Smugglers in Eastern Europe have been attempting to sell nuclear material to Islamist extremists, according to Associated Press reports.
The deals were attempted in Moldova, a small country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania.
The FBI has been fighting a secret war against the smugglers for the past five years in cooperation with local authorities. Criminal organizations with ties to the former Soviet secret police force the KGB have been running the operations.
The most recent attempt was in February this year, when a smuggler tried to sell a large quantity of radioactive cesium specifically to the Islamic State. The cesium was reported to be enough to contaminate several city blocks.
The other three cases were reported as happening in:
- 2010, when three people were arrested for selling depleted uranium;
- 2011, when authorities disrupted a deal to sell weapons grade uranium; and
- 2014, when six people arrested for selling unenriched uranium.
Police and judicial authorities in Moldova told AP that the FBI has thwarted four attempts to transfer nuclear material to Islamist extremists in the past five years.
They used undercover agents to infiltrate the smuggling rings and make arrests.
However, leading smugglers escaped or evaded lengthy prison sentences and the smuggling problem continues.
Constantin Malic, a Moldovan police officer, investigated all four smuggling cases. In one case a smuggler told an informant that he specifically wanted to sell to terrorists because they would use the nuclear material to attack America.
"He said to the informant on a wire: 'I really want an Islamic buyer because they will bomb the Americans,” Malic said.
"We can expect more of these cases," Malic predicted. "As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it."