Armenian smugglers tried to sell N-material to terrorists: Georgia

Revelation suggests N-smugglers are still active along Georgia-Armenia border.

Tbilisi: Authorities in Georgia have revealed that two Armenian nationals tried to sell highly enriched uranium to people they thought were terrorists in March, adding that the bomb grade nuclear material was smuggled across the border from the former Soviet republic of Armenia in a cigarette pack.

The revelation, which emerged from a secret trial being held in neighbouring Georgia, suggested that nuclear smugglers are still very active along the borders of the former Soviet Union, the Telegraph reports.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, announced in April that his country, a staunch US ally, had uncovered and foiled a plot to sell highly enriched uranium (HEU) to an Islamist extremist group.

The details of the operation, however, were not known until Sunday when it was disclosed that two Armenian nationals, a businessman called Sumbat Tonoyan and a physicist called Hrant Ohanyan, were implicated in the smuggling case. Both men have pleaded guilty.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said that the duo had smuggled 18 grams of HEU by train from the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, to the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, in a lead-lined cigarette box.

The smugglers thought that they were dealing with an Islamist extremist group, but they were actually set up by the Georgian secret service, the paper said.

However, it remains unclear how much stolen nuclear material is already in circulation and how much may have already been purchased by extremist groups.

The HEU intercepted was 89.4 percent enriched and therefore usable in a nuclear warhead. There is some evidence that the consignment, together with two others before it, was sourced from a nuclear fuel plant in Novosibirsk in Siberia in Russia, the paper added.