KUALA LUMPUR: Fears are growing that Islamic State (IS) group fighters, including their sympathisers here, may attempt to build dirty bombs using radioactive products.
This concern is especially real as police have recorded no less than 20 cases involving radioactive and nuclear materials which have “gone missing” over recent years. While some may have been retrieved, the whereabouts of many others remain unknown.
Perturbed by the combination of “missing radioactive goods and IS”, sources in security agencies said it was crucial for the Bukit Aman Special Branch Counterterrorism division to aggressively trace the missing radioactive materials.
“Normally, these cases will be investigated by the police’s Criminal Investigation Department. However, it should not be treated as a usual case of theft.
“There is a need to trace who the perpetrators are, their background, contacts and find out their motives.
“These are all vital information that must be cross-checked to ensure that these dangerous materials do not fall into the wrong hands,” sources said.
They also cautioned that terrorists might make use of radioactive and nuclear materials which had not been listed as “controlled items”.
“There are two groups of radioactive and nuclear materials: those which are controlled and monitored by the authorities, and the others that we cannot control as they are stolen or thrown in improperly.”
Concerns about security threats in Southeast Asia intensified when Indonesian security forces in 2016 foiled an attempt by militants to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb.
It was reported that militants planned to transform low-grade radioactive Thorium 232 into Uranium 233, which would be combined with a powerful home-made explosive triacetone triperoxide to create a nuclear bomb.
Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) director-general Hamrah Mohd Ali cautioned the authorities against underestimating terrorists’ knowledge and capabilities in utilising radioactive and nuclear materials to produce dirty bombs.
This, he said, was a concern as the agency had several times found abandoned radioactive materials with unclear origins and purpose.
“We also had a case recently where AELB was called by the police following information on possible radioactive materials being disposed of at a carpark of a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
“We went there and confirmed that it was radioactive, but we have no idea where it came from,” he told the New Straits Times.
He said those abusing radioactive materials could be held liable under the Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984 to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, a fine of no less than RM100 million, or both.
Those involved in offences involving nuclear materials without intention or knowing that it is a form of nuclear material could face imprisonment of no less than five years, fined no less than RM5 million, or both.
With regard to using radioactive and nuclear materials for criminal purposes, and their act causes death, the Criminal Procedure Code or Strategic Trade Act 2010, which provides for
capital punishment, could be used.
The Prevention of Crime Act (Poca), Prevention of Terrorism Act and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, Hamrah added, could also come into play.
He said AELB had crippled attempts in ports involving bringing in scrap metal contaminated with radioactive compounds. Such cargo, he said, was sent back to the points of disembarkment.
To ensure that hazardous materials did not slip into the country, Hamrah said, AELB had equipped the country’s ports and main entry points with detectors.
“All international airports and the Klang, Penang and Tanjung Pelepas ports have detectors.
“We also have them at entry points in Bukit Kayu Hitam, Durian Burung, Rantau Panjang and Pandang Besar.
“The detectors can screen for radioactive or nuclear elements,” he said, adding that Customs officers in these locations were trained to handle detection.