Radioactive material stolen in Iraq

February 17, 2016


Exclusive: Radioactive material stolen in Iraq raises security fears
by Ahmed Rasheed, Aref Mohammed, and Stephen Kalin

Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year, according to an environment ministry document and seven security, environmental and provincial officials who fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing in November from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford (WFT.N), the document obtained by Reuters showed and officials confirmed.

A spokesman for Iraq’s environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns. A Weatherford spokesman in Iraq declined to comment, and the company’s Houston headquarters did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“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.

The security official, based in Baghdad, told Reuters there were no immediate suspects for the theft. But the official said the initial investigation 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.

(Bold emphasis ours)

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The detonation of a “dirty bomb” has long been one of the worst case scenarios for security officials and law enforcement. While much attention has been paid to detecting and interdicting nuclear materials from rogue states, this article serves as a reminder that radioactive elements are obtainable from a wide-variety of non-military sources. Of particular note is the article’s assertion that the theft was apparently carried out with detailed knowledge of the Ir-192’s precise location – indicating the perpetrators probably carried out surveillance of the target. As we stress in our situational and surveillance awareness training courses: focusing all of your attention and resources on the day of the event puts you on the defensive and misses opportunities to detect and thwart criminal operations in the planning and preparation phases.

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