The US government has designated two Islamic State figures involved in the group’s chemical weapons program. Both of the men have helped produce chemical-laced explosives, likely using sulfur mustard, in Iraq.
The first of the two, Attallah Salman ‘Abd Kafi al-Jaburi, is a 44-year-old Iraqi who was designated by the Treasury Department. He is described as the “chemical weapons and explosives manager” in Iraq’s Kirkuk Province as of mid-2016.
Treasury explains that al-Jaburi first joined al Qaeda in 2003 and “he received his knowledge and expertise in developing and fabricating IEDs” beginning around that time. Although the designation page doesn’t specify which part of al Qaeda he joined, it is likely that al-Jaburi first became a member of the predecessor to al Qaeda in Iraq and stayed with the organization as it evolved into Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate. At some point, he supplemented his early training with expertise in chemical weapons, which he acquired while stationed in Syria.
Al-Jaburi returned to Iraq in 2015 and quickly got to work, according to Treasury. While posted in Kirkuk in Jan. 2016, al-Jaburi worked “on a chemical weapons project that would be used against Peshmerga” fighters. The Kurdish Peshmerga have been engaged in heavy fighting against the jihadists in northern Iraq for years.
Treasury says Al-Jaburi was also part of an Islamic State “group that ran a factory” for “manufacturing IEDs, mines, and up-armored VBIEDs” in Hawijah, Iraq. By late 2016, he was a “senior leader in charge of an ISIS IED and explosives factory, in addition to a technical workshop located in a hospital in the Hawijah District of Kirkuk Province.” The jihadists developed rockets at the facility, in addition to other munitions.
Separately, the State Department designated Marwan Ibrahim Hussayn Tah al-Azawi, describing him as “an Iraqi ISIS leader connected to ISIS’s development of chemical weapons for use in ongoing combat against Iraqi Security Forces.”
Foggy Bottom notes that “ISIS has repeatedly used sulfur mustard in chemical weapons attacks in Syria as well as in Iraq.”
Indeed, there have been multiple reports indicating that the Islamic State has used a “mustard agent” in its operations.
Colonel John Dorrian, who was the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, was asked about such attacks during a press briefing in April. “As far as the types of materials that the enemy used they have low grade capabilities…representative of chlorine and mustard agent,” Dorrian explained. “Sometimes I see that reported as mustard gas, that’s not correct. It’s mustard agent.”
Dorrian explained that the agent is “dispersed into a very small area whenever these munitions go off” and they “are not especially effective about anything except creating a public narrative.” While they are “not as effective even as explosive rounds…they do get some attention.”
Nevertheless, the US military has also repeatedly highlighted the Islamic State’s use of low-grade chemical weapons.
In July 2016, for instance, the Defense Department announced the killing of Basim Muhammad Ahmad Sultan al-Bajari, who served as the Islamic State’s “deputy minister of war.” Al-Bajari originally joined al Qaeda (again, perhaps meaning al Qaeda in Iraq) and then rose through the ranks of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s enterprise. He “oversaw” the “June 2014 offensive to capture Mosul” and also led the Islamic State’s “Jaysh al-Dabiq battalion,” which was “known for using vehicle-borne IEDs, suicide bombers and mustard gas in its attacks.”
In December, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti, an Islamic State leader, was “killed by a coalition airstrike near Tabqa Dam, Syria.” Abu Jandal had been a member of the group’s war committee and also helped retake Palmyra, Syria from Bashar al Assad’s forces. He was then redeployed to Tabqa, which fell to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) earlier this year. “Abu Jandal was involved in the use of suicide vehicles, IEDs and chemical weapons against the SDF,” CENTCOM stated.
For more on the US military targeting the Islamic State’s chemical weapons program, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: US military hits another Islamic State chemical weapons facility in Iraq.