“Daesh is likely to have amongst its tens of thousands of recruits the technical expertise necessary to further refine precursor materials and build chemical weapons. The use of chlorine by Daesh and its recruitment of highly technically trained professionals, including from the west, have revealed far more serious efforts in chemical weapons development.”
These were the comments of Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop at a meeting of the Australia Group, an informal international forum that focuses on stopping the export and development of chemical and biological weapons which took place on 6th June in Perth.
She further stated that, “Apart from some crude and small scale endeavours, the conventional wisdom has been that the terrorist intention to acquire and weaponise chemical agents has been largely aspirational.”
The Syrian opposition has always had, and occasionally used, chemical weapons, as, formerly, did the Syrian government. However in an era in which the Free Syrian Army scarcely exists anymore, its former fighters have either joined ISIS or Jebat al Nusra, taking their modest stock of chemical weapons with them.
Multiple reports from the area where the battle with ISIS is currently raging have suggested that the group has already used chemical weapons, although in an arena in which few journalists are present it is hard to distinguish fact from intelligence agency feeds. Kurdish authorities had previously claimed that ISIS had used chlorine gas against Peshmerga fighters. One alleged incident took place when Peshmerga fighters were busy reinforcing their positions on a highway between Mosul and the Syrian border when they came under attack from an ISIS suicide bomber driving a truck filled with toxic chlorine gas early this year. The truck was destroyed before it had a chance to detonate near soldiers. However, shortly after the attack, it was reported that dozens of fighters had experienced “dizziness, nausea, vomiting and general weakness” after being exposed to gas.
Chlorine gas is a strong oxidizer, which may react with flammable materials. The toxic gas, which was first used as a weapon during WWI by Germany, is on the banned list of chemicals under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.
As the one year anniversary of the so-called “caliphate” declared by ISIS approaches, the group will be seeking to make itself appear stronger, according to Charlie Winter, a researcher at the London-based counter extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation. He claims ISIS will be “more active than ever” over the coming month. “There is a concerted effort to appear as relevant as ever, stronger than ever and more defiant than ever in the face of international opposition,” he added, saying the group would be planning “more violence, more advances, more attacks”.