One Rocket Launcher Recovered, SEVEN or More Still Missing
Attack On Nuclear Reactor With Rocket Would Only "Chip Away" At Exterior
A massive investigation involving the Australian Federal Police and the nation's chief spy agency has led to the arrest of a 28 year old man in Sydney for allegedly trying to sell rocket launchers believed to have been stolen from the Australian Army to a man now being held on terror-related charges.
The man now facing charges - a known gun dealer and convicted double-murderer - also believed to have been in possession of 20 kilos of Power Gel explosives, was already under investigation following a sting operation where undercover detectives paid him $50,000 in a failed attempt to recover one of the deadly weapons.
One rocket launcher has so far been recovered. Police said today seven or more 66mm rocket launchers are still missing.
It would appear there is plenty more to this story that has not yet been made public. The 28 year old man was described by one investigator as one link in a chain involving stolen Australian Army weapons and ammunition and powerful underworld crime figures.
But were the rocket launchers part of a terror plot? Or some powerful weaponry for crime gangs out for explosive revenge attacks?
The police refuse to confirm one story or the other.
When the story of the missing rocket launchers broke last month, police and Army spokespersons refused to confirm to journalists that the launchers had been stolen from Australian Army stockpiles.
A theory that the launchers may have been smuggled into Australia was floated instead.
No wonder. Now serious questions are being raised about why private security companies are being used to patrol Australian military bases and, presumably, are tasked with securing stockpiles of rocket launchers and explosives.
Incredible. Who defends the Australian Defence Force bases after midnight? Private security guards.
The fact that rocket launchers, capable of destroying vehicles or even taking down airliners, were missing somewhere in Australia triggered one of the biggest joint ASIO-Federal Police investigations in years.
A sense of dire urgency was added to the investigations due to the fact that Sydney is set to host the APEC conference in less than eight months, when dozens of world leaders will gather for days of meetings, including President Bush.
As the APEC summit draws nearer, it is expected that US Secret Service and CIA agents will become involved in the hunt for the missing weapons, as they are unlikely to allow President Bush to visit Sydney when such a massive security breach remains unresolved.
If the rocket launchers are not recovered, and the APEC summit goes ahead with President Bush in attendance, Sydneysiders can look forward to having much of the central business district completely shut down and locked off for at least two days before, and for the entire duration of, the conference.
The NSW state government is already considering making the days of the APEC summt into public holidays, so workers will not be inconvenienced by what is expected to be the biggest security operation ever mounted in Australia.
State and federal police agencies are now urgently appealing to the public to help find the missing rocket launchers.
From the Sydney Morning Herald (excerpts) :
Counter Terrorism police have arrested and charged a 28-year-old Sydney gun dealer over the theft of seven rocket launchers from the Australian military allegedly for sale to a major underworld figure and suspected terrorist.
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Frank Prendergast said the man supplied two rocket launchers to one man and five others to another individual who is facing terror charges on another matter.
The arrested man is accused of stealing all seven launchers and has been charged with 17 weapons and stolen property counts...
From news.com.au (excerpts) :
AFP Assistant Commissioner Frank Prendergast, who is the AFP's counter terrorism national manager, said the 28-year-old man supplied two rocket launchers to one man, and five of the weapons to another man.
"The person who received five is facing terrorism charges on another matter,'' Asst Commissioner Prendergast said.
"It is a matter of great importance to us to recover the six outstanding weapons.''
The charged man is believed to be one link in a "chain of supply'', Asst Commissioner Kaldas said.
Army chief Lieutenant General Peter Leahy said earlier that the Defence Department was investigating claims that former soldiers may have sold anti-tank rockets on the black market to criminals or even terrorists.
UPDATE : Claims aired today indicate that the alleged terror plot included launching rockets at the Lucas Heights Nuclear Reactor. But that might not be quite as terrifying as it sounds. There would be no meltdown, no leak of radiaton, no mega-explosion.
All that would result from a rocket attack on the reactor would be...the waste of a rocket :
Security consultant Peter Collins said the easy-to-use single-use rockets could destroy a car, or if fired into a packed train or bus, would cause a blast and shrapnel spray capable of killing people within a five metre radius.
But the former navy intelligence officer said the outdated rocket, which has a range of 220m and is best used on stationary objects, would have almost no effect on a building like the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.
"It would chip away the exterior but the chance of it penetrating the reactor area of the site would be zero,'' Mr Collins said.
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