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'Crack unit' being trained by US to seal off Pak N-facilities

Alarmed by a slew of terror attacks on sensitive military instalations in Pakistan, the US is putting in place "a crack unit" of its elite troops to seal off that country's nuclear weapons and ensure they do not fall into the hands of militants, a media report claimed today.

world Updated: Jan 17, 2010 12:06 IST

Alarmed by a slew of terror attacks on sensitive military instalations in Pakistan, the US is putting in place "a crack unit" of its elite troops to seal off that country's nuclear weapons and ensure they do not fall into the hands of militants, a media report claimed on Sunday.

The US army is training the crack unit so that it could seal off and snatch back Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event of militants, "possibly from inside the country's security apparatus," getting their hands on a nuclear device or materials that could make one, The Sunday Times reported.

It said the specialised unit would be charged with recovering the nuclear materials and securing them.

"The move follows a series of attacks on sensitive military instalations over the past two years, several of which housed nuclear facilities, and rising tension that has seen a series of official complaints by the US authorities to Islamabad in the past fortnight," the report said.

Citing Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA officer who used to run the US energy department's intelligence unit, it said: "What you have in Pakistan is nuclear weapons mixed with the highest density of extremists in the world, so we have a right to be concerned."

"There have been attacks on army bases which stored nuclear weapons and there have been breaches and infiltrations by terrorists into military facilities."

Pakistan is thought to possess about 80 nuclear warheads.

Although the weapons are well guarded, the fear is that materials or processes to enrich uranium could fall into the wrong hands.

"All it needs is someone in Pakistan within the nuclear establishment and in a position of key access to become radicalised," said Mowatt-Larssen. "This is not just theoretical. It did happen - Pakistan has had inside problems before."

Bashir Mahmood, former head of Pakistan's plutonium reactor, formed the Islamic charity Ummah Tameer-e-Nau in March 2000 after resigning from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.

He was arrested in Islamabad on October 23, 2001 along with his associate Abdul Majeed for alleged links to Osama Bin Laden. The Al-Qaeda leadership has made no secret of its desire to gain weapons for a 'nuclear 9/11'.

"I have no doubt they are hell-bent on acquiring this," said Howatt Larssen. "These guys are thinking of nuclear at the highest level and are approaching it in increasingly professional ways."

Nuclear experts and US officials say the biggest fear is of an inside job amid growing anti-American feeling in Pakistan.

Last year 3,021 Pakistanis were killed in terrorist attacks, more than in Afghanistan, yet polls suggest Pakistanis consider the United States to be a greater threat than the Taliban.