Until the mid seventies, the term nuclear terror was used predominately to describe the threat of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Since then, however, it has taken on a whole new meaning which many security experts feel poses a more serious threat to national security. In the past few decades, formal terrorist organizations have exploded planes out of the sky, bombed US military and diplomatic facilities abroad, and with the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombing incidents, they have even launched attacks on American soil.
Yet until 20 March 1995 when five members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system, the world had not seen a successful case of the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by a terrorist organization. The Aum cult did not limit itself to the development of chemical weapons; the acquisition of biological and nuclear weapons was on their agenda as well. Because of the group's diverse efforts at attaining nuclear weapons, the Aum Shinrikyo cult is an excellent illustrative case of the possibilities for nuclear terrorism. Using Aum as a reference point, valuable insight can be gained into the potential motivations behind nuclear terrorism as well as the means of acquisition and delivery. Throughout this analysis, the Aum case demonstrates that the dynamic and unpredictable terrorist mindset requires security officials to think beyond preconceptions in order to correctly determine the nature of the nuclear terrorist threat.
Brief Background and Description of the Aum Shinrikyo Cult
The group was founded in Japan in 1987 by Shoko Asahara, a forty-year-old legally blind former yoga instructor. The Sa...
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