ISIS Attackers May Have Targeted Nuclear Power Station
But plot was aborted after surveillance equipment discovered in February, local media reports
A Belgian nuclear power plant may have been the target of an aborted plot by the ISIS cell that carried out this week’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, according to Belgian media.
If confirmed, the plot would explain why the country’s two nuclear power plants were all but locked down in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s bombings — without explanation, and despite being miles away from the Brussels facilities under attack.
Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure reported Thursday, based on a police source, that the brothers who died in suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and subway — Khalid and Ibrahim el Bakraoui — had been involved in secret video surveillance of a senior scientist who worked at the Tihange complex.
The newspaper first reported the discovery of the surveillance video in February, from a camera placed in bushes outside the researcher’s suburban home, and recovered under cover of darkness by two men driving without headlights. Fearing a plot to enter the nuclear complex, authorities ramped up security after the discovery, which a police source told the newspaper may have prompted the plotters to seek out softer targets, namely the airport and subway.
Prosecutors did not confirm the latest report, which would account for the extraordinary security measures that went into effect March 22 at Tihange and at Belgium’s other nuclear complex, Doel, outside Antwerp to the north of the capital.
Almost all employees at both facilities were abruptly sent home after the Brussels attacks, amid fears that an “insider” might offer access to terrorists, or, more likely, provide them with material suitable for a “dirty bomb” — a simple explosive used to disperse radioactive material across a wide area, sowing panic. The state broadcaster RTBF reported that 11 workers at Tihange were stripped of access badges since the alert began, four of them after the bombings.
As TIME reports in its current print edition, U.S. officials and experts are growing more and more concerned that ISIS is seeking nuclear or radiological materials for that campaign. Every known instance of trafficking in nuclear material resulted from theft by an “insider,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.