AP EXCLUSIVE: Officials say crime ring has uranium

By DESMOND BUTLER | September 27, 2011 | 3:05 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Investigators following up on a nuclear sting in eastern Europe suspect that a crime syndicate was trying to sell weapons-grade uranium to buyers in North Africa.

Officials in Moldova, a former Soviet republic, told The Associated Press that at least 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of highly enriched uranium remains in criminal hands and probably is in another country. The amount is only a fraction of that needed for a bomb.

But the investigation provides fresh evidence of a black market in nuclear material that probably was taken from poorly secured stockpiles in the former Soviet Union.

U.S. authorities have been aiding the Moldovans in the search for a Russian believed to be the ringleader of the smuggling operation. They also are searching for a North African buyer who fled Moldova.