Islamic State forces are engaging in chemical warfare, says German intelligence

Mustard gas chemical warfareGermany’s foreign intelligence agency says it has evidence that the Islamic State is making use of chemical weapons in northern Iraq, according to media reports. The German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, says its operatives in the Middle East were able to collect biological samples from Kurdish fighters engaged in battles against the Islamic State forces. The samples pointed to chemical poisoning that most likely came from sulfur mustards, more commonly known as mustard gas. The chemical, which is banned from use in warfare by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, causes skin irritation that gets progressively worse until sufferers develop debilitating blisters filled with yellow fluid.

Earlier this month there were unconfirmed reports that the Islamic State had used a type of poisonous gas against fighters in the Syrian town of Marea, a stronghold of the Free Syrian Army that is located just north of Aleppo. But no evidence was provided at that time to show that the poisonous substances were indeed chemical weapons. On Monday, however, the Director of the BND, Gerhard Schindler, was quoted in the German press as saying that his officers had gathered credible “information that the Islamic State used mustard gas in northern Iraq”. Schindler said that the information was derived from blood samples that were voluntarily provided by Kurdish fighters that suffered blisters during battles against Islamic State forces.

The BND has not yet answered the question of where the Islamic State managed to acquire its mustard gas supplies. Some allegedly believe that they came from old stockpiles produced during the regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, for use by the Iraqi armed forces. Others claim that Islamic State scientists produced the mustard gas from scratch using laboratories in the University of Mosul, a largely Kurdish city that has been occupied by Islamic State forces since the summer of 2014. Asked to comment on the BND report, a spokeswoman for the United States Department of Defense refused to “comment on intelligence or operational matters”, but added that, if confirmed, the use of chemical weapons “by any party […] is an abhorrent [and] reprehensible act”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2015 | Permalink

News you may have missed #888 (CIA edition)

►►CIA said to have bought Iraqi chemical weapons. The CIA, working with US troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former US officials. The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation AVARICE, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the US military deemed it a nonproliferation success.
►►CIA fears enemy will gain control of the weather. The CIA is worried that a foreign power may develop the ability to manipulate the global climate in a way that cannot be detected, according to Professor Alan Robock, a leading climatologist. Robock claimed that consultants working for the CIA asked him whether it would be possible for a nation to meddle with the climate without being discovered. “At the same time, I thought they were probably also interested in if we could control somebody else’s climate, could they detect it”, he said.
►►CIA scales back presence and operations in Yemen. The closure of the US Embassy in Yemen has forced the CIA to significantly scale back its counterterrorism presence in the country, according to US officials, who said the evacuation represents a major setback in operations against al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate. The spy agency has pulled dozens of operatives, analysts and other staffers from Yemen as part of a broader extraction of roughly 200 Americans who had been based at the embassy in Sana’a, officials said. The departures were triggered by mounting concerns over security in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, where Houthi rebels have effectively toppled the government.

Israel spy agency has presence in Syria, says senior rebel general

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Israel is one of several countries that maintain a significant intelligence presence inside Syria, according to the top commander of the Syrian rebel forces. General Salim Idriss, Chief of Staff for the Free Syrian Army, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the Jewish state has “many, many” intelligence officers in various parts of Syria. The Arab country has been rocked since 2011 by a violent civil war, which has cost the lives of at least 60,000 people. Idriss was responding to comments made earlier this week by Brigadier General Itai Brun, senior intelligence analyst for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Brun, who heads the Division for Research and Analysis of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, was speaking at a conference hosted in Tel Aviv, Israel, by the Institute for National Security Studies. He told an audience of intelligence experts that the IDF was “quite certain” that the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad had resorted to the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces on at least one instance. According to Brun, footage obtained by the IDF of rebel casualties from a March 19 attack by Syrian government forces, pointed to the use of sarin nerve gas. He referred to evidence such as the victims’ dilated pupils and “the foam coming out of their mouths” as strong proof of the use of weaponized sarin nerve gas in the battlefield. Responding to Brun’s allegations, General Idriss suggested that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons repeatedly in a variety of locations, including Aleppo, Homs, and the outskirts of capital Damascus. Read more of this post

How did the US know that Syria was about to use chemical weapons?

