to cow their neighbors into submission and for their own self-aggrandizement, but they would be unlikely to actually use them. The logic behind that is that the leadership of a nation state actually has something to lose, and lighting off a nuke would bring the wrath and destructive force of the rest of the world down on their heads. But ISIS? They essentially have nothing to lose. This is the same group that’s burning young girls to death for refusing to perform “extreme sex acts” after they sell them into slavery. You do the math.

But let’s say there’s at least a kernel of truth to the story and they are in the market for a nuke. Is anyone selling? It’s not as if you can just wander into the Walmart in downtown Damascus and toss a couple in your cart, but it’s apparently not impossible. The Council on Foreign Relations has been tracking this question for decades and published a report nearly a decade ago warning about this. While they find the idea of a functional nuke being sold off to be in the “unlikely” range, they do report that hundreds of attempts by terrorist groups to purchase tactical weapons from the former Soviet Union have been identified and thwarted. In the current era, Pakistan is a similar source of worry. And while finding a ready to rock tactical weapon may be difficult, the CFR notes that high grade nuclear materials have gone missing and we still can’t account for them all. That opens the possibility of a dirty bomb.

ISIS is not just a JV squad or a group of clowns beating their own chests. These guys are the real deal and if they get their hands on something nasty I don’t doubt for a moment that they would put it to use in short order. These monsters need to be destroyed, not contained.