Radioactive material that went missing in Iraq has been found dumped near a petrol station in the southern town of Zubair, ending speculation that it could be acquired by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and used as a weapon.
Officials told Reuters news agency on Sunday that the material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, was undamaged and there were no concerns about radiation.
Reuters reported last week that Iraq had been searching for the material since it was stolen in November from a storage facility belonging to US oilfield-services company Weatherford, near the southern city of Basra.
It was not immediately clear how the device, owned by Swiss inspections group SGS, ended up in Zubair, 15km southwest of Basra.
Jabbar al-Saidi, chief of the security panel within Basra provincial council, said: "A passer-by found the radioactive device dumped in Zubair and immediately informed security forces, which went with a special radiation prevention team and retrieved the device.
"After initial checking I can confirm the device is intact 100 percent and there is absolutely no concern of radiation."
Iraqi forces and ISIL are engaged in battles across the western province of Anbar, especially around the urban centres of Ramadi - which is now largely controlled by government forces - and Fallujah, which is still held by the fighters.
Since being pushed from the centre of the provincial capital, Ramadi, in late December, ISIL has launched near-daily attacks on Iraqi forces, especially on the outskirts of the city.
An Iraqi security official close to the investigation said it had been established soon after the radioactive material was stolen that it was being kept in Zubair and controls had been tightened to prevent it being taken out of the town.
"After failing to take it out of the town, the perpetrators decided to dump it," the security official said.
"I assure you it is only a matter of time before we arrest those who stole the radioactive device."
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 officials.
The material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 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.
SGS and Weatherford have both denied responsibility for the disappearance of the material last year.
|Iraqi security forces and ISIL are engaged in battles across the western province of Anbar [AP]