Iraq and US intelligence officials have said that ISIS is aggressively pursuing the development of chemical weapons.
The terrorist group have reportedly set up a special branch to experiment, research and develop chemical weapons using scientists from Iraq, Syria and other countries in the region.
US officials say however, that they ate skeptical about the terrorists’ capabilities to produce sophisticated chemical weapons suited for a terrorist attack.
That said the French Prime Minister warned on Thursday that ISIS could potentially use chemical or biological weapons in its attacks.
The French government also announced plans to release military grade stockpiles of anti neurotoxins to first responders in the event of such an attack in France.
Their quest raises an alarming scenario for the West, given the determination to strike major cities that the group showed with its bloody attack last week in Paris. U.S. intelligence officials don’t believe IS has the capability to develop sophisticated weapons like nerve gas that are most suited for a terrorist attack on a civilian target. So far the group has used mustard gas on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.
Still, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Thursday warned that Islamic extremists might at some point use chemical or biological weapons.
“Terrorism hit France not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria … but for what it is,” Valls told the lower house of Parliament. “We know that there could also be a risk of chemical or biological weapons,” he added, though he did not talk of a specific threat.
Iraqi officials expressed concern that the large safe haven the extremists control since overrunning parts of Iraq and Syria last year has left Iraqi authorities largely in the dark over the IS program.
“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,” a senior Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press.
The official, like others from the Iraqi and U.S. intelligence agencies who have first-hand knowledge of the IS chemical weapons program, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive information.
So far, the only overt sign of the group’s chemical weapons program has been the apparent use of mustard gas against Iraqi Kurdish fighters and in Syria. In mortars that hit Kurdish forces in northern Iraq earlier this year, preliminary tests by the U.S. showed traces of the chemical agent sulfur mustard.
Iraqi authorities clearly fear the use could be expanded. Over the summer, Iraq’s military distributed gas masks to troops deployed west and north of Baghdad, one general told the AP. A senior officer in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, said 25 percent of the troops deployed there were equipped with masks.
More recently, Iraq’s military received from Russia 1,000 protective suits against chemical attacks, said Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee.
IS has set up a branch tasked with pursuing chemical weapons, according to a senior Iraqi military intelligence officer and two officials from another Iraqi intelligence agency. They wouldn’t give details of the program, including how many personnel it is believed to have or its budget.
But al-Zamili, citing intelligence reports he has access to, told the AP that the group has managed to attract chemical experts from abroad as well as Iraqi experts, including ones who once worked for Saddam Hussein’s now-dissolved Military Industrialization Authority. The foreigners include experts from Chechnya and southeast Asia, the Iraqi intelligence officials said.
IS recently moved its research labs, experts and materials from Iraq to “secured locations” inside Syria, al-Zamili added — apparently out of concern of an eventual assault on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, captured by IS in the summer of 2014.
“Daesh is working very seriously to reach production of chemical weapons, particularly nerve gas,” al-Zamili said, using an Arabic acronym for the group. “That would threaten not just Iraq but the whole world.”
Still, U.S. intelligence officials say they don’t believe IS has the technological capability to produce nerve gas or biological agents, and that the militants were more likely to harm themselves trying to make them. A European official privy to intelligence on the extremist group’s programs agreed, saying so far even IS production of mustard gas was in small quantities and of low quality.