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | |
Early last December, United States President Barack Obama issued a surprise warning to the government of Syria, saying that if it made “the tragic mistake” of using chemical weapons against rebel forces, there would be “immediate consequences”. Most observers took this as a clear indication that the US was prepared to intervene militarily in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Today, a month after Obama’s December ultimatum, one question is still in need of an official answer: namely, how did the United States come to suspect that the Syrians were contemplating using chemical weapons? An article by The New York Times‘ Eric Schmitt and Dave Sanger suggests that Washington was alarmed in late November by a tip-off from Israeli intelligence. According to The Times, the Israelis shared with officials at the US Department of Defense a series of satellite images showing Syrian government troops transporting tank-loads of chemicals to at least two storage sites along the country’s border with Jordan. The paper, which says it confirmed this information by speaking to “half a dozen military, intelligence and diplomatic officials”, claims that Syrian troops were ordered to load sarin nerve gas onto dozens of 500-pound bombs. The plan was for the bombs to be secretly transported by land to military air bases and from there onto planes, pending final approval by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to the Israelis, the bombs could be airborne less than two hours after Assad’s order. By the time the information from the Israelis reached President Obama, American military commanders realized they had been caught by surprise, as there was no time to act in the two hours that it would take the Syrians to deploy the bombs. Read more of this post

Israel special forces conducting cross-border operations in Syria

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Teams of Israeli special forces are currently operating inside Syria in an effort to detect and sabotage the Syrian military’s chemical and biological arsenal. Citing an unnamed “Israeli source”, the London-based Sunday Times newspaper said yesterday that the operation is part of a wider “secret war” to track Damascus’ non-conventional weapons stockpiles and “sabotage their development”. The Israeli government refused comment on the paper’s allegation. However, Israel’s covert activities against the Syrian government’s chemical and biological arsenal go back almost 30 years. Reputedly, some of the more recent such activities may have involved the targeting of Russian scientists. Although Russia routinely denies it, it is believed that Syria’s non-conventional arsenal was significantly augmented in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the help of Russian retired general Anatoliy Kuntsevich. Kuntsevich, one of the Soviet Red Army’s top scientists, is said to have helped Damascus build its XV nerve agent stockpiles, which are still believed to be in existence today. Interestingly, Kuntsevich died suddenly in 2003 onboard a flight from the Syrian capital to Moscow. It was widely speculated at the time that the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, may have played a role in the Russian general’s sudden death. In 2010, another retired Russian general, Yuri Ivanov, who had served as Deputy Director of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, died in unclear circumstances. The body of 52-year-old Ivanov was found in Turkey on August 16, 2010, several days after he had disappeared close to a Russian naval facility in Syria. Russian media did not report Ivanov’s death until several days later, when he was quietly buried in Moscow. According to reports in the Israeli press, the former GRU official was on his way to a meeting with Syrian intelligence officers when he went missing. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #762

Danni YatomBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Italy postpones court decision on wanted CIA operatives. The Washington Post has published a useful update on Sabrina DeSousa, one of nearly two-dozen CIA operatives who were convicted in Italy in 2007 for the kidnapping four years earlier of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. The Americans kidnapped Nasr, known as Abu Omar, from the streets of Milan without the consent of Italian authorities. The Italians, who were themselves carefully monitoring Nasr, responded by convicting all members of the CIA team in absentia, and notifying INTERPOL. But last Friday, the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome postponed its verdict after a two-day hearing aimed at deciding whether to uphold or overturn the Americans’ convictions.
►►Ex-Mossad chief urges Israel to prepare for military action in Syria. In an interview with British news network Sky News, former Mossad Chief Danni Yatom said last week that Israel must be prepared for the possibility of military attacks on Syria, which may deteriorate into war.  He said his warning stems from the fear that Syria’s hundreds of tons of chemical weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists. “We would have to pre-empt in order to prevent it. We need to be prepared to launch even military attacks […] and military attacks mean maybe a deterioration to war”, said the former Mossad Director.
►►British spy agencies failed to predict Arab Spring. The Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Houses of Parliament has said in its annual report that British spy agencies had been surprised by the spread of unrest during the Arab Spring and failed to predict the dramatic uprisings that swept the region. The report also noted that the Arab Spring had exposed Britain’s decision to scale back intelligence assets in much of the Arab world, in favor of monitoring Iran and al-Qaeda. We at intelNews wrote about this in 2011.

Al-Qaeda unconventional weapons experiment goes awry

An anonymous senior US intelligence official has confirmed rumors in the British press that a biological or chemical weapons experiment by an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Algeria has gone wrong, forcing the group to abandon one of its camps in the country. The official said that an urgent message from the Algerian group to the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistan-Afghan border, which referred to the base closure, was intercepted by Western intelligence agencies in early January. However, he dismissed as unfounded earlier reports in the British press that 40 militants had died after being infected when the experiment went awry. Read more of this post


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