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Originally published December 6, 2013 at 7:30 PM | Page modified December 6, 2013 at 10:02 PM

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Six suspects in Mexican heist of radioactive waste arrested

The six people — all male, ages 16 to 38 — were arrested late Thursday and taken to a hospital in Pachuca, 60 miles north of Mexico City, not far from the town where the truck and the material, cobalt-60, were found.


The New York Times

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MEXICO CITY — Six people have been arrested in connection with the theft of a truck carrying highly radioactive waste in an episode that caused an international scare and raised concerns about the transporting of nuclear material.

The people — all male, ages 16 to 38 — were arrested late Thursday and taken to a hospital in Pachuca, 60 miles north of Mexico City, not far from the town where the truck and the material, cobalt-60, were found Wednesday after armed robbers stole the truck Monday.

One of the people, a 16-year-old boy, was vomiting and had signs of possible radiation sickness, while the others were taken to the hospital as a precaution before all were cleared, released and then turned over to the federal police.

The material, hospital waste being transported from Tijuana to a repository near Mexico City, is often cited as a potential ingredient in a dirty bomb, a combination of explosives and radioactive material, although Mexican and U.S. officials said the theft appeared to be a common crime and not related to terrorism.

The theft triggered alerts in six Mexican states and Mexico City, as well as international notifications to the U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

It raised concerns the material could have been stolen to make a dirty bomb, a conventional explosive that disseminates radioactive material.

The authorities in Hidalgo state, where the hospital is located, confirmed Friday that two of the men were suspected of carrying out the robbery and that four others belonged to a gang that might have been complicit in it, although it remained unclear if they wanted the truck, the cobalt or both. It was unclear how the police connected the men to the case.

A hospital worker said in an interview that the police and military swarmed the emergency room, barred the staff from using cellphones and carefully monitored people coming and going, while preparations were being made to take the men to Mexico City.

The truck was found abandoned Wednesday, about 24 miles from where it was stolen, and the container for the radioactive material was found opened. The cobalt-60 pellets were left about a half-mile from the truck in an empty field, where authorities said they were a risk only to those who had handled them and not to anyone in Hueypoxtla, the closest town of about 4,000 people. There was no evacuation.

Several members of a family who reported finding the container were checked and cleared by doctors Wednesday.

The truck carrying the cobalt-60 was taken from a gas station where the driver had stopped. Mexican nuclear-safety commission officials said the transport company violated procedures by not properly safeguarding the truck and its contents.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.



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