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Mexico judge orders arrest of 5 men over theft of radioactive cobalt-60

The men have been accused of stealing a truck carrying a potentially lethal load of radioactive material.

Cobalt 60 lidEnlarge
An isotope container of cobalt-60. (Archive/Wikimedia commons)

A federal judge in Mexico has ordered five men suspected of stealing a truck loaded with a potentially lethal load of radioactive cobalt-60 to be arrested and held for 40 days for questioning, media reports said Monday.

The men were among the six people admitted to hospital with signs of possible radioactive poisoning last week. They were given the all clear and handed to police on Friday.

A 16-year-old boy was the sixth person detained by police, but he was later released because of his age.

Under Mexican law, police are allowed to hold suspects in custody for up to 40 days without charge and continue interrogating them in the hopes of building a case against them. 

More from GlobalPost: Mexico recovers stolen radioactive material outside box

Police allege four of the arrested men stole the vehicle at a highway truck stop on the northeastern edge of Mexico. A fifth man bought it from them. They were unaware of its dangerous contents. 

The truck was transporting the cobalt-60 from a hospital in the border city of Tijuana, where it had been used to treat cancer, to a nuclear waste storage dump near Mexico City.

The theft triggered alarm on both sides of the US-Mexicoborder. Apart from the potential danger to the public, authorities were also concerned the radioactive material, which can be used to make dirty bombs, could fall into the wrong hands. 

The small container holding the cobalt was opened when officials found it on Thursday.

They recovered the radioactive material about a half mile from the truck, according to Juan Eibenschutz, director of Mexico's National Commision for Nuclear Security and Safeguards.

More from GlobalPost: What is cobalt-60?

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/mexico/131209/mexico-5-men-arrested-over-cobalt-60-theft