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U.S. officials: Terrorist seizure of nuclear materials in Iraq of minimal concern

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
An Iranian Kurdish female member of the Freedom Party of Kurdistan keeps a position in Dibis, northwest of Kirkuk, on Monday, September 15. The world's top diplomats pledged today to support Iraq in its fight against Islamic State militants by "any means necessary," including "appropriate military assistance," as leaders stressed the urgency of the crisis. ISIS has taken over large swaths of northern and western Iraq as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate that stretches from Syria to Iraq. An Iranian Kurdish female member of the Freedom Party of Kurdistan keeps a position in Dibis, northwest of Kirkuk, on Monday, September 15. The world's top diplomats pledged today to support Iraq in its fight against Islamic State militants by "any means necessary," including "appropriate military assistance," as leaders stressed the urgency of the crisis. ISIS has taken over large swaths of northern and western Iraq as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate that stretches from Syria to Iraq.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iraq: Terrorist groups have control of about 40 kilos of uranium compounds
  • U.S. officials say concern is minimal as the materials aren't enriched or weapons-grade
  • The compounds were used by university departments in Mosul for study and research
  • Iraqi ambassador asks U.N. for help "to stave off the threat of their use"

(CNN) -- Militants in Iraq have taken hold of nuclear materials at university science facilities near the northern city of Mosul, the Iraqi government has said in a letter to the United Nations.

But two U.S. officials told CNN on Wednesday that the small amounts of uranium aren't enriched or weapons-grade, prompting only minimal concern.

The letter from Iraq's U.N. ambassador about the uranium compounds asks for help "to stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad" as the country struggles with a deadly insurgency.

In the letter, obtained Wednesday by CNN, Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said that "terrorist groups have seized control" of nearly 40 kilograms (90 pounds) of uranium compounds at science departments at the University of Mosul after the sites "came out of control of the state."

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The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, an al Qaeda splinter group, has led Sunni insurgents who have taken over large areas of northern and western Iraq in an offensive that began last month. The terrorist group has also made major gains in Syria in its quest to establish an Islamic state spanning both countries.

In his letter, dated Tuesday, Alhakim said the nuclear materials were used in "very limited quantities" for scientific study and research. But he warned that despite the small amounts, the materials could be used by terrorists in Iraq or smuggled out of the country.

"Such materials can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction," Alhakim wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Reuters.

Iraq witnessed another violent day Wednesday as the country's security and political crises deepened.

More than 50 unidentified bodies were found in the predominantly Shiite town of Alexandria on Wednesday, Iraqi security officials said.

The bodies of two children were among the dozens found in different parts of the town.

Details about the circumstances of the deaths were not immediately available, and officials did not say when the people may have been killed.

Not far from Alexandria, at least five people were killed and 17 wounded by three car bombs that exploded in front of a courthouse in the town of Hilla, security and medical officials said.

Hilla is about 92 kilometers (57 miles) south of Baghdad and is the first sizable town south of the capital.

READ: Signs of war: Life amid Iraqi conflict

READ: Iraq to split in three: So why not?

READ: The orphans of Iraq

CNN's Richard Roth, Elise Labott, Hamdi Alkhshali and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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