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Radioactive Theft in Iraq Raises 'Dirty Bomb' Concerns in Crimea


March 22, 2017
TASS & Sputnik News & Reuters & The Independent

"For the first time in the Russian army's history" the Airborne Forces' three large units have been simultaneously alerted in the Crimea due to an "increased terrorist threat." The alert followed warnings that radioactive materials were detected aboard an Armenian aircraft en route to Bulgaria. The radioactive signature suggested the presence of Ir-192. In 2016, a case containing deadly Ir-192 was stolen from a base in Iraq, stoking fears that it could be used to make a dirty bomb.

http://tass.com/defense/936406

Large-scale Drills of Russian Airborne, Aerospace Forces
And Black Sea Fleet Begin in Crimea

TASS

OPUK RANGE/Crimea (March 20, 2017) Drills involving three large units of Russia's Airborne Forces, Aerospace Forces and the Black Sea Fleet began in Crimea's Opuk firing range on Monday, Airborne Force Commander Colonel-General Andrei Serdyukov said.

"For the first time in the Russian army's history the Airborne Forces' three large units were simultaneously alerted as part of the drills and partly redeployed to Crimea with weapons and equipment," said Serdyukov, who is in charge of the manoeuvres. More than 2,500 paratroopers and some 600 pieces of equipment are involved in the drills.

Servicemen from Novorossiysk, Kamyshinsk and Ulan Ude units, as well as the fourth army of the Aerospace Forces and Air Defense Forces of the Southern military district take part in the exercises.

During the drills, the troops will train to conduct operations "as part of a group of rapid reaction forces" against terrorists and regular forces of a simulated enemy, Serdyukov said.

The exercises are held in the new format in Crimea due to the "increased terrorist threat and also a broad range of use of the Airborne Forces as rapid reaction forces to solve crises in various regions of the world," he said.

The servicemen will be tasked to take under control crucial facilities, practice amphibious landing and airdrops, and also firing during the offensive and defensive operations.



Belarusian Authorities Confirm
Radioactive Materials Found on Armenian Flight

Sputnik News

MINSK (March 20, 2017) — The State Border Committee of Belarus confirmed to Sputnik on Monday that radioactive materials were found aboard an Armenian aircraft en route to Bulgaria. Bychkovsky noted that the aircraft, which he said was not a passenger flight, was flying from Armenia to Bulgaria via Belarus.

"I can confirm this fact. The incident took place on [Sunday] March 19 at Gomel Airport," spokesman Anton Bychkovsky said following President Alexander Lukashenko's assertion earlier in the day.


Radioactive Material Stolen in Iraq Raises Security Concerns
Ahmed Rasheed, Aref Mohammed and Stephen Kalin / Reuters

BAGHDAD (February 17, 2016) -- 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 U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday.

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 Centre 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.

POLLUTION RISK
Iraqi forces are battling Islamic State in the country's north and west, backed by a US-led coalition. The Sunni Muslim militant group has been accused of using chemical weapons on more than one occasion over the past few years.

The closest area fully controlled by Islamic State is more than 500 km (300 miles) north of Basra in the western province of Anbar. Islamic State controls no territory in the predominantly Shi'ite southern provinces but has claimed bomb attacks there, including one that killed 10 people in October in the district where the Weatherford facility is located.

Besides the risk of a dirty bomb, the radioactive material could cause harm simply by being left exposed in a public place for several days, said David Albright, a physicist and president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

"If they left it in some crowded place, that would be more of the risk, if they kept it together but without shielding," he said. "Certainly it's not insignificant. You could cause some panic with this. They would want to get this back."

The senior environmental official said authorities were worried that whoever stole the material would mishandle it, leading to radioactive pollution of "catastrophic proportions".

A second senior environment ministry official, also based in Basra, said counter-radiation teams had begun inspecting oil sites, scrapyards and border crossings to locate the device after an emergency task force raised the alarm on Nov. 13.

Two Basra provincial government officials said they were directed on Nov. 25 to coordinate with local hospitals. "We instructed hospitals in Basra to be alert to any burn cases caused by radioactivity and inform security forces immediately," said one.

Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul, Jonathan S. Landay and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Pravin Char/Mark Heinrich


'Highly Dangerous' Radioactive Material Stolen,
Sparking Fears of ISIS 'Dirty Bomb'

'We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh'

Caroline Mortimer / The Independent

(February 17, 2016) -- Iraq is searching for "highly dangerous" radioactive material stolen last year amid fears it could fall the hands of ISIS jihadis. The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop, went missing from a US-owned storage facility in Basra last November, according to leaked environment ministry documents.

An unnamed senior security official with knowledge of the theft said: "We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh (ISIS). "They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb".

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

An anonymous senior environment ministry official based in the city 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 material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive by the International Atomic Energy Agency - meaning it can be fatal to anyone in close proximity to it in a matter of days or even hours.

So far there is no indication that the material has fallen into the hands of ISIS - who do not control this part of southern Iraq - but the group has begun using chemical weapons.

The terror group attacked Kurdish forces with mustard gas during a battle near Erbil, the capital of the Kurds' autonomous region in Iraq, last August with around 35 soldiers being taken ill. It is believed to be the first time chemical weapons have been used in the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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.

A security official said the initial investigation suggested the perpetrators had specific knowledge of how to handle the material and how to gain access to the facility. There were "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.

Two Basra provincial government officials said they were told to work with local hospitals to identify possible victims on 25 November. One said: "We instructed hospitals in Basra to be alert to any burn cases caused by radioactivity and inform security forces immediately".

Additional reporting by Reuters

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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