Radioactive material stolen in Iraq raises fears over ISIS dirty bomb

"We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh," says senior security official with knowledge of the theft, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

By REUTERS
February 18, 2016 00:14
3 minute read.
radioactive hazard

A radioactive material hazard symbol, called a trefoil,. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

BAGHDAD - Iraq is searching for "highly dangerous" radioactive material whose theft last year has raised fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

Baghdad reported the stolen material to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November but has not requested assistance to recover it, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to US oilfield services company Weatherford, an environment ministry document seen by Reuters showed and security, environmental and provincial officials confirmed.

A spokesman for Iraq's environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns.

Weatherford said in a statement that it was not responsible or liable for the theft. "We do not own, operate or control sources or the bunker where the sources are stored," it said.

The material, which uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, is owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey, according to the document and officials.

An SGS official in Iraq declined to comment and referred Reuters to its Turkish headquarters, which did not respond to phone calls and emails.



The US State Department said it was aware of the reports but has seen no sign that Islamic State or other militant groups have acquired it.

The environment ministry document, dated Nov. 30 and addressed to the ministry's Center for Prevention of Radiation, describes "the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Ir-192 with highly radioactive activity belonging to SGS from a depot belonging to Weatherford in the Rafidhia area of Basra province."

A senior environment ministry official based in Basra, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak publicly, told Reuters the device contained up to 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of Ir-192 "capsules," a radioactive isotope of iridium also used to treat cancer.

The IAEA said the material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source, meaning that if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.

How harmful exposure can be is determined by a number of factors such as the material's strength and age, which Reuters could not immediately determine. The ministry document said the material posed a risk of bodily and environmental harm as well as a national security threat.

DIRTY BOMB FEAR

Large quantities of Ir-192 have gone missing before in the United States, Britain and other countries, stoking fears among security officials that it could be used to make a dirty bomb.

A dirty bomb combines nuclear material with conventional explosives to contaminate an area with radiation, in contrast to a nuclear weapon, which uses nuclear fission to trigger a vastly more powerful blast.

"We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh," said a senior security official with knowledge of the theft, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

"They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb," said the official, who works at the interior ministry and spoke on condition of anonymity as he is also not authorized to speak publicly.

There was no indication the material had come into the possession of Islamic State, which seized territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014 but does not control areas near Basra.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on whether the missing material might be suitable for use in a dirty bomb.

The security official, based in Baghdad, told Reuters there were no immediate suspects for the theft. But the official said the initial inquiry suggested the perpetrators had specific knowledge of the material and the facility. "No broken locks, no smashed doors and no evidence of forced entry," he said.

An operations manager for Iraqi security firm Taiz, which was contracted to protect the facility, declined to comment, citing instructions from Iraqi security authorities.

A spokesman for Basra operations command, responsible for security in Basra province, said army, police and intelligence forces were working "day and night" to locate the material.

The army and police have responsibility for security in the country's south, where Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militias and criminal gangs also operate.

Related Content

Nadia Murad
August 19, 2018
Yazidi victims of ISIS fear for lives in Germany due to ISIS presence

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN