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Be Afraid: ISIS’ Next Deadly Terror Attack Could Be With Chemical Weapons
Earlier this month, Morocco’s head of counterterrorism, Abdelhak Khiame,warned that the Islamic State (ISIS) is trying to build chemical weapons to use in an attack on Europe. The announcement comes after Moroccan authorities in February discovered components for making a chemical weapon during a raid on an ISIS cell poised for an attack in Morocco.
Khiame was not exaggerating the risk to Europe, as ISIS has the desire, and is working hard to develop the capability, to pull off such an attack. The recent terror strikes in Paris and Brussels demonstrated ISIS’ ability to infiltrate trained terrorists into Europe, and revealed the extent of terror networks embedded across the continent.
An important part of ISIS’ brand is that it is the most ostentatiously brutal of all terror groups, so a chemical attack also has appeal, as it would inspire particular fear and revulsion. In fact, ISIS has already perpetrated chemical attacks in Iraq and northern Syria. Iraqi intelligence officials claim that the group even has a unit focused on researching and building chemical weapons.
Fortunately, ISIS has not been able to realize its chemical ambitions outside Iraq and Syria yet, but it is sure to continue trying. Morocco’s success in breaking up the ISIS cell in February—one of 25 terror plots it claims it has foiled recently—and its broader efforts against terrorism offer some lessons for how counterterror officials in the United States and Europe can make it more difficult for ISIS to carry out such an attack.
In 2003, Morocco suffered a triple suicide bombing that killed 45. The country responded by developing a multi-pronged program to counter Islamist terrorism that included judicial, security, and even economic initiatives, earning the praise of the U.S. State Department for its holistic approach.
Morocco cooperates well with its neighbors—with the exception of long-time antagonist Algeria—and with the West on security matters, leading the United States to designate it a major non-NATO ally, one of only three African countries to be so recognized.
A crucial component of the Moroccans’ fight against terrorism is its efforts to combat the radical Islamist ideology that animates groups like ISIS. The Moroccan government propagates a moderate interpretation of Islam that emphasizes tolerance for other belief systems through a training program for imams from around the world, a dedicated television channel, and an annual lecture series hosted by King Mohammed VI during Ramadan.
Morocco’s efforts have not been fool-proof. Fifteen hundred of its citizens have joined ISIS (around 275 of whom have returned to the country). Its government also struggles to find the balance between aggressive counterterrorism and protecting the rights of its citizens. It has taken steps towards a freer society, but rights for many are still too constrained.
Yet allies like Morocco are a critical part of the fight against a vicious terrorist group and deserve American support. A large majority of Americans agree. In findings from a recent Heritage Foundation market research poll, 80 percent of those polled said the U.S. has a responsibility to escalate its response to terrorists when they strike an ally. ISIS’ desire to use chemical weapons against American allies—and likely the United States itself—and Morocco’s efforts to stymie ISIS’ plans are yet another reminder of the need for vigilance and determination in the fight against terror and of the value of our partners in what will be a long battle.
ISIS is pursuing use of chemical weapons with the help of scientists: officials
BAGHDAD — The Islamic State group is aggressively pursuing development of chemical weapons, setting up a branch dedicated to research and experiments with the help of scientists from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region, according to Iraqi and U.S. intelligence officials.
Their quest raises an alarming scenario for the West, given the determination to strike major cities that the group showed with its bloody attack last week in Paris. On Thursday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that Islamic extremists might at some point use chemical or biological weapons.
U.S. intelligence officials don’t believe ISIS has the capability to develop sophisticated weapons like nerve gas that are most suited for a terrorist attack on a civilian target. So far the group has used mustard gas on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.
But Iraqi officials expressed concern that the large safe haven the extremists control since overrunning parts of Iraq and Syria last year has left Iraqi authorities largely in the dark over the ISIS program.
“They now have complete freedom to select locations for their labs and production sites and have a wide range of experts, both civilians and military, to aid them,” a senior Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press.
The official, like others from the Iraqi and U.S. intelligence agencies who have first-hand knowledge of the ISIS chemical weapons program, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive information.
So far, the only overt sign of the group’s chemical weapons program has been the apparent use of mustard gas against Iraqi Kurdish fighters and in Syria. In mortars that hit Kurdish forces in northern Iraq earlier this year, preliminary tests by the U.S. showed traces of the chemical agent sulfur mustard.
Iraqi authorities clearly fear the use could be expanded. Over the summer, Iraq’s military distributed gas masks to troops deployed west and north of Baghdad, one general told the AP. A senior officer in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, said 25% of the troops deployed there were equipped with masks.
More recently, Iraq's military received from Russia 1,000 protective suits against chemical attacks, said Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the Iraqi parliament's security and defense committee.
