Islamist Movements and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Islamist Movements and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Pakistani authorities arrested two atomic scientists suspected of having aided the terror network al-Qaida in efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. One year earlier, they had founded a humanitarian aid agency for Afghanistan: the "Reconstruction of the Muslim Umma." But for the two Taliban sympathizers, the aim of constructing a new Muslim community was not only a matter of economic and political solidarity with the faithful around the world. In their opinion, Pakistan's nuclear weapons, which they had helped to develop, were also the "property of all Muslims."

A Reevaluation

This episode represents only one of numerous developments in recent years that make it absolutely urgent for us to undertake an overview and reevaluation of the issue of Islamist movements and nuclear weapons. When Pakistan joined the class of nuclear powers in 1998, the commentaries still moved within the classical categories of regional equilibrium and mutual nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan. Since the destruction of the towers of the World Trade Center by suicidal Islamist extremists, however, the question of the relation between Islamism and weapons of mass destruction has become one of the key questions of international politics. The attack did not only demonstrate that al-Qaida was capable of conducting terrorist operations on a strategic scale in the heart of the Western world; it also showed that Islamist terror did not shrink from committing mass murder against non-combatants.

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