U.S. and Iraqi intelligence officials have made a startling conclusion, and one that could have deadly implications for terrorism: the Islamic State caliphate is aggressively pursuing the manufacture of chemical weapons, even having set up a division of operatives dedicated to research, development and experimentation with the assistance of scientists from the region.
As reported by the Associated Press, the effort has alarmed U.S. and Western officials in particular, given the group’s penchant for striking large cities as demonstrated in the November 13 attacks on Paris, that killed 130 people and wounded dozens more. Officials know that such attacks, were they to involve highly lethal chemical weapons, would be game-changing in terms of death and destruction.
Currently, the AP noted, U.S. intelligence officials do not believe that ISIS possesses the capability to develop and, more importantly, mass produce chemical weapons that are sophisticated, such as nerve agents that are uniquely suited for use against soft civilian targets. However, officials are certain that the group has used mustard gas on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi officials obviously concerned
Nevertheless, in recent days French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that at some point Islamic terrorists could indeed deploy chemical or biological weapons if they obtain them.
“Terrorism hit France not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria … but for what it is,” Valls said during a speech to 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 mention a threat specifically.
Iraqi government and military officials are especially concerned about the large land mass IS fighters overran last year, and now control, because they know very little about the weapons programs.
“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,” one senior Iraqi intelligence official told the Associated Press.
That official, like others in Iraq and the United States who have seen first-hand intelligence confirming the existence of the IS chemical weapons program, spoke anonymously, so as to discuss top secret sensitive information, AP noted.
At present, there has only been one overt sign that ISIS is involved in a chemical weapons program, and that has been the group’s willingness to use mustard gas against Iraqi Kurdish fighters as well as against opposing rebel groups in Syria.
And Iraqi officials are obviously concerned use of such weapons could be widened. During the summer, the Iraqi military handed out gas masks and other protective gear to its forces deployed west and north of the capital of Baghdad, one general admitted to the AP.
ISIS may decide Obama isn’t serious about responding to chemical weapons use
A senior officer stationed in the Salahudden province, located north of the capital city, said a quarter of the troops stationed there had gas masks.
The AP further reported:
“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.”
It’s possible that the IS leadership does not believe President Obama would step up military action against them even if they do use chemical weapons. In 2012 and 2013 Obama threatened U.S. military intervention against the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad if he used chemical weapons against rebel groups, which he was believed to have done twice. Obama never made good on the threat, and instead has only launched what many in the Pentagon and throughout the Defense Department believe is a token effort against both Assad and ISIS.
Also, both Obama and leading Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton, are pushing to bring more Syrian refugees that our own federal law enforcement and intelligence officials believe could be infiltrated with ISIS members, into the United States.
The Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Robert Burr, R-N.C., says ISIS is present in 30 countries, including the U.S.