Isis using chemical weapons against Kurds, say British investigators

Isis has manufactured and used weapons filled with toxic chemicals against Kurdish forces and civilians in Iraq and Syria, according to evidence gathered by British field investigators.

Two British monitoring groups, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) and Sahan Research, deployed teams to Iraq and Syria to investigate Kurdish claims of chemical use in three separate Isis attacks, two in the northeastern Syrian province of Hasakah against Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) forces and another near Iraq's Mosul Dam against Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

Kurdish security authorities claimed earlier this year that Isis had used chlorine gas in a suicide truck bomb in northern Iraq but the new evidence of shells and mortars filled with chemical agents fired at Kurdish positions is the first reported use of such tactics.

When one of the Kurdish forces overruns a notable Isis position in either country, CAR deploys a field team to document weapons, ammunition and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In all three incidents, the group found evidence of chemicals used in the explosives.

James Bevan, executive director of CAR, which is part funded by the European Union, told Newsweek that the Isis attacks are the first of their kind to be recorded. In the two incidents in Syria, both on 28 June in the villages of Tel Brak and al-Hasakah, the radical Islamists launched "improvised munitions with chemical agents against YPG forces and Kurdish civilian populations".

The first attack saw projectiles emit "a powerful chemical odour" which "smelt like rotten onions", hospitalising 12 Kurdish soldiers after inducing "breathing difficulties, sinus problems and streaming eyes... followed by below the waist and temporary paralysis", he says. Nine days later, a CAR field team inspected the craters and fragments left by the projectiles and "within about 30 seconds" they had "immediate sinus issues and feelings of nausea", Bevan reveals.

The YPG forces were tested at a hospital in northern Syria and tested positive for PH3, a phosphine based chemical and toxic liquid which is used as a fumigating agent, Bevan says. The second attack saw a mortar strike a civilian home, leaving the same chemical residue as the first attack, inducing "almost identical effects".

The third mortar attack, near Mosul Dam, which has been the scene of intense fighting between Kurdish forces, backed by the US-led anti-Isis coalition, and Isis militants, saw a projectile fired at Peshmerga positions fail to explode on 21st or 22nd June. CAR received access to inspect the weapon by the Kurdish Regional Government, who are also testing the suspected chemical mortar.

"It was filled with an agent of similar colour to the Tell Brak and Hasakah attacks", says Bevan. "The field team looked at the symptoms that were reported and concluded that it was most probably chlorine. Symptoms included nausea, vomiting, sinus problems and breathing difficulties."

The weapons expert says that he believes these attacks to be a "test case" for the radical group, modifying their munitions and firing with chemicals that are readily available to them and are highly likely to use them again against their opponents.

"They have obviously been experimenting with the different types of devices that they can manufacture," Bevan warns. "We would expect that if they have these chemicals to hand they will use them again and they will probably seek to improve the delivery of them and refine the device construction."

Chlorine devices have previously been used by Iraqi Islamists against Iraqi and Western forces in the country following the US invasion in 2003. Such chemicals are no stranger to Syria, either, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chlorine in bombs against rebels as the civil war rages into its fifth year.

A representative of the Kurdish Security Council was not immediately available for comment.