Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Al Qaeda seeking nuclear kit for attacks: UK official

Al Qaeda seeking nuclear kit for attacks: UK official
By Sophie Walker

LONDON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda is trying to acquire the technology that would enable it to use a nuclear device to attack Western targets including Britain, a senior British official said on Monday.

"We know the aspiration is there. We know attempts to gather materials are there, we know that attempts to gather technology are there," the senior Foreign Office official told reporters.

The comments at a briefing came days after the head of Britain's domestic spy agency said Muslim extremists were plotting at least 30 major terrorist attacks in Britain which could involve chemical and nuclear devices.

The Foreign Office official, asked whether there was any doubt that Al Qaeda wants to gather nuclear material for use against Western targets, said: "No doubt at all."

Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of intelligence agency MI5, said last week young British Muslims were being groomed to become suicide bombers and her agents were tracking some 1,600 suspects, most of whom were British-born and linked to al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Britain suffered its worst peacetime attack in July 2005 when four British Islamists blew themselves up on London's transport network, killing 52 commuters and wounding hundreds.

Earlier this month Dhiren Barot, 34, was jailed for a minimum of 40 years for plotting to blow up the New York Stock Exchange and carry out attacks in Britain with gas-filled limousines and a "dirty bomb".

Evidence against him included copious research into explosives, chemicals and radioactive materials.

In a separate ongoing terrorism trial, prosecutors say one of the suspects had told police in an interview that his superior in a Pakistan training camp had asked him to help contact the Russian mafia about buying a nuclear bomb.

However Salahuddin Amin, who is accused of plotting conventional bomb attacks in the UK using ammonium nitrate fertilizer, said he did not believe it was a genuine plot and nothing appeared to have developed from the plan.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will focus on the fight against terrorism when he unveils the last package of laws of his premiership in a program to be read to Wednesday by Queen Elizabeth.

(additional reporting by Mike Holden)