Photo: RIA Novosti
The issue of chemical and biological weapons in Syria is creating concerns in both neighbouring and distant countries. The mere presence of such weapons in the hands of the Syrian rebels is seen as a threat in itself, as they have not hesitated to use them against civilians twice in the recent year.
Syria’s bioweapons program, which US officials believe has been largely dormant since the 1980s, is likely to possess the key ingredients for a biological and chemical weapons, including a collection of lethal bacteria and viruses as well as the modern equipment needed to covert them into deadly powders and aerosols, according to US and Middle Eastern officials and weapons experts.
This latent capability has begun to worry some of Syria’s neighbors, especially after allegations that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad used internationally banned chemical weapons against civilians in an Aug. 21 Ghouta attack.
Top intelligence officials in two Middle East countries said they have examined the potential for bioweapons use by Syria, perhaps as retaliation for Western military strikes on Damascus. Although dwarfed by the country’s larger and better-known chemical weapons program, Syria’s bioweapons capability could offer the Assad regime a way to retaliate because the weapons are designed to spread easily and leave few clues about their origins, the officials said.
“We are worried about sarin, but Syria also has biological weapons, and compared to those, sarin is nothing,” a senior Middle Eastern official told Washtington Post. “We know it, and others in the region know it. The Americans certainly know it.”
US officials acknowledge the possibility of a latent bioweapons capability but are divided about whether Syria is capable of a sophisticated attack.
However, if Syrian rebels cannot carry out such an attack, al-Qaeda affiliated in Iraq most certainly can.
Recent reports indicating al-Qaeda in Iraq is seeking to obtain bioweapons raises serious concern about those weapons reaching al-Qaeda affiliates JAN and ISIL, or the Syrian bioweapons falling into their hands.
The Iraqi government announced in June it had arrested members of an al-Qaeda cell who confessed they intended to carry out bioweapon attacks in Iraq and neighbouring countries.
Further investigations revealed that plans were put in place for al-Qaeda affiliate JAN to get access to those weapons and “further aggravate the tragedy of the Syrian people,” according to Iraqi national security advisor Faleh al-Fayyadh.
Security forces shut down two factories, one in Baghdad and the other in an area near the capital, and confiscated biological compounds and the equipment used in their manufacture, the government said in a statement. Confiscated items included a remote-controlled toy plane that was to carry bioweapons to be dropped over a relatively distant target.
Voice of Russia, Central Asia Online, Washington Post