Militants Use Chemical Weapons in Syria

Militants Use Chemical Weapons in SyriaMilitants Use Chemical Weapons in Syria

Chemical weapons experts have determined that mustard gas was used in a Syrian town where Islamic State militants were battling another rebel group, according to a report by an international watchdog.

A confidential Oct. 29 report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a summary of which was shown to Reuters, concluded “with the utmost confidence that at least two people were exposed to sulfur mustard” in the town of Marea, north of Aleppo, on Aug. 21.

The findings provide the first official confirmation of the use of sulfur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas, in Syria. The country had agreed in September 2013 to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, which included sulfur mustard under a deal negotiated with the United States and Russia after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

The report did not mention IS, as the fact-finding mission was not mandated to assign blame, but diplomatic sources said the chemical had been used in the clashes between IS and another rebel group taking place in the town at the time.

“It raises the major question of where the sulfur mustard came from,” one source said. “Either they (IS) gained the ability to make it themselves, or it may have come from an undeclared stockpile overtaken by IS. Both are worrying options.”

Syria is supposed to have completely surrendered the toxic chemicals 18 months ago. Their use violates UN Security Council resolutions and the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

In a statement to Reuters, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the OPCW released three reports to member states on Oct. 29, adding “two of these reports are very disturbing. The OPCW has confirmed (chemical weapons) use in one investigation, and concluded likely use in a second.”

In addition to the incident involving the mustard agent, Kirby said, the OPCW confirmed that toxic chemicals, probably containing chlorine, were used in Idlib Province.

The reports, which will be formally presented to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later this month, add to a growing body of evidence that the IS group has obtained, and is using, chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria.

Kurdish authorities said earlier this month that IS fighters fired mortar rounds containing mustard agent at Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq during clashes in August. They said blood samples taken from about 35 fighters who were exposed in the attack southwest of the regional capital of Erbil showed “signatures” of mustard gas.