ACCESS: The Nuclear Bible: The Olympics & Nuclear Terror (PDF)
Olympic Armageddon: How terrorists could send nuclear bomb up the Thames to target London 2012 Games
Date: March 31, 2010
Source: Daily Mail
Author: Tom Cain
This week, Security Minister Lord West warned there was a real danger that Al Qaeda terrorists could use a boat transport a 'dirty' nuclear bomb up the Thames and detonate it in the heart of London.Here, top thriller writer TOM CAIN, whose most recent novel is about a terrifying Al Qaeda attack on London, imagines the unthinkable...
Queen Anne's Gate, Westminster, July 27, 2012. The group of men and women gathered in the Home Office meeting room were grey-skinned with exhaustion. They had been working together for years, sharing a steadily growing burden of responsibility that now threatened to crush them.n less than an hour, the London Olympics of 2012 would get under way at a ceremony presided over by Her Majesty the Queen and attended by political leaders from around the world. More than a billion people would be watching live on TV.
The Olympic Stadium was now, officially, the top terrorist target on earth. The meeting room contained representatives from MI6 and MI5 the Special Forces, the Metropolitan Police's SO15 Counter-Terrorism Unit and a slew of Government departments. They were way past the point of making preparations. Every possible eventuality had been considered and its dangers analysed.
CCTV cameras, backed by facial recognition systems, were tracking the crowds travelling to the Olympic Stadium and gathering in its stands. Teams of sniffer dogs had gone over every square millimetre of the Olympic site, looking for explosives.
In the skies above London, police spotter drones were tracking any suspicious movements of traffic. Helicopters fitted with radiation sensors had swept the city from the air, seeking out the gamma rays that would signal the presence of a nuclear device.
Everything had been thought of. And yet there could still be nasty surprises. Such as the alert they had just received from GCHQ, the Government's surveillance centre in Cheltenham. It stated there had been a sudden spike in communications traffic between known activists in the Islamic fundamentalist movement.
One email in particular had caught the attention of a GCHQ supercomputer. Sent from an iPhone belonging to a regular worshipper at one of London's most radical mosques, it read: 'Have collected those old 90s records. Taking them to the party now.'
It seemed perfectly innocent, but for two digits and two letters, placed consecutively: 9-0-s-r. Together they formed the chemical symbol for a substance called strontium-90. And that was enough to silence the room.
'Wonderful,' sighed a senior MI6 officer with heavy irony. 'A dirty bomb. Just what we need.'
Though no one in Westminster knew it, about 50 kg of strontium-90 was sitting at that moment less than five miles from the Olympic Stadium.
It had come from the frozen wasteland of Russia's Arctic coast. There, it had been used to power one of a string of unmanned lighthouses erected by the former Soviet government, then forgotten in the chaos of the post-Communist years.
Retrieved by a Russian mafia gang, the strontium was sold on to Al Qaeda operatives fighting alongside Islamic rebels in Chechnya. They placed it in a lead casket, which rendered the strontium's radioactivity undetectable, and transported it to the UK in a container marked Agricultural Equipment.
Now the strontium had come to rest in an anonymous unit on an industrial estate in Walthamstow, East London. But it would not be at rest for much longer.
The Prime Minister had sent his deputy director of communications to the Home Office meeting, the director himself having bagged a Royal Box seat at the Olympics opening ceremony. 'Dirty bomb' was not a phrase the spin doctor wanted to see on tomorrow's front pages.
'What are we talking about here?' he asked. 'Is this some kind of nuke?'
An official from the Ministry of Defence, whose speciality was threat assessment, was the first to speak.
'Not exactly. A dirty bomb contains nuclear material, but it doesn't use it to generate the actual explosion. The blast comes from conventional explosives, like a regular bomb. So it's much, much less powerful than even the smallest atom bomb.'
'Well that's a relief.' 'Ah, not exactly. You see, the blast from the explosives smashes into the nuclear material, such as this strontium-90, and blasts it into highly toxic dust, which is spread by the force of the blast and then carried on the wind. Anyone breathing that air inhales the toxic dust.'
The spin doctor grimaced at the thought of talking away that disaster. 'How dangerous is this toxic dust? What kind of casualties are we talking?'
