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Austrian, Moldovan police break up nuclear smuggling ring

VIENNA (AP) — Austrian and Moldovan authorities have broken up an organized crime ring suspected of smuggling nuclear materials, the European police agency said Friday. Europol, which coordinated and supported the operation, said the ring was attempting to sell “radiological material to an army” for 3 million euros ($3.33 million).

Europol said the material was purported to be uranium-235, an isotope that can be used as a fuel for nuclear power plants, or also in nuclear weapons, but that results were not yet available on whether it actually was.

The ring was infiltrated by a Moldovan undercover agent, Europol said, but a spokesman said he could not specify which countries were involved and refused to comment further. Three people were arrested in Vienna on Nov. 24, one of whom has a previous conviction related to such activities, Europol said. Photos show members of Austria's police tactical team known as COBRA surrounding a black sedan in a parking lot, pointing guns at the driver's side and smashing in a back window with a baton.

Video footage released by Europol, provided from Moldova, focuses first on two men, their faces blurred out, appearing to be walking out of the Chisinau airport in Moldova with one carrying a bag. It then shows three men outside talking, then back inside a building.

A closeup taken outdoors then shows a hand taking a light green cylinder out of a bag and turning it to display it for the camera, before cutting to a different shot of a bag full of stacks of 500-, 200- and 100-euro bills.

There is no commentary explaining the images on the video. Moldovan police confirmed their involvement, and said the three suspects had been monitored for the past year. They did not provide further information.

Austrian authorities refused to comment on the case, and further details were not immediately available.

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