ISIS has set up a branch tasked with pursuing chemical weapons, according to a senior Iraqi military intelligence officer and two officials from another Iraqi intelligence agency. They wouldn’t give details of the program, including how many personnel it is believed to have or its budget.
But al-Zamili, citing intelligence reports he has access to, told the AP that the group has managed to attract chemical experts from abroad as well as Iraqi experts, including ones who once worked for Saddam Hussein’s now-dissolved Military Industrialization Authority. The foreigners include experts from Chechnya and southeast Asia, the Iraqi intelligence officials said.
ISIS recently moved its research labs, experts and materials from Iraq to “secured locations” inside Syria, al-Zamili added — apparently out of concern of an eventual assault on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, captured by ISIS in the summer of 2014.
“Daesh is working very seriously to reach production of chemical weapons, particularly nerve gas,” al-Zamili said, using an Arabic acronym for the group. “That would threaten not just Iraq but the whole world.”
Still, U.S. intelligence officials say they don’t believe ISIS has the technological capability to produce nerve gas or biological agents, and that the militants were more likely to harm themselves trying to make them. A European official privy to intelligence on the extemist group’s programs agreed, saying so far even ISIS production of mustard gas was in small quantities and of low quality.
Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Zahner, who was the top American military intelligence officer in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 and went on to lead the National Security Agency’s electronic spying arm, noted that al Qaeda tried for two decades to develop chemical weapons and didn’t succeed, showing the technical and scientific difficulties.
However, he said, U.S. intelligence agencies have consistently underestimated the Islamic State group, which has shown itself to be more capable and innovative than al Qaeda and has greater financial resources. Given that and its inheritance of Saddam-era experts, he said, it could realistically reach a “limited” program for battlefield uses.
“Even a few competent scientists and engineers, given the right motivation and a few material resources, can produce hazardous industrial and weapons-specific chemicals in limited quantities,” Zahner said.
Developing chemical weapons has been an ambition of the group — and various other jihadi movements — for years.
In a 2013 report on the Islamic State group’s weapons procurement efforts, a senior deputy of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi wrote of “significant progress” toward producing chemical weapons, according to two senior officials who had access to the document after it was obtained by Iraqi intelligence.
In it, the deputy, Sameer al-Khalifawy, wrote that chemical weapons would ensure “swift victory” and “terrorize our enemies.” But, he added, what was needed was “to secure a safe environment to carry out experiments.”
Al-Khalifawy was killed by rebels in Syria in early 2014, just months before ISIS overran Mosul and much of northern and western Iraq, linking that territory to the stretches of northern and eastern Syria it controlled and declaring itself a “caliphate.”
In May 2013, Iraqi security forces, acting on a tip from the Americans, raided a secret chemical weapons research lab in Baghdad’s Sunni-majority district of al-Doura, the Iraqi intelligence officials said. Security forces arrested two militants running the lab, Kefah Ibrahim al-Jabouri, who held a master’s degree in chemistry, and Adel Mahmoud al-Abadi, who has a bachelor’s degree in physics and worked at Saddam’s Military Industrialization Authority before it was disbanded in 2003.
The Iraqi officials said the two men were working with al-Baghdadi, citing ISIS correspondence they seized from al-Jabouri. Other international officials disputed this, however, saying the men were not connected with the group.
Iraqi officials complained of lack of cooperation from neighboring Syria.
They cited the case of a veteran Iraqi jihadist and weapons expert, Ziad Tareq Ahmed, who fled to Syria after Iraqi security agents raided his Baghdad home in 2010 and arrested members of his cell. The agents found large amounts of material that could be used for making mustard gas.
Ahmed, who has a master’s degree in chemistry and has worked with several Islamic militant groups without formally joining any, was arrested by the Syrians last year. The Syrian government allowed Iraqi officals to interrogate him in prison but refused to hand him over. Then last month, they released him, two Iraqi intelligence officials said.
“This is a very grave development,” said one of the officials, who heads one of Iraq’s top counterterrorism agencies. “His release adds significantly to our concerns.”
EXPAT TRAGEDY First pics of Brit couple found hanged in Cambodia ‘alongside suicide note blaming NHS for their mental health problems’
The couple were named locally by expats as Robert Goldie-Wells, 36, from Sunderland and his wife Imogen, 28, from South London, who died on her birthday
A BRIT couple have been found dead in Cambodia after killing themselves in an apparent suicide pact.
The tragic lovers left a note blaming the NHS for “constantly letting [them] down”.
They were named locally by expats as Robert Goldie-Wells, 36, from Sunderland and his wife Imogen, 28, from South London, who died on her birthday.
The pair are believed to have been discovered by friends in the Cambodian seaside town of Sihanouville.
The note found with their bodies also described the couple’s struggle with mental health issues.
Video footage taken from the scene appeared to show rope that had been tied to the bars of an outside window.
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