It is a horrifying prospect, but, unfortunately, not one that is too farfetched.
And it constitutes one of the most serious threats that humanity faces this century.
The prospect of the Islamic State (I.S.) or any other radical terror group having access to and potentially using nuclear weapons was broached last April during the international Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C.
The consensus of that conference, as well at that of a leading international forum on proliferation in Luxemburg last June, is that a nuclear terrorist assault is not only possible, but imminent.
In other words, unless these groups can be stopped, it is only a matter of time before radical jihadists detonate a dirty bomb (in which conventional explosives are used to disperse radioactive particles over a wide area) or, worth yet, develop the capability of creating a fission explosion.
The groups — which include a menagerie of heinous organizations that are constantly competing against one another in order to execute the most brutal atrocities they can conceive of — have already shown that they will stop at nothing to kill and maim as many civilians as possible and instill mass fear with their despicable acts of terror.
Certainly, detonating a nuclear devise for their nefarious goals would up the ante and increase the death toll, their ultimate objective.
Al-Qaeda has for years been trawling the military black markets trying to obtain nuclear materials and other weapons of mass destruction, and the group’s infamous offshoot, I.S., has already used chemical weapons in Syria.
Meanwhile, rouge nations like North Korea and politically unstable states such as Pakistan continue to hone their own nuclear capabilities.
It is not inconceivable that such governments would agree to provide nuclear weapons to anti-Western terror groups in exchange for money (and groups like I.S. are swimming in cash) or political favors, or even because they endorse a group’s religious philosophy.
But even if these organizations cannot manage to purchase nuclear devices from anti-Western states, there is no guarantee that they will not get hold of them through other means, such as a security leak at a civilian nuclear plant or an inside source at a government facility.
It is worth noting that, according to Interpol sources, two of the Brussels bombers may have carried out surveillance on a security official at a Belgian nuclear facility.
While the world debates more pressing issues like the benchmark cost of crude oil and the establishment of international trade pacts, the petty topic of the reduction of the world’s nuclear stockpiles has been pushed to the back burners of global negotiating tables.
Of course, there is no guarantee that the denuclearization of legitimate powers will prevent terrorist organizations from obtaining nuclear bombs.
But the more such bombs exist, the more likely they are to end up in the hands of terrorists.
Currently, there are 15,375 nuclear weapons in the world which we know of.
Although Russia and the United States control 93 percent of those bombs, the remaining 7 percent are under the jurisdiction of seven other governments.
Fortunately, global nuclear arsenals have shrunk by about two-thirds since the peak of the Cold War in the mid-1980s.
But there are still too many weapons out there that could be used for mass murder, and most of them are many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.
With the recent surge in international terrorist organizations, the threat of a terrorist nuclear attack is far too clear and present a danger to be ignored any longer.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]