Kurdish health officials and activists in the besieged town of Kobani claim to possess evidence that Islamic State operatives have used chemical agents as a weapon on at least one occasion during clashes with Kurdish fighters along Syria’s northern border.
According to several reports, which were compiled by the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center’s Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, the use of the toxins by the Islamic State took place on July 12 in the village of Avdiko, 10 days after the rogue Jihadi group launched an offensive on the Kobani enclave, near the Turkish border.
Nisan Ahmed, the health minister of the Kurdish authority in Kobani, said that in a number of photographs showing Kurdish fighters who had been killed during the battle in Avdiko, no visible wounds or external bleeding could be seen on the bodies, whereas severe burns and white spots were clearly visible. Ahmed asserted that the (graphic) photos, which were later obtained and posted online by the Middle East Review of International Affairs journal, suggest the fighters had died as a result of exposure to chemical toxins.
While it still remains unclear whether chemical agents were actually used by the Islamic State, Israeli experts who examined the photographs said the wounds, which included severe peeling of the skin and heavy blistering, suggested the Kurdish fighters had been exposed to mustard gas, the GLORIA Center reported. The experts added, however, that more data was needed to form a definitive conclusion.
In early July, shortly before the attack on Kobani, officials in Iraq reported that the Islamic State had taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, where 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin, or their remnants, were stored along with other chemical warfare agents.
Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that “armed terrorist groups” entered the Muthanna site on June 11, detained officers and soldiers from the protection force guarding the facility and seized their weapons. The following morning, the project manager spotted the looting of some equipment through the camera surveillance system before the “terrorists” disabled it, he said.
Alhakim singled out the capture of Bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
The UN, however, stressed that the bunkers were bombed during the first Gulf War in February 1991, which routed Iraq from Kuwait, and said the rockets were “partially destroyed or damaged.”
The UN added that the sarin munitions were “of poor quality” and “would largely be degraded after years of storage under the conditions existing there.” It said the tabun-filled containers were all treated with a decontamination solution and likely no longer contain any agent, but “the residue of this decontamination would contain cyanides, which would still be a hazard.”
According to the report, Bunker 41 contained 2,000 empty 155-mm artillery shells contaminated with the chemical warfare agent mustard gas, 605 one-ton mustard containers with residues, and heavily contaminated construction material. It said the shells could contain mustard residues, which can’t be used for chemical warfare but “remain highly toxic.”
The Syrian Kurdish enclave of Kobani has been the scene of heavy fighting since late last month, with the better-armed Islamic State fighters determined to capture the border post.
The extremist group has carved out a vast swath of territory from northern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad and imposed a harsh version of Islamic rule. The fighters have massacred hundreds of captured Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, terrorized religious minorities, and beheaded two American journalists and two British aid workers.
A US-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against militant targets in and around Kobani for more than two weeks, and the town’s fate has emerged as a major test of whether the air campaign can obstruct the advance of the extremists in Syria.
Adiv Sterman and AP contributed to this report.