Highly dangerous radioactive material stolen in Iraq

Highly dangerous radioactive material stolen in Iraq
2 min read
18 February, 2016
Laptop-sized case stolen in Iraq, raising fears it might have been acquired by the Islamic State group, or others, to make a weapon.
Iraq notified the IAEA of the theft in November [Getty]
Dangerous radioactive material was stolen from a storage facility near the southern Iraqi city of Basra last year, it emerged on Wednesday.

The theft has raised security concerns about the material ending up in the hands of the Islamic State group (IS) and being used as a weapon.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Reuters, which reported the theft on Wednesday, that Baghdad had reported the theft to international officials in November but did not request the IAEA's help in recovering the dangerous substance.

The material, stored in protective case the size of a laptop computer, was held at a facility belonging to US oil services company Weatherford, according to an Iraqi environment ministry document seen by Reuters.

However, Weatherford has denied any liability or responsibility for the theft, saying that the storage facility was not owned or operated by the company.

The missing radioactive material is used to test flaws in materials for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, and was owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey, according to Iraqi documentation.

The exact material has not been disclosed, but both Caesium and Cobalt-60 have been used in the process (as have other materials), and each are potentially fatal.

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

Last week, CIA director John Brennan has said that IS had used chemical weapons and has the ability to make small quantities of chlorine and mustard gas.

There are reports that IS "has access to chemical precursors and munitions that they can use", Brennan said.

An international chemicals watchdog also confirmed that IS used mustard gas against Kurdish forces in Iraq twice last year.

The investigation was launched after suspicions grew when 35 Kurdish forces became ill on the battlefield in August 2015.

"I'm pretty convinced that the mustard gas IS are using in Iraq is made by them in Mosul," said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a specialist in biological and chemical warfare.

"They have all the precursors at hand from the oil industry and all the experts at hand to do it."