'It's a matter of quantity. People close to the blast, who are exposed to high doses of radioactive material will die. In less severe cases, exposure will cause serious, but survivable, sickness.
'For most people, however, who breathe a very diluted amount of the material, a mile or two from the bomb site, it would be no better or worse than, say, smoking a few packets of cigarettes.'
'Well, that's good, isn't it?' asked the spinner, desperate for a positive angle.
'Not entirely,' the bureaucrat replied. 'For one thing, a large, high-explosive bomb in the Olympic Stadium, could easily cause thousands of casualties. And with 80,000 people crammed into a confined space, even those who escape the blast will inevitably breathe in a great deal of heavily radioactive air.
'In total, I would expect many times the number of deaths the Americans suffered on 9/11. The same would apply, of course, if the bomb were to go off at any of the other Olympic celebrations tonight.'
Giant screens had been erected in Britain's major cities to broadcast the opening ceremony. Each would attract tens of thousands of revellers. Just down the road from the meeting, Trafalgar Square was already crammed with people.
'My God!' the spin-doctor gasped. 'And the whole thing'll be live on TV. The Olympics will be over before they'd begun. Britain's reputation in the world would be...'
'Devastated,' nodded the MI6 officer. 'This would give Al Qaeda the greatest propaganda triumph in its history. And it would be our greatest humiliation.'
'There's something else,' said the man from the Ministry of Defence. 'The dust eventually settles on the ground and on buildings as fallout, which, in strontium's case, would continue to emit radiation for around 30 years. So it has to be cleaned up, which is not an easy process.
'In fact, it may be simpler to knock down any affected buildings, remove contaminated earth and rebuild from scratch.'
'So the Olympic site...' 'Would be a write-off, as would any city centre hit by a dirty bomb. A decade after 9/11, the Ground Zero site was still a gigantic hole in the ground. A dirty bomb in central London would be even more devastating. Politically, financially, psychologically, this would be a wound from which the country might never recover.'
'So where the hell is this strontium then?' the spin doctor demanded. And this time, no one had an answer.
Rafik Anwar was the son of a Pakistani industrialist and an upper-class Englishwoman. Educated at Harrow and Oxford, Anwar appeared to devote himself now to the playboy life that his money, charm and looks so well suited.
He bedded high society's prettiest girls. He gave witty quotes to delighted gossip columnists. And in his most private moments, with none but his God to observe him, Anwar waited for the day when he would tear their world apart. That day had now come.
In the drab, shed-like surroundings of the industrial unit, Anwar had watched as an Al Qaeda explosives expert wired the deadly strontium-90 to a 200 kg charge of C4 plastic explosive, packed on a wooden pallet.
When the job was done, the expert sent a coded message on his i-Phone via a series of apparently innocent contacts to the team's controllers in Pakistan, confirming that the operation was on schedule.
Had any of the bombers known that the message had been
intercepted, they would have been untroubled. It was too late to stop
them now. The completed bomb was loaded into a dusty white Transit van.
Anwar and two other men got on board, then drove away through the streets of East London, out past Walthamstow Marshes towards the Springfield marina on the River Lee Navigation.
The river flows to the Thames. And it passes right by the Olympic Stadium on the way.
Three months previously, Anwar had bought a berth at the marina and used it to moor his pride and joy, a £1.1m XSR48 superboat, capable of doing 100mph.
The pallet was loaded aboard. The van drove away. Then Rafik Anwar took the controls of his boat, left the mooring and set off for the Olympic Stadium and his own glorious martyrdom.
The security forces had not been idle. While telecoms experts worked on determining the location from which the 90sr message had been sent, military commanders had doubled the number of bomb-disposal teams on-site at the Olympic Stadium.
MI5 agents were hustling all their informants and sources of information, trying to find any scraps of data that might provide a clue as to who was planning what and when. Meanwhile, the dignitaries were starting to arrive at the Olympic Stadium.
Thirty-seven minutes before the ceremony was due to begin, the email was traced to the industrial estate where the bomb had been assembled. Within ten minutes, armed police had arrived there, closely followed by MI5 and Special Forces personnel.
It took a further three minutes to uncover the unit used to house the strontium. Footage from the nearest CCTV cameras was swiftly examined, the Transit was identified and its route to the marina tracked.
Rafik Anwar's face was caught on video footage and recognised by
an MI5 officer, not because he was on any list of suspects, but because
she recognised him from an article in Tatler magazine.
By chance, the article had described Anwar's magnificent speedboat. So now they knew how he planned to deliver his attack. Whether there was any time to do anything about it was another matter.
The 2012 Olympics were eight minutes away from starting and the Royal Box was all but full when security personnel reached the marina where Anwar's boat had been moored. But the berth was empty. The boat had gone.
The Olympic Stadium stands on an island surrounded by rivers and canals. One of them is the River Lee Navigation, which runs along one side of the stadium.
It is possible to go by river and canal all the way from the Olympic site to Birmingham. This would make the stadium extremely vulnerable to waterborne attack, were it not for the many locks that govern the flow of water and boats. Shut down the locks and you shut down the water traffic.
On the day of the opening ceremony, there wasn't a working lock within several miles of the stadium
That explained the choice of the Springfield marina. It was as far from the stadium as one could travel without passing through a lock.
Rafik Anwar was, therefore, able to shift at motorway speeds down
open water towards the Olympic site in his XSR48. And with him was
coming a radioactive dirty bomb.
Anwar's boat was rocketing past Hackney Marshes when a Metropolitan Police patrol helicopter picked it up. The pilot swooped towards the river, hovering 20ft above the water. He switched on the chopper's powerful searchlight, beaming it straight at Anwar's face, hoping to dazzle him.
Then the pilot spoke through a loudspeaker: 'This is the Metropolitan Police. Stop immediately or we will shoot. I repeat: stop or we will shoot.'
The boat kept coming. The helicopter swung through 90 degrees, so that it was side-on to the boat. The sliding door of the cabin opened and two police marksmen opened fire with Heckler and Koch MP-5 submachine guns. From the riverbank, a four-man SAS squad added to the hailstorm of hot lead.
The windscreen in front of Rafik Anwar disintegrated. The cockpit erupted around him as one bullet after another smashed into it. He rocked backwards in his seat as he was hit in the shoulder. Another round grazed the side of his body. But he ignored the pain and forced himself to grip the controls even tighter.
He was almost there. The stadium was just a couple of hundred metres ahead. In a matter of seconds he would be alongside it. The guns kept firing. A round smashed into Anwar's chest, ripping into his heart. Another struck him in the lungs. He slumped forward over the controls. But Rafik Anwar died with a smile on his face. It was too late to stop him now.
The quad bike carrying an ammunition technical officer, one of the Army's elite bomb disposal men, had been racing along the path that ran parallel to the water, following the boat, which had come to rest with its sleek, pointed nose resting against the riverbank. The ATO skidded to a halt, jumped off the bike, raced to the bank and leapt onto the boat.
He wore no protective suit. There was no point. When you're working next to a bomb, it doesn't matter how much armour you've got on. If it goes, you go.
There were two minutes to go till the ceremony began. There was no hope of evacuating the stadium and, anyway, the spectators would be safer in it than out in the open.
The ATO found the massive bomb in the passenger cabin in the bows of the boat, forward from the shattered cockpit where Rafik Anwar lay.
There was a timer atop the mass of C4 and strontium-90. It struck the ATO that even if the bomb did not go off, he was so close to the radioactive material that it might just kill him anyway. The clock showed 48 seconds till detonation.
From the stadium there came the sound of a massive roar as the lights over the athletics field dimmed. The show was about to begin. The ATO ignored everything as he examined the wires and circuit boards in front of him.
Thirty seconds.He couldn't fix it in time. Twenty seconds... 15... 10...
The hell with it, the ATO simply cut every wire he could see. He waited for the detonation of a booby trap. He watched the clock count down to zero. And nothing happened. The bomb remained silent and inert. The Olympic Stadium was safe.
In that room in Queen Anne's Gate, the people who had been following the drama on screens linked to video-phones slumped in exhausted relief and exchanged wan smiles of congratulation.
They had no idea that less than 200m away another Transit van, driven from a different industrial estate, was making its way towards Trafalgar Square and its celebrating crowds. And in the back of that van was another pallet loaded with C4 explosives. And a second consignment of strontium-90...