ISIS Wants Chemical Weapons, Is ‘Aggressively’ Trying To Develop Them, Say U.S. And Iraqi Officials

ISIS is “aggressively” trying to develop a chemical weapons program, with the goal of using them against European and U.S. targets, U.S. and Iraqi intelligence officials confirmed Thursday.

As MSN reports, ISIS has already set up a chemical weapons branch, and has scientists from Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East working on their development. A senior Iraqi intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the terrorist organization, which now controls wide swaths of Iraq and Syria, can operate almost with impunity.

“They now have complete freedom to select locations for their labs and production sites and have a wide range of experts, both civilians and military, to aid them.”

Hakim al-Zamili, head of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee, said that ISIS has attracted chemical weapons experts from Saddam Hussein’s program, as well as experts from Chechnya and southeast Asia.

“[ISIS] is working very seriously to reach production of chemical weapons, particularly nerve gas. That would threaten not just Iraq but the whole world.”

As of this writing, there is no direct evidence that ISIS has any chemical weapons in its arsenal, although U.S. military officials, conducting tests on spent mortar rounds used by ISIS against Kurds in northern Iraq, found traces of sulfur mustard gas on the shells.

Whether those chemical weapons were produced in-house, or were smuggled into Iraq from outside sources, is not clear. U.S. officials are not convinced that ISIS even has the capability of producing chemical weapons, and are most likely to harm themselves in trying to make them. A European intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, believes that if ISIS has produced any chemical weapons at all, it’s been a small amount of low-quality mustard gas. However, Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Zahner notes that ISIS may be more crafty than their counterpart — Al Qaeda — which tried, and failed, for two decades to develop a chemical weapons program.

“Even a few competent scientists and engineers, given the right motivation and a few material resources, can produce hazardous industrial and weapons-specific chemicals in limited quantities.”

Western governments, particularly that of France — who last week suffered a terror attack at the hands of ISIS which left 129 people dead and over 300 people injured — are taking the threat of an ISIS chemical weapons program seriously. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that ISIS producing chemical weapons — and deploying them against Western targets — is not outside the realm of possibility, according to The Daily Star.

“We must not rule anything out. I say it with all the precautions needed. But we know and bear in mind that there is also a risk of chemical or biological weapons. The macabre imagination of the masterminds is limitless.”

U.K. intelligence is similarly aware of the threat, says British Army officer and chemical weapons expert, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon.

“Some British jihadis may been trained in the art of making chemical weapons and may have returned to the UK, but the security services are absolutely alive to this.”

To counter the ISIS chemical weapons threat, British intelligence officials are monitoring “suspicious” internet purchases including test tubes, protective body suits (which can be purchased for less than $20), and similar scientific equipment.

As of this post, the last time chemical weapons have been used in a terrorist attack against civilians outside of the Middle East was in 1995, when the Aum Shinrikyo cult deployed Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway, killing 12 and injuring over 5,000, according to The Johnston Archive.

[Photo by Nigel Treblin/Getty Images]