Officials with the Iraqi government have revealed that the Islamic State may have stolen “highly dangerous” radioactive material from a U.S. storage facility in Basra back in November. The government officials have been trying to track down the radioactive material since November, but have been unsuccessful. Senior security officials fear that the dangerous material, which is classified as a Category 2 radioactive source by the International Atomic Energy Agency, may have fallen into the hands of the Islamic State and could potentially be used to create a “dirty bomb.”
Reuters uncovered an environment ministry document and spoke with seven security environmental and provincial officials who claim that ISIS may have stolen “highly dangerous” radioactive material from a U.S.-based firm in Iraq. The material was being stored in a facility in Basra, in southern Iraq, when it mysteriously vanished. The material, a Category 2 radioactive source, was being used by U.S.-based oil company Weatherford to test for flaws in materials used in the oilfield by utilizing gamma rays. The material was stored in a case the size of a laptop computer and allegedly went missing in November of 2015.
— Dog (@u2biker) February 17, 2016
Though the oil company Weatherford, the Iraqi government, and U.S. officials are refusing to speak about the incident, citing security concerns, the document obtained by Reuters outlines that there was “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.” The radioactive material, according to seven different sources who are familiar with the case, is capable of being used to create a “dirty bomb.”
An official working on the case claims that the stolen case contained “up to 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of Ir-192 ‘capsules’, a radioactive isotope of iridium.” This amount of radioactive material was categorized as having the ability to cause permanent injury or harm after just minutes to hours of exposure. However, it was noted it could also be fatal to those exposed for multiple hours or days. The security document reveals that the Iraqi government believes the theft “posed a risk of bodily and environmental harm as well as a national security threat.”
The theft from Basra is not a stand-alone incident. According to the Daily Mail, security fears over the radioactive material stems from the theft of radioactive materials across the globe. In fact, it has been noted that Ir-192 capsules have been reported missing in the United States, the United Kingdom, and a variety of other countries across the globe. Therefore, fears are mounting that an organization like the Islamic State may be stockpiling the radioactive material to create a “dirty bomb.” One security official noted that the radioactive material, in the wrong hands, could be placed on explosives the group already has to create a more dangerous dirty bomb.
“We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh (also known as the Islamic State or ISIS). They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb.”
— ★ Paul Lujan ★ (@Paul0451) February 17, 2016
The threat of a dirty bomb should not be confused with the Islamic State’s potential ability to create a nuclear bomb. A dirty bomb is the attachment of radioactive material to currently available explosives to contaminate the blast region with radioactivity. Whereas, a nuclear bomb uses radioactive materials to create a stronger blast, ISIS does not currently have the ability to create a nuclear bomb, but rather fears are surrounding the use of the stolen radioactive material to create a dirty bomb, contaminating regions with radioactivity.
Meanwhile, officials in Basra say they are working “day and night” to find the missing material and that the army and police are working together to find the missing “dangerous material.”
[Image via Shutterstock]