A man in a protective suit investigates a chemical weapons cache, captured in mid-October from ISIS in Qayarah, Iraq. (BLACKOPS Cyber)
The finding is near the same place where ISIS allegedly fired artillery shells filled with mustard gas at U.S. troops on Sept. 24. Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford initially said the shells contained “sulfur-mustard blister agent,” according toMilitary.com, although the military was still investigating.
The stockpile also adds credibility to growing concerns that ISIS is planning to use chemical weapons against U.S. and Iraqi forces as they push ahead to retake Mosul in the coming weeks—and that this could also harm civilians in the area.
The burning of a sulphur plant near Mosul may confirm the willingness of ISIS to use chemical weapons even against civilians. On Oct. 22, Reuters reported up to 1,000 people were being treated near Mosul after they breathed fumes from the burning factory, which U.S. officials said was set ablaze by ISIS.
Alexander noted that Iraqi forces asked coalition forces to help recover the weapons and contain them, and that the site contained 36 rockets. He said “ISIS lost ground on their territory, and it was on that territory that those weapons were discovered.”
A cache of homemade rockets captured from ISIS in mid-October, in Qayarah, Iraq. (BLACKOPS Cyber)
The images and information appear credible, according to two experts. The images also showed no results from a reverse image search on Google, which suggests they had not been published online previously.
According to Drew Berquist, a former intelligence contractor who recently returned from deployment in Iraq, ISIS has two factories for making homemade rockets—one in Raqqa, Syria, and another in Mosul—and said “that’s what these look like.”
He said the picture of the rockets are telling, “because they do that all over the region,” and that it’s likely ISIS has stepped up its production for the coming fight for Mosul because “they view this as an apocalyptic battle.”
Berquist noted the rockets themselves can be fitted with different types of weapons, including chemical and explosive charges, and said ISIS has used chemical weapons. He said, “they’ve got them, and they’ll try to use them in the days and weeks ahead in Mosul.”
“We know on the ground, and the commanders know on the ground, they have a lot of this stuff down there; and it has the potential to get pretty nasty, not just for the Iraqis and the Kurds, but also for us,” he said.
A device used to detect harmful chemicals shows a positive reading for a blister agent near an ISIS weapons cache captured in Qayarah, Iraq. (BLACKOPS Cyber)
According to Dr. Robert J. Bunker, adjunct faculty at Claremont Graduate University, who has studied chemical warfare, the images show positive readings of chemical weapons.
Bunker wrote in an email that the the device held by a man in a chemical warfare suit in one of the photos is a LCD 3.2E made by Smiths Detection, which is used by soldiers, first responders, and police. The “H” on the display shows readings for blister agents, such as mustard gas, and the image shows a mid-range positive reading for a blister agent.
Bunker noted that the individual in the photo is breaking protocol “by wearing surgical gloves in such a potentially contaminated environment.” He also said the individual is wearing a Level C PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) suit, which offers only basic respiration and absorption protection, and “if he were more sophisticated, he would tape the suit around the gloves and the boots for a better seal.”
This aligns with other information. Bunker said the United States didn’t train Iraqi forces on how to handle chemical weapons; and Alexander said the Iraqi forces asked for help to recover the weapons because they are unsure how to handle them.
A protective suit sits on the ground amid debris near a chemical weapons site captured from ISIS in Qayarah, Iraq. (BLACKOPS Cyber)
Another image shows an orange, discarded protective suit, which is suspected of having been used by ISIS terrorists in the area. The image also shows a workman’s glove and what appears to be a simple surgical mask. Bunker said the equipment would have given an ISIS handler “very little protection” from splash or absorption, and no protection from inhalation. He said, “If they were working with a hydrogen compound or even chlorine, they would start to get sick relatively quickly.”
Bunker said sulfur mustard agents are the greatest danger ISIS can likely present when it comes to chemical warfare, which is below the danger of full fledged chemical warfare with something like nerve gas. But mustard gas is also not to be taken lightly.
“This is a persistent blister agent whose use can be dated back to World War I. It can eat away at the skin, eyes, or lining of the airways and lungs causing large blisters to appear,” he said. “In large enough concentrations, it also has an anti-material effect where it can actually corrode weapons.”
People exposed to mustard gas need to quickly undergo decontamination, and can then be treated like burn victims. Mustard gas typically causes first and second degree burns, and large blisters, but also penetrates the skin and gets into the blood. It’s most harmful when inhaled, and this is a larger threat in hot environments like Iraq. Bunker noted, however, that the higher temperatures near Mosul would also help the chemical to dissipate sooner.
While there are cases of ISIS using mustard gas against U.S. and Iraqi troops, it does not appear they have yet caused any deaths.