ISIL And ‘Non-Conventional’ Weapons Of Terror by Beatrix Immenkamp, European Parliamentary Research Service
The European Union and its Member States must prepare for the possibility of a chemical or biological attack on their territory by the self-styled ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and the Levant (known variously as IS, ISIS or ISIL, and by the Arabic acronym ‘Da’esh’). Since the beginning of October 2015, terrorist attacks in Ankara, the Sinai Peninsula, Beirut, Paris and Tunis, for which ISIL / Da’esh has claimed responsibility, have cost the lives of 500 people. Immediately following the latest attack in Paris, the jihadist terrorist group threatened further attacks in European cities.
ISIL / Da’esh has vowed that future strikes will be more lethal and even more shocking. This has prompted experts to warn that the group may be planning to try to use internationally banned weapons of mass destruction in future attacks. On 19 November 2015, the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, raised the spectre of ISIL / Da’esh planning a chemical or biological attack. At present, European citizens are not seriously contemplating the possibility that extremist groups might use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials during attacks in Europe. Under these circumstances, the impact of such an attack, should it occur, would be even more destabilising.
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European governments and EU institutions need to be on alert, and should consider publicly addressing the possibility of a terrorist attack using chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear materials. The EU institutions have devoted considerable efforts to preventing a CBRN attack on European soil and preparing worst-case scenarios. However, some gaps remain, in particular with regard to informationsharing among Member States.
ISIL – The likelihood of future attacks
Since the beginning of October, terrorist attacks in Ankara, the Sinai Peninsula, Beirut Paris and Tunis, for which ISIL / Da’esh has claimed responsibility, have cost the lives of 500 people. The attackers’ weapons of choice so far have been explosive devices, including car bombs and suicide belts, and automatic weapons.
Immediately following the attacks in Paris on 13 November, the group announced that further attacks would take place in the immediate future, in Paris and other capital cities. Washington DC, London, and Rome were specifically mentioned, as well as targets in Belgium.
Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, the coordinating organisation of EU countries’ police forces, confirmed during a hearing in the European Parliament on 19 November that Europe was likely to face new ISIL / Da’esh attacks after those in Paris the previous week.
According to Wainwright, ‘We are dealing with a very serious, well-resourced, determined international terrorist organisation that is now active on the streets of Europe. This represents the most serious terrorist threat faced in Europe for 10 years.’ He noted ISIL / Da’esh’s determination to export ‘its brutal brand of terrorism to Europe’, which was backed by serious capabilities in terms of resources and manpower.
ISIL – Non-conventional weapons
Chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials as weapons of terror Several experts1 have warned that there is a genuine risk of ISIL / Da’esh using chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear materials in the context of future attacks on European targets. It has been suggested that the group’s next weapon of choice could, for example, be an improvised explosive device containing chemical or radioactive materials.
Nomi Bar-Yaacov, Associate Fellow in Chatham House’s International Security Department, noted in ‘What if ISIS launches a chemical attack in Europe’ that ‘there is a very real risk of Isis using unconventional weapons in Europe and beyond’.
Wolfgang Rudischhauser, Director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Non-Proliferation Centre at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, states in his article ‘Could ISIL go Nuclear?’ that ‘ISIL actually has already acquired the knowledge, and in some cases the human expertise, that would allow it to use CBRN materials as weapons of terror.’ Known use of chemical weapons ISIL / Da’esh is documented to have used chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq.
- The group appears to have manufactured rudimentary chemical-warfare shells, and used them to attack Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria at least three times in June and July 2015.2 According to investigators, this involved toxic industrial or agricultural chemicals repurposed as weapons.
- In June 2015, Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, claimed that ISIL / Da’esh had used chlorine in combat.
- In late August 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières4 and the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) reported suspected ISIL / Da’esh use of mustard gas in Marea, northern Syria.
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