Mustard Agent Was Used in Syria Attack, Monitoring Agency Says

Smoke billowed on the outskirts of Marea, Syria, during fighting between opposition fighters and Islamic State in September. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said mustard agent was used there. Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

U.S. believes Assad regime failed to destroy all of its chemical weapon stockpiles

BEIRUT—The international organization that monitors chemical weapons use said Friday that a mustard agent was used in an attack on the Syrian town of Marea in August.

The use of the mustard agent in the deadly attack was confirmed “through examining the victims, through examining their condition and their symptoms and through environmental samples,” said Mark Ellahi, a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, after it concluded an investigation into the incident.

The report by the OPCW won’t be released until the organization’s member states, including the U.S., have reviewed it, Mr. Ellahi said.

Three people were injured in the August attack on the town in Aleppo province, Mr. Ellahi said, and the group has strong reason to believe that a baby died as a result of exposure.

The OPCW didn’t name a perpetrator for the attack. Opposition rebels and activists in the area have said the attack was carried out by Islamic State militants who have been trying to seize control of the town ​for months.

Residents and local medical staff had reported at the time of the attack that two people had been killed, though they said one man’s fatal injuries may have been caused by shrapnel and not the agent.

The attack on Marea came after U.S. officials said they believed Islamic State had used a mustard agent against Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria in August, the first indication that the militant group had obtained chemical weapons.

U.S. Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, the spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Friday that he was aware of the OPCW report and said the military would review the results of the investigation.

Islamic State’s use of chemical agents was one of the reasons the U.S.-led coalition is undertaking operations against the group in its power bases in Syria and Iraq, he said.

“We know that ISIL has stated its intent to use chemical weapons and other terror weapons,” he said, using an acronym for the group. “It is another reason this group needs to be stopped as quickly as possible.”

U.S. officials said earlier this year that Islamic State could have obtained the mustard agent in Syria, where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had large stockpiles of chemical weapons, before agreeing in 2013 to have them removed and destroyed.

Officials also said it was possible that Islamic State forces may have obtained the agent in Iraq from old stockpiles that belonged to Saddam Hussein.

The Assad regime said in 2013 that its mustard agent stockpiles had been destroyed. But international inspectors said they weren’t able to verify the government’s assertions that hundreds of tons of the agent had been burned in pits.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said they believe the Assad regime failed to destroy all of their stockpiles and hid a stash of the deadly chemical.

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