IS likely used chemical weapons in Syria, Iraq; could use them elsewhere, OPCW head says (interview)

Credit: Tomaž Murkovič, Slovenia Press Agency

Ljubljana, 11 May (STA) - Chemical weapons, likely produced and deployed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group, have been used in Syria and Iraq, head of the OPCW Ahmet Üzümcü has told the STA in an interview, warning that the group could produce and use them elsewhere as well.

"Our team found out that sulphur mustard had been used both in Syria and Iraq," the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) noted. While the OPCW team did not have the mandate to attribute the use to any group, "there are strong suspicions that the IS may have used the mustard gas".

According to Üzümcü, there are also concerns "that the IS may have produced the weapon on its own", which means that the group has the know-how and the access to the necessary chemical substances for the production of the mustard gas.

"They are also capable of using it, that is weaponising it. This is extremely worrying and I think the international community must cooperate more to prevent such attacks from occurring elsewhere."
The organisation does not believe the IS had access to Iraqi or Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons.

"Looking at the samples and analyses, it seems that it is a rather makeshift production of low quality, but still lethal and harmful."

The organisation, which focuses on the prevention of chemical terrorism, urges collective efforts by all stakeholders to prevent access to the chemicals and the know-how for the production of chemical weapons.

"If they were able to produce such chemicals in Syria and Iraq, they can do it elsewhere as well. That is clearly a risk that we should all think about and do everything in our capability to prevent it from happening," Üzümcü stressed.

To fight chemical terrorism, the OPCW promotes international cooperation by raising awareness in chemical industries, scientific communities and other relevant stakeholders to better control substances used in the production of chemical weapons and subsequently reduce the risk of it falling into terrorists' hands.

Another key measure is for the countries to criminalise activities that the convention forbids at the national level. "Some countries have not adopted relevant legislation yet. We need to rectify that."

The head of the OPCW highlighted the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons as one of the biggest successes of the organisation in recent years. "All declared chemical weapons have been taken from Syria and destroyed. From the 14 production facilities eleven have been destroyed."

What remains to be addressed are some gaps in consistency related to Syria's declaration of chemical weapons: "Some concerned countries raised concerns that there might be some assets that have not been declared by the Syrian government yet. We have made some progress and I really hope that Syrian authorities will be more transparent and will provide all the necessary information to assure other member states that their declaration is complete and accurate."

So far, 92% of declared stockpiles of chemical weapons have been destroyed world-wide under the inspection of OPCW agents. However, there have been delays and the deadline, April 2012, has been extended.

"We expect the Russian Federation, which is the biggest possessor state, will destroy its stockpile by 2020, and the US will take a little longer to destroy the remaining 10% of its stockpile - by 2023."
Üzümcü also said that it would take some six to seven years for everything that has been declared to be destroyed. However, there are still some countries that are not party to the convention, including Israel, North Korea and Egypt.

"We don't know whether they will declare their chemical weapons. We will only know about it once they join the organisation," Üzümcü told the STA on the margins of NATO's annual conference on weapons of mass destruction, arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, which was held in Ljubljana earlier this week.

(konec) nd/eho

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