The threat of Islamic State radicals carrying out chemical attacks on Western targets is real and must be taken seriously by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and across Europe.
The threat was red-flagged on Thursday in the form of an unusual warning from French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who said his country is at risk of chemical and biological terrorist attacks.
While presenting a bill to extend the state of emergency declared after last Friday’s jihadi rampage in Paris, Valls stated, “We know that there could also be a risk of chemical or biological weapons.”
His use of the words “we know” may be telling.
Does the French government have specific information regarding a terrorist plot to use nonconventional weapons? Did European interrogators extract such information from any of the suspects arrested in connection with the Paris attacks, including those nabbed during a raid yesterday in a Paris suburb?
That raid, which targeted 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind behind the attacks, was carried out after French authorities received “information from tapped phone calls, surveillance, and tipoffs,” the AP reported.
Valls’ not-so-veiled warning came as ISIS released a new propaganda video making threats against New York City, mixing images of Manhattan’s Times and Herald Squares with suicide bombers preparing to blow themselves up.
ISIS is known to possess the ability to manufacture chemical weapons and has already been accused of using them against civilians in Iraq and Syria.
In September, a U.S. official told the BBC that the American government is increasingly certain that ISIS extremists are making and using chemical weapons, including mustard gas. The official said ISIS has a cell dedicated to building these weapons and has already packed the powder form of mustard gas in traditional explosives.
That information was echoed by U.S. and Iraqi officials in comments made to the Associated Press on Thursday. The officials confirmed ISIS is aggressively pursuing the development of chemical weapons.
Perhaps more alarming is the threat of Western ISIS fighters trained in the use of chemical weapons returning to Europe and the U.S. from Iraq and Syria.
In March, an Egyptian intelligence official told me the Egyptian government provided the US with information that indicated ISIS is attempting to purchase chemical materials such as chlorine gas that can be utilized in terrorist attacks.
Also in March, the Kurdistan Regional Security Council in Iraq claimed ISIS had deployed weaponized chlorine gas in recent attacks. Battlefield use of the deadly substance is banned by the international Chemical Weapons Convention.
The Kurdish claim was not independently verified. However, the BBC reported that the Iraqi government presented the news agency with “evidence” that ISIS fighters were using chlorine gas in roadside bomb attacks, with videos showing bomb disposal teams carrying out controlled explosions that sent orange smoke into the air, a sign that the gas was present.
In addition, a chemical weapons expert warned that ISIS militants returning to the West could deploy chemical weapons inside the US or Britain, perhaps against transportation infrastructure or at a sports stadium.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, warned, “It is very evident that ISIS are putting much time and effort into training its jihadis in the use of chlorine as a terror weapon and in particular in IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”
Writing at 2paragraphs.com, Bretton-Gordon continued, “Virtually every foreign jihadi who returns to the U.S. or U.K. will have been exposed to training of this sort and will have a reasonable idea on how to use chlorine and other toxic chemicals as a terror weapon.”
He noted that, in the U.K. at least, up to 90 tons of chlorine can be purchased without a license.
Bretton-Gordon, who advised British security forces in Baghdad earlier this year, told the London Daily Mirror that a chlorine gas attack in the U.K. was “highly likely.”
“This could happen on a train or tube or even at a big football match.”