Sunday 18 February 2018

Isil plotting chemical atrocities in Europe, say experts

US Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV who was killed during an Isil attack Photo: AFP PHOTO / NAVY MEDIA CONTENT OPERATIONS (NMCO)
US Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV who was killed during an Isil attack Photo: AFP PHOTO / NAVY MEDIA CONTENT OPERATIONS (NMCO)

Josie Ensor

Isil is making its own chemical weapons, a global watchdog has revealed, warning the West should be vigilant for any attack.

A team of investigators at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said they had found evidence of the use of homemade sulphur mustard in attacks in Syria and Iraq.

"The suspicions are that (Isil) may have produced it themselves, which is extremely worrying," Ahmet Uzumcu, the head of OPCW, said yesterday. "It proves that they have the technology, know-how and also access to the materials which might be used for the production of chemical weapons."

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is believed to have set up a special unit for chemical weapons research made up of Iraqi scientists who worked on weapons programmes under Saddam Hussein, as well as foreign experts.

Leaked Isil files seen by this reporter showed a number of senior foreign fighters with chemical engineering degrees and some with lengthy experience in the field back home.

Earlier this year, American special forces captured the head of the unit trying to develop chemical weapons in a raid last month in northern Iraq. The detainee handed over intelligence on locations the US was then able to strike.

The US-led coalition said the chemicals Isil has used so far include chlorine and a low-grade sulphur mustard.

Isil has captured a large number of empty chemical weapons shells over the course of the war in Iraq and Syria, remnants of those nations' since-dismantled programmes.

While chemical agents allegedly used by the group so far have been among its least effective weapons, the psychological impact on civilians is considerable.

In March, a suspected Isil gas attack on the Iraqi town of Taza, south of Kirkuk, killed three children and wounded some 1,500 people, with injuries ranging from burns to rashes and respiratory problems.

A further 25,000 fled their homes in and around Taza, fearing another attack.


Russia last month pushed for measures at the United Nations to monitor extremist groups fighting in Syria, warning of a "clear and present threat" that they could stage chemical attacks, possibly in Europe.

The news came as the US gathered defence ministers from 11 other countries, including Britain, for talks on about ways to strengthen the campaign against Isil, a day after a US Navy SEAL was killed in Iraq during an attack by the militant group.

A US defence official told the AFP news agency that the soldier, Charlie Keating IV, was killed by "direct fire" and in "an orchestrated attack" after Isil fighters used suicide bombers and heavy weaponry to break through Kurdish peshmerga defences north of its Mosul stronghold.

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