Saturday, 7 September 2013

Syrian WMDs in Hands of Jihadists May Pose More of a Regional Threat - HSToday.US

Concerns that Al Qaeda and affiliated jihadists who have significantly infiltrated anti-President Bashar Al Assad forces could get their hands on his military’s chemical weapons may pose more of a regional threat to the US and its allies, according to a variety of past and present counterterrorism officials. It's no secret the terror group has attempted to take control of Syrian chemical weapons facilities.



These authorities said it would be difficult for terrorist groups to handle and transport most of Syria’s known chemical weapons stockpiles. Biological weapons on the other hand, if Syria has any, might be a different story. But at the moment, the greatest concern seems to be over Assad’s chemical weapons.



“There is some significant chance that jihadists in Syria may be able to seize Syrian chemical munitions. After that, the biggest problem would be transportation. Those munitions are bulky and heavy and not easy to cart around,” former CIA WMD counterterrorism unit chief Charles Faddis told Homeland Security Today.



“That said,” he cautioned, “even if they only acquire a handful of nerve gas munitions, that could be a real game changer.”



Faddis also observed that “It is unlikely that Iran would assist Al Qaeda in acquiring chemical weapons -- the two have an uneasy relationship at best.”



Hezbollah, on the other hand, is an Iranian-controlled proxy and there is equally deep concern over this terrorist group acquiring Syrian chemical weapons, which would pose a potentially much more immediate threat to Israel.



Former career CIA Clandestine Services officer and jihad expert Clare Lopez noted that “Chemical weapons, whether mixed or not, already in munitions/warheads or not, and the precursor chemicals, are bulky and especially the advanced types that Assad has -- sarin, soman, VX nerve gasses -- are difficult to handle and need expertise, special equipment and protective gear."



Lopez said it’s “Not very likely Al Qaeda would try to move these stocks anywhere … but there is concern that Assad himself has moved chemical weapons stockpiles around Syria so that keeping track of them would be next to impossible; and, Hezbollah has probably taken some of the stockpiles into Lebanon. Beka'a Valley, elsewhere?”



“It's Israel and the Syrians themselves who face the most threat from Assad's chemical weapons agents … and, also, by the way, his very extensive, sophisticated biological agent arsenal as well,” which Lopez said is believed to consist of “genetically-modified, even laboratory synthetically created anthrax, plague, smallpox -- in additon to more mundane agents like cryptosporidium, which can bring an army to its knees with debilitating intestinal symptoms.”



“Remember that Saddam Hussain had someplace to move his biological and chemical weapons: Syria. Syrians have no such place to move it, except [to Hezbollah in] Lebanon maybe. Don't believe Iraq wants it back again either,” Lopez added.



She cautioned that reports are full of info that [Al Qaeda aligned] Jabhat Al Nusra is pushing hard on the outskirts of Aleppo to gain control of the Al Safira chemical weapons facility,” which she said is “clearly a high priority for the rebels.”



Still, the “Concern is not so much that Al Qaeda would try to move chemical weapons out of Syria (how?  by truck? Overland through a country engulfed in civil war? To where?) but rather that Al Qaeda would use whatever it captured vs Assad government forces, with unpredictable civilian casualties, or that they would load up chemical weapons munitions or warheads to fire at Israel (last I heard, Al Qaeda forces are on, or near, the Golan Heights),” Lopez said.



Homeland Security Today first reported in December that senior US counterterrorism officials were even then becoming increasingly concerned that Al Qaeda in Syria could acquire Syrian WMDs, and that the Pentagon had drawn up military contingencies in the event that they do.



US counterterrorism officials also remain concerned about the impact US assistance to Syrian rebels could have with regard to reinforcing Al Qaeda and other jihadists’ capabilities in the country.



“I really … really hope they know who it is they’re supplying the weapons to,” one of the officials familiar with the operation said, adding, “and I also really hope they’ve taken a page out of their lessons learned reports on similar past covert arms operations -- the op to supply Cambodia’s non-Communist resistance comes to mind -- that ended up in disasters.”



Indeed. The lessons learned from that and numerous other covert operations driven through middlemen has more often than not ended up assisting the forces against whom the assistance was supposed to stop.

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