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Prepper update: That time ISIS nearly found the ingredients for a dirty bomb

Serious intelligence and terrorism experts do not believe that members of the Islamic State — also known as ISIS — are a serious risk to infiltrate the United States. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try, especially if they managed to develop a weapon that could harm thousands upon thousands of Americans.

And according to a recent report, that almost happened.

When ISIS overran the Iraqi city of Mosul, it’s second-largest, in 2014, they were able to gain control of massive amounts of military hardware. The Washington Post reported: Small arms, heavy machine guns, ammunition, rockets, bombs and even main battle tanks were taken. That’s because Mosul was home to a number of Iraqi military bases and garrisons.

But, the paper said, Mosul was also home to a cache of cobalt-60.

Located on a Mosul college campus, this metallic substance contains high amounts of radiation — high enough to kill. The paper noted further:

When contained within the heavy shielding of a radiotherapy machine, cobalt-60 is used to kill cancer cells. In terrorists’ hands, it is the core ingredient of a “dirty bomb,” a weapon that could be used to spread radiation and panic.

U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies knew that the cobalt was there and nervously monitored the region for three years hoping to never discover that the ISIS militants had discovered it and put it to use on the battlefield (or tried to smuggle it into Europe or the U.S.)

Their fears were heightened in late 2014 after ISIS officials bragged that they had obtained radioactive materials, and then again a year ago when ISIS fighters took over labs at the same Mosul college campus with the goal of developing new weapons.

Meanwhile, in Washington, experts began conducting studies that involved running some numbers, should a dirty bomb device be detonated. Those details were kept secret so that ISIS would not learn about the cobalt’s dirty bomb potential.

It would not be until just recently, after Iraqi troops battled ISIS fighters block by block, that allied forces were able to retake the college campus; upon entering the war-scarred building where the cobalt-containing machines had been kept, Iraqi commanders were relieved to discover they were still there.

It’s not clear why Islamic State fighters did not exploit a clear advantage, but the point is, they could have, and had they done so, the results could have been disastrous.

But just because those particular cobalt-containing machines weren’t raided, their contents used to construct a lethal weapon, doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future. The Post noted that there are hundreds of those same kinds of machines sitting in scores of cities all over the world. A number of them happen to be in conflict zones.

“Nearly every country in the world either has them, or is a transit country” through which that kind of equipment passes, according to Andrew Bieniawski, a vice president for the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative and someone who used to head up the U.S. government efforts to safeguard such materials. “This is a global problem.” (Related: Observers worried that “nuclear chain reaction” could still occur at Fukushima… cleanup could take 100 years or more.)

Some experts believe that ISIS failed to exploit its ill-gotten gain because it lacked engineers and nuclear experts who could safely extract the cobalt without exposing their own personnel to a deadly burst of radiation. The world may not be so lucky the next time, and that includes the United States.

That’s why it’s important to take whatever prepping precautions you can now to protect yourself against radiation exposure. That includes more superfoods in your diet, protecting your thyroid and knowing what to do after a nuclear (or dirty bomb) blast, if you survive the initial explosion.

J.D. Heyes is a senior writer for and, as well as editor of The National Sentinel.

Sources include:

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