Siliguri, June 16: The chance seizure of 225 grams of “semi-processed” uranium of “explosive grade” by Bangladeshi authorities has put intelligence agencies on alert in north Bengal.
Intelligence officials suspect the consignment, seized at Puia village in Nawgaon district of Bangladesh on May 30, was meant for the underground Islamic fundamentalist organisations in Bangladesh with close links with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.
Puia village is 35 km south of Balurghat, the district headquarters of North Dinajpur.
Security agencies here are concerned because a similar “radio-active” pouch was seized from Balurghat on August 27 last year. Agents disguised as prospective buyers had arrested two men trying to sell “raw” uranium in a pouch bearing a Russian mark, a BSF source said.
The proximity of the places on both occasions shows how the terror network has been using the porous North Dinajpur border to smuggle the “high-risk” stuff into Bangladesh, intelligence sources said. Acting on a tip-off, the Nawgaon police in Bangladesh raided Puia and seized the football-shaped package containing the uranium. Four persons were arrested.
An official said the package had “raw uranium” written on it and indications that it was manufactured in Kazakistan in January 1988. It was Soviet Union then. It had December 2002 marked as “the date of expiry”.
The Bangladeshi authorities had the package tested by the atomic energy commission in Dhaka. Chairman of the commission Nay Choudhury and senior scientist C.S. Karim conducted the test.
The finding was startling. The green, jelly-like substance was packed in nine layers of protective material to ensure that the person carrying it was not affected by the radioactivity.
The commission identified it as “semi-processed uranium of explosive grade, weighing 225 g”. The package also had a 23-page catalogue with details of how to make explosives and charge them with nuclear “tips”. Scientists also found in the package a sketch of a woman’s face replete with earrings and necklace.
Sleuths suspect the sketch could be a coded “blue-print” to make explosives.
The seizure comes at a time when the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party is under mounting US pressure to ban two hard-line Islamic fundamentalist outfits, Jamat-ul-Mujaheedin and the Shahadad-al-Hikma, for their ties to bin Laden’s network.
During interrogation, the four arrested men admitted that they belonged to the Shaadad-ul-Hikma and acted as “couriers”. They had collected the package from a senior Hikma leader.