The Islamic State has used chlorine in a recent attack in Iraq and is likely to have among its recruits the technical expertise to build chemical weapons, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
She was speaking on the 30th anniversary of the Australia Group – an informal group of over forty countries working together to deny licences for the export of chemical and biological-weapon related materials.
“Despite ongoing efforts and real progress, we have not yet won the struggle against the ruthless and amoral individuals, organisations, and regimes that seek to develop and deploy such weapons,” she said.
According to the Foreign Minister, terrorists and extremist groups such as Da’esh (IS/ISIS) are prepared to use any and all means – any and all forms of violence, including chemical weapons to advance their demented cause.
“The use of chlorine by Da’esh, and its recruitment of highly technically trained professionals, including from the West, have revealed far more serious efforts in chemical weapons development”.
There have been media reports of chlorine gas used by the IS fighters in Iraq.
Chlorine, a choking agent which was used as a chemical weapon during World War I, is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits use of toxic agents on the battlefield.
Ms Bishop said that this year was the centenary of the first large-scale chemical weapon attack when on April 22, 1915, chlorine gas was deployed at Ypres in Belgium, killing more than 1000 people.
Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons both against his own citizens as well as in the Iran-Iraq war.
“Da’esh is likely to have amongst its tens of thousands of recruits the technical expertise necessary to further refine precursor materials and build chemical weapons”, she said.
“Apart from some crude and small scale endeavours, the conventional wisdom has been that the terrorist intention to acquire and weaponise chemical agents has been largely aspirational”.
She also expressed concern over the systematic and repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria over the past four years, as recently as March 2015.
“We have no doubt the Syrian regime was responsible for these attacks – violating both United Nations Security Council resolution 2118 of September 2013 and the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria acceded in October 2013”.
According to the Foreign Minister, Australia provided $2 million toward the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities – greatly reducing the massive stocks held by the Assad regime.