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Jihadists seize old chemical weapons complex

THE jihadist group bringing terror to Iraq overran a Saddam Hussein chemical weapons complex yesterday, gaining access to disused stores of hundreds of tons of potentially deadly poisons, including mustard gas and sarin.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham invaded the al-Muthanna facility 60 miles north of Baghdad in a rapid takeover that the US government said was a matter of concern. The facility was notorious in the 1980s and 1990s as the hub of Saddam's efforts to develop an industrial-scale chemical weapons programme.

Isis has shown ambitions to seize and use chemical weapons in Syria, leading experts to warn last night that the group could turn to improvised weapons to carry out an attack in Iraq.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of Britain's chemical weapons regiment, said al-Muthanna had large stores of weaponised and bulk mustard gas and sarin, most of which had been put beyond ready use in concrete stores.

"It is doubtful that Isis have the expertise to use a fully functioning chemical munition, but there are materials on site that could be used in an improvised explosive device," he said.

"We have seen that Isis has used chemicals in explosions in Iraq before and has carried out experiments in Syria."

US officials disclosed that the group had occupied the sprawling site, which has two bunkers encased in a concrete seal. Much of the sarin is believed to be redundant.

A CIA report on the facility said that 150 tons of mustard gas were produced each year at the peak from 1983 and pilot-scale production of sarin began in 1984.

Its most recent description of al-Muthanna in 2007 paints a disturbing picture of chemicals strewn throughout the area.

Britain has previously acknowledged that the nature of the material would make its destruction process difficult.

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One US official told The Wall Street Journal yesterday that Isis fighters could be contaminated by the chemicals. (© The Daily Telegraph)