Yemen nuclear material 'easy target for terrorists': cable

20th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Yemen government official warned US diplomats that poor security meant there was little to stop terrorists getting their hands on the country's nuclear material, a US cable showed Monday.

At one point there was practically nothing protecting the material at Yemen's National Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), according to the diplomatic dispatch dated January 9 this year.

The lone security guard at the facility had been removed and the only closed circuit TV security camera had broken six months earlier and had never been fixed, said the cable.

"Very little now stands between the bad guys and Yemen's nuclear material," the official warned American diplomats, according to the cable released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks and revealed in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The cable revealed, however, that in the days following the official's warning, the radioactive material was moved to a more secure facility and the remainder of it was likely to follow, said the Guardian.

The dispatch was sent in the aftermath of the plot to bomb a plane trying to land in Detroit on Christmas Day last year and describes the worried official imploring the US to help find a swift solution to the problem.

It showed him asking the US to "convince the Yemen government to remove all materials from the country until they can be better secured, or immediately improve security measures at the NAEC facility."

According to the cable, classified as secret by the US ambassador Stephen Seche, the material included products used in a hospital, in universities and for agricultural research.

There are fears radioactive isotopes could be used to make a dirty bomb, according to the Guardian. This mixes simple explosives with radioactive materials, which it would then disperse over a wide area, said the paper.

Although unlikely to kill a large number of people, the device could contaminate large areas with radioactivity.

Yemen is home to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which claimed responsibility for the failed bid on December 25, 2009, to blow up a US-bound airliner.

The group also claimed responsibility for October's failed cargo plane parcel bomb plot.

© 2010 AFP

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