WASHINGTON, June 6, 2007 – Anyone who doubts that al Qaeda would use chemical, nuclear or biological weapons need only look at the terror group’s attacks in Iraq, Defense officials said.
Al Qaeda and affiliated groups have used chlorine gas in attacks against civilians, Iraqi forces and coalition forces at least 15 times since October, according to U.S. officials in Baghdad.
“Chlorine is used by terrorists with the intent to harm or kill large numbers of civilians,” an official said. “The attacks show that the terrorists are adaptable, but it reflects more on their maliciousness than their sophistication.”
The first documented chlorine attack was Oct. 21, 2006, in Ramadi, a Multinational Force Iraq spokeswoman said. In that attack, terrorists drove a car bomb with 12 120 mm mortar shells and two 100-pound chlorine tanks. The attack wounded three Iraqi policemen and a civilian.
The first attack that received media attention was at Taji, where terrorists remotely detonated a 5-ton truck packed with 100 pounds of high explosives and two 1-ton chlorine tanks. The attack killed one civilian and wounded 114 others.
Other chlorine attacks occurred in Fallujah, Balad and Ramadi. The most recent attack was June 3 against Forward Operating Base Warhorse, in Diyala province. Again, a suicide car bomber launched the attack, and officials estimate it included two tanks of chlorine and 1,000 pounds of explosive. The cloud from the attack blew over Warhorse and sickened 65 servicemembers, Multinational Force Iraq officials said. All were examined and returned to duty.
Officials in Baghdad cannot tell from their records if anyone has died from chlorine inhalation. A Multinational Force Iraq spokesman said there are anecdotal reports that while the blasts from the attacks have killed, few have died solely from the gas. “We hear that an old man and some babies may have been killed, but we can’t pin that down,” the spokesman said.
“We have seen attempts made by insurgent forces – al Qaeda in particular – to use debilitating agents like chlorine in their (improvised explosive devices and car bombs) to cause casualties beyond just concussion and blast,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
Whitman said the attacks have been of limited effectiveness, but that does not lessen concerns. “We continue to look at ways to prevent those materials from making their way to those who plant explosive devices,” he said.
This is a difficult proposition because many chemicals, like chlorine, have legitimate civilian uses. Chlorine is used to purify water and in other industrial processes.
Without getting into details that could jeopardize operational security, U.S. servicemembers have gear to protect them from such weapons, a Pentagon official said. So the terrorists aim the weapon at civilians in an effort to intimidate populations.
“The car bombs themselves are designed to target innocent civilians,” Whitman said. “It reflects the brutality of the enemy we are facing and the total disregard of life to use such an indiscriminate nature.”