ISIS militants fleeing from Syria as their so-called caliphate crumbles could potentially use chemical weapons when they return to their countries of origin, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has warned.
“It seems that one of the dangers that we need to face and have a response for – since Isis has learnt how to make mustard gas – is that sadly one of the people who learnt how to do it comes back to one of our countries and helps carry out an attack like this,” Philippe Denier, director at the verification division of the OPCW told a defence conference in Paris on Wednesday.
Intelligence services suspect that Isis has used sites all over Iraq and Syria to manufacture rudimentary versions of sulfur-mustard blister agents, which are banned under international law.
Mustard gas is a powerful irritant that targets the skin, eyes and airways, and can kill in large enough or highly concentrated enough amounts. Symptoms can take up to 24 hours to appear.
An October inquiry from the global chemical weapons watchdog and the UN found that Isis had used the weapon on civilians.
After rockets containing traces of mustard gas were used on US troops in northern Iraq in September, Marine General Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee that while Isis’ capabilities are currently “rudimentary” the attack was a “concerning development.”
No one was harmed in the incident, but a new analysis this week from IHS Markit, a London-based intelligence analyst firm, found that there is a “high risk” Isis will use chemical agents on civilians and coalition forces as the battle for control of the Isis-held Iraqi city of Mosul intensifies.
Mosul previously served as a major chemical weapons production centre for Isis, the group said, but most of the materials for making chlorine and mustard gas have been moved to the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria ahead of the fighting.
Isis has used its crude chemical weapons at least 52 times to date, IHS Markit said.
Last month, the EU’s Security Commissioner Julian King warned that the huge military operation to remove the group from its last Iraqi stronghold could spark an exodus of fighters back to European countries, increasing the risk of terror attacks.