ISIS using chemical agents not hard to believe

ISIS has no red lines when it comes to its brutal treatment of civilians and prisoners of war

Raed Omari
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There have been reports recently of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) using poison gas in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled areas. Though as yet unconfirmed, such allegations are unsurprising. The White House said it was investigating the matter.

In July, two UK-based organizations - Conflict Armament Research and Sahan Research - said ISIS had used devices filled with chemical agents in late June against Kurdish forces and civilians in Hasakah province in northern Syria, and against Kurdish military positions near Mosul dam in northern Iraq.

The findings followed reports of ISIS using suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices including chlorine gas and other substances, and may seek to exploit the use of chemicals while developing new weapons.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it had documented the use of projectile-delivered chemical agents by ISIS in an attack on a village near Tel Brak, Syria, on June 28. It said 12 Kurdish fighters had been exposed to the gas. The SOHR also said it had received information about the gas attack in Hasaka, but gave no further details.

Days before ISIS's alleged chemical attacks in late June, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said: "The terrorist group is prepared to use any and all means, any and all forms of violence they can think of, to advance their demented cause." She added that ISIS had recruited "highly technically trained professionals" to develop chemical weapons, and had already used chlorine as a weapon.

Iraqi officials and Kurds have made similar allegations. In March, Kurdish officials accused ISIS of a chemical attack against Kurdish fighters on a road between Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul and the Syrian border, as Kurdish forces fought to seize a vital supply line used by ISIS.


With a lack of well-documented information about its activities and brutality - except what it publicizes - testimonies of locals under its rule or of those forced to leave are the only source of information.

Despite a lack of conclusive evidence, however, ISIS has displayed unsurpassed brutality, and is present in countries that had chemical weapons industries and still have remnants of such hazardous substances on the black market or in abandoned chemical weapons plants.

Concerns first surfaced in July 2014 following ISIS's capture of a former chemical weapons plant in Al-Muthanna, east of Baghdad, which was thought to have small quantities of precursor chemicals and badly damaged chemical munitions left after U.N. inspections in the 1990s.

ISIS has no red lines when it comes to its brutal treatment of civilians and prisoners of war. In addition, why should it be concerned about breaking international law when other chemical attacks have gone unpunished? Phrases such as "international law" and "international community" are not present in ISIS's lexicon.

Manufacturing primitive chemical weapons is not difficult, particularly in ISIS's case since many of its fighters have science degrees and are ex-Baathist officers with military experience. After all, it was not hard for the Japanese Aum Shinriko movement to manufacture and unleash sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995.


Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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