The Islamic State appears to have manufactured rudimentary chemical weapons and used them to attack Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq, The New York Times reported Friday.
In late June, the extremist group, also called ISIS or ISIL, launched a chemical mortar shell at a Kurdish military position near the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq. The shell appears to have contained chlorine gas, which sickened several nearby Kurdish fighters.
According to the New York Times, weapons research groups working with Kurdish authorities noted that the shell used in the attack appeared to have been manufactured in an Islamic State workshop.
In another recent incident, the Islamic State used poison gas during the June 28 shelling of a village in northeastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A dozen Kurdish fighters caught in the attack experienced symptoms that included vomiting, trouble breathing, eye irritation, disorientation and temporary paralysis.
The chemical used has not been conclusively identified, but preliminary laboratory results indicate it may have been phosphine, a chemical sometimes used as an insecticide in agricultural fumigation.
The use of chemical weapons by the Islamic State and other insurgent groups in the region is not unprecedented, but the manufacture of chemical weapons would represent a significant development in the group’s capabilities.
During the Iraq War, American troops found — and in some cases were wounded by — thousands of chemical weapons left over from Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, including mustard gas and nerve agents. U.S. forces also found chemical weapons in seized weapons caches and roadside bombs left by Sunni militants in Iraq.
Last year, the Islamic State seized a defunct chemical weapons complex that was the center of Iraqi chemical agent production in the 1980s. The Iraqi government said about 2,500 derelict chemical rockets remained at the Muthanna complex when the group captured it last June.
In March, the Kurdistan Region Security Council accused the Islamic State of using chlorine gas during a January suicide truck bomb attack in northern Iraq, alleging that around 20 canisters were found in the remains of the truck after the attack.
Creating and firing chemical weapons shells, as opposed to dispersing chemical agents via stationary bombs or repurposing old chemical munitions, is a new tactic for the Islamic State, and requires significantly more technical know-how.