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— Some stray uranium from La Jolla's own General Atomics, formerly known as General Atomic, has apparently found its way into the hands of the Sicilian Mafia, setting off alarms across Europe. The Guardian in London reports that Italian police are on the trail of seven bars of enriched uranium, which, authorities fear, may have been sold to terrorists. The nuclear material, consisting of enriched uranium 235 and 238, was part of an eight-kilo stock sold to the government of Zaire by General Atomic in 1971. The uranium, part of the old "Atoms for Peace" program conducted by the U.S. government in the 1960s, was destined for use in an experimental reactor General Atomic was supposed to build in Kinshasha. But it was never used, and after the collapse of the Mobutu regime a little over four years ago, the stuff vanished. The bars surfaced in Europe in 1997, according to reports, after an investigation into a police shootout in France led to a ring of Sicilian and Calabria mafiosi, who had hooked up with a Roman gang known as the Magliana band. Police mounted a sting in March 1998, using an undercover agent disguised as an Arab in an attempt to buy the uranium for 20 billion lira but only managed to pick up one bar, which experts later concluded contained enough enriched uranium to build at least one "dirty bomb." "If terrorists exploded a dirty bomb in Villa Borghese gardens, they would create little more than a large hole in the ground, but the center of Rome would be contaminated for a century," Captain Roberto Ferroni of the Italian finance police was quoted as telling La Republica, an Italian newspaper. Since the sting, police say they've lost all track of the crooks and their uranium stash. "It's as though they had vanished into thin air," Captain Ferroni said. "We had some indications of their presence here in Rome. Measurements were made [with a Geiger counter], and certain zones showed anomalous peaks of radiation."

How rumors get started Arab News, which bills itself as "Saudi Arabia's First English-Language Daily" and is based in Jeddeh, is out with a report claiming that a San Diego film company is trying to recruit Saudi students here to play hijackers in a movie about the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. "Faras Al-Anazi, a Saudi student studying English in an institute, was surprised when representatives of the company offered him the role of a hijacker in the proposed film. He was also offered $200,000 for doing the role," Arab News says. "I rejected the $200,000 offer as I do not trust companies that make movies which tarnish the image of Islam or my country. I don't want to be a party to it," Al-Anazi was quoted as saying. "Muhammad Al-Ahmad, a student from Kuwait, said the firm's representatives with a similar offer approached him. They asked him to play the role of a hijacker for $200,000. But he too rejected this proposal outright." The paper added that "the film companies are still targeting the Arabs in the hope that some would accept their offer to play the part of a hijacker." Neither the San Diego chapter of the Screen Actors Guild nor the local film commission say they have ever heard of the project.

Lap dogs Traveling by air these days is stressful enough, what with terrorist threats and all the heightened security. But Joan Kroc, the billionaire McDonald's heiress from Fairbanks Ranch, had a different kind of travel trouble last week. As she was preparing to board her personal executive jet at the private terminal on the east side of Lindbergh Field, one of Kroc's cocker spaniels, which was not on a leash, ran off across the tarmac, sending several burly handlers dressed in black scurrying around the busy runway in search of the errant pet. After a harrowing chase, the animal was duly captured, and Kroc boarded her plane, dog in hand ... Actors Cliff Robertson and Dina Merrill, the daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post, haven't been married since 1989, notes an observant tipster. The 75-year-old Merrill, who used to reside with Robertson and their daughter Heather in La Jolla's tony Barber Tract, is now married to movie mogul Ted Hartley. Robertson still lives on the beach.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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