London: Islamic State terrorists in Iraq may have stolen a case of extremely radioactive material which they could fashion into a so-called dirty bomb for Western targets, according to a media report.
The radioactive matter, which was stored in a protective case, the size of a laptop computer, was seized from a storage facility near the Iraqi city of Basra last November, Daily Express reported.
It quoted an Iraqi security source as saying: "We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh. They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb."
The theft has only come to light now, which means ISIS scientists could have been working on converting the irradiated material into a bomb for more than three months, raising fears that they could attempt to smuggle the material into Europe to cause devastating casualties.
According to the newspaper, the material was originally taken to Iraq for scientific purposes by a petroleum company, which was using the material to test for flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines.
But experts fear it could easily be converted into a crude nuclear bomb.
The material was taken from a warehouse belonging to the US-based oil company Weatherford outside of an ISIS controlled area.
However, it is
feared it may have been stolen by people looking to sell it on to the terror group.
"If they left it in some crowded place, that would be more of the risk. If they kept it together but without shielding. Certainly its not insignificant. You could cause some panic with this. They would want to get this back," said David Albright, a physicist and president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.
The theft was discovered after an Iraqi government document discussing the potential consequences of the material leaking came to light.
The document, dated November 30, 2015, and addressed to the Iraqi environment ministrys 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 spokesperson 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.
Local hospitals have also been put on red alert for anyone being admitted with burn injuries caused by radioactivity.