Terrorism: June 15, 2002


An explosion shortly after midnight of 14 June rocked the Georgian Republic's capital of Tbilisi. The blast on Rustaveli Prospect (about 450 feet from the nation's parliament) felled trees in the garden and shattered windows in the newly renovated Marriott hotel but caused no casualties. An investigation was initiated, but police had no motives or suspects. The Tbilisi Marriott (recently rebuilt by the US hotel chain) was severely damaged in December 1991 and January 1992 during Georgia's civil war. Georgian Minister of State Security Valeri Khaburdzania said that the 500 gram trotyl charge was "intended to frighten someone". Theories that the explosion was directed at the nearby United States' embassy at Aleksandr Garden were ruled out, although the US Rangers living at the Marriott nor the hotel business could have been the intended target. 

The Vaziani tank battalion commander was detained as a suspect in connection with the theft of 13 PTK machine-guns and 24 radio transmitter-receiver sets stolen from the Vaziani base's 11th Motor-Rifle Brigade on 10 June. The commander was summoned to the Military Prosecutor's Office for a statement on the 13th and a few hours later declared a suspect. On the 14th, Khaburdzania told that press that one PTK machine-gun had been found in one of the Georgian military units. These machine-guns are designed to be coaxially-mounted to the T-55/62/72 series main battle tanks' main-gun and cannot be easily used without solenoid triggers. 

According to Khaburdzania, the theft was very likely aimed at thwarting implementation of the 'Georgian-American Train and Equip' and NATO 'Partnership for Peace' programs in Georgia. One indicator is that the stolen machine-guns were dismantled from the tanks slated to be used during the Train and Equip program. Khaburdzania noted that while the Ministry of State Security was involved in the investigation, it is officially being handled by the Military Prosecutor's Office. The detained officer is exercising his right to remain silent and to date there has been no chance to interrogate him as a suspect. 

About 80 Georgian emergency and environmental workers, along with experts from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency began a two-week hunt on the 10th for two containers with radioactive materials believed to be somewhere in the forest around Dzhvari. Scouring the 550 square km (212 sq mile) area on foot, car and horseback (since helicopters are useless in the rugged terrain), the searchers will use radiation detectors to try and pinpoint the devices in a landscape of mountains, river gorges and forests. The  IAEA-funded search will last two weeks, unless the containers are found sooner. A comprehensive search for other sources of radiation in other parts of Georgia will be carried out using helicopters in September 2002. 

Eight strontium accumulator batteries were brought to Georgia from Narva in early 1980 and used in the mountains to provide communications systems during the construction of the Inguri and Khudoni hydraulic power stations. These batteries are effectively small nuclear reactors. Six have been found, of which four were dismantled. Because they were stripped of their concrete, iron and leaden hulls, three Georgian foresters from Liya who found and briefly handled the first two containers in early December suffered severe radiation sickness. Two were still being treated in France and Russia. In February, a team of experts removed a second pair of strontium-90 containers from the woods near Dzhvari (about 150 miles northwest of Tbilisi). 

Numerous thefts of radioactive materials were reported across the ex-Soviet republics since the USSR's December 1991 collapse, but officials insist they usually involve low-concentration substances in small quantities (therefor, unfit for making a nuclear weapon but possible fodder for a 'dirty bomb'). The largest confirmed disappearance of former Soviet Union nuclear weapons-grade uranium was in Georgia, where police arrested three men in July 2001 for attempting to sell 3.74 pounds of uranium-235 in Turkey. - Adam Geibel


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