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US captures Islamic State group's 'chemical weapons expert'

© Karim Sahib, AFP | Iraqi TV screengrab shows members of a UN chemical team controlling the destruction of some 1000 litres of mustard gas in Al-Mouthanna, 130km northwest of Baghdad..

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-03-09

US forces captured an Islamic State (IS) group militant with expertise in chemical weapons in a raid last month in northern Iraq and are questioning him about the group’s plans to use chemical arms, US media reported on Wednesday.

US and Iraqi officials identified the detainee as Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, an Iraqi national who once worked for Saddam Hussein’s defunct Military Industrialisation Authority, the Associated Press reported.

Iraqi officials told the AP that al-Afari is around 50 years of age and was in charge of the IS group’s recently established unit for the research and development of chemical weapons.

Currently at a temporary detention facility in the Kurdish city of Erbil in northern Iraq, al-Afari has detailed how the jihadist group weaponised mustard gas into powdered form and loaded it into artillery shells, defence officials told The New York Times. The weaponised mustard gas was reportedly capable of maiming people but was not concentrated enough to be fatal.

The IS group's chemical weapons specialist was captured shortly after the arrival of a US Special Operations force made up primarily of Delta Force commandos. The capture marks a first major success for Washington’s aggressive new policy of pursuing jihadists on the ground in Iraq.

Defence Department officials said the US had no plans to hold the detainee or any other captives indefinitely, and that he would be handed over to Iraqi and Kurdish authorities after his interrogation. 

‘A lot of information’

A US defence official told the Daily Beast that the detainee had provided “a lot of information” and that the coalition had conducted at least two strikes targeting the IS group’s chemical weapons programme in Iraq this month based on this intelligence.

The US-led coalition has been targeting the IS group’s chemical weapons infrastructure with airstrikes and special operations raids over the past two months, according to Iraqi intelligence.

A statement from the US-led military operation against the IS group released on March 5 said the coalition struck “an [IS] weapons production facility” near Mosul that was thought to be part of the group’s chemical weapons programme. A press statement two days later said coalition air strikes had targeted an IS group “tactical unit” near Mosul that was also believed to have links to the chemical programme.

Since the jihadist group began capturing swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014, US and French officials have suspected the group was aggressively seeking to develop a chemical weapons capability.

In an address to parliament shortly after the November 13 attacks in Paris last year, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that Islamist militants might at some point seek to use chemical or biological weapons.

"We must not rule anything out," said Valls. "I say it with all the precautions needed ... [but] bear in mind that there is also a risk of chemical or biological weapons."

The Paris attacks, which claimed 130 lives, was the first attack on a Western nation to be claimed officially by the IS group.

Date created : 2016-03-09

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