American officials are investigating reports that ISIS used chemical weapons in clashes with Iraqi police officers last month. Iraqi officials say the Islamist group used chlorine gas when fighting Iraqi forces north of Baghdad in what appears to be the first confirmed use of chemical weapons by the group, the Washington Post reports. “The disclosure comes on the heels of similar reports from the Syrian border town of Kobani, indicating that the extremist group may have added low-grade chemical weapons to an arsenal that already includes heavy weapons and tanks looted from captured military bases,” according to the Associated Press.
Chlorine is classified as a chemical weapon by the Chemical Weapons Convention and “[t]hough not as deadly as nerve agents, if inhaled in sufficient quantities it can burn victims’ lungs as well as generating fear, panic and a high number of casualties,” according to the BBC. “It is unlikely that [ISIS] possesses serious chemical weapons such as Sarin, VX gas or mustard gas.”
Here’s more on the attacks from the AP:
Three Iraqi officials — a senior security official, a local official from the town of Duluiya and an official from the town of Balad — told The Associated Press that the Islamic State group used bombs with chlorine-filled cylinders during clashes in late September in the two towns. The militants, who control large areas of Syria and Iraq, have failed to capture Duluiya or Balad, both of which are around 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the Iraqi capital. In the attacks, about 40 troops and Shiite militiamen were slightly affected by the chlorine and showed symptoms consistent with chlorine poisoning, such as difficulty in breathing and coughing, the three officials said. The troops were treated in hospital and quickly recovered. The senior security official said it was most likely that the Islamic State fighters obtained the chlorine from water purification plants in the areas they have overrun. Iraqi intelligence has indicated that the IS group has shells filled with chlorine that are ready to be used, the security official said.
Secretary of State John Kerry called the allegations “extremely serious” and said the U.S. is investigating the reports.