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Truth Squad: Have Pakistan's nukes repeatedly been threatened?

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 23, 2011 -- Updated 0806 GMT (1606 HKT)

Editor's note: Part of the CNN Republican debate fact-checking series

(CNN) -- Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) raised concerns about potential threats to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal during Tuesday's Republican candidates' debate on national security issues.

The statements: "Six attempts have already been made on nuclear sites. This is more than an existential threat. We have to take this very seriously," Bachmann said. She also said, "We have to recognize what's happening on the ground. These are nuclear weapons all across this nation and potentially al Qaeda could get a hold of these weapons. These weapons could find their way out of Pakistan into New York City or into Washington, D.C., and a nuclear weapon could be set off in this city. That's how serious this is."

The facts: According to Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, six incidents at sites considered known or likely nuclear installations in Pakistan have occurred. But they do not appear to represent threats to the country's nuclear arsenal: a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle into the side of a bus and killed eight air force personnel; seven people were wounded in a school bus bomb explosion; a munitions factory blast killed scores of civilians; a suicide attack killed a civilian, a vehicle-borne IED killed 33; and militants assaulted a naval aviation station.

This month, State Department spokesman Mike Toner said U.S. authorities believe the government of Pakistan "is well-aware of the range of potential threats to its nuclear arsenal and is accordingly giving very high priority to secure its nuclear weapons and materials effectively."

In September, Pakistan's Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani called the country's nuclear program "safe in every respect," according to the Associated Press of Pakistan. "Pakistan's defense is impregnable, our armed forces and the people of Pakistan are fully prepared to defend the national frontiers."

The verdict: Misleading. Yes, six attacks occurred, but they do not appear to have been attempts to seize the country's nuclear weapons. In addition, Bachmann offered no evidence to back up her assertion that the weapons could be spirited to New York City or Washington.

CNN's Amy Roberts contributed to this report.

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