US designates ISIS chemical weapons expert from France as terrorist

The State Department announced today that Joe Asperman, a French national, has been added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists.

State says that Asperman works as “a senior chemical weapons expert for ISIS” and “oversaw chemical operations production within Syria for ISIS and the deployment of these chemical weapons at the battlefront.”

The US government has designated Islamic State chemical weapons engineers as terrorists in the past. As part of its targeted air campaign, the US-led coalition has also destroyed related facilities and killed jihadists working in the program.

In June 2017, the State and Treasury Departments designated two Iraqis as terrorists for their work on chemical weapons. One of the two, Attallah Salman ‘Abd Kafi al-Jaburi, has served as an ISIS “chemical weapons and explosives manager” and worked “on a chemical weapons project that would be used against Peshmerga” fighters. The Kurdish Peshmerga have fought ISIS jihadists throughout northern Iraq. The second Iraqi, Marwan Ibrahim Hussayn Tah al-Azawi, is an “ISIS leader connected to ISIS’s development of chemical weapons for use in ongoing combat against Iraqi Security Forces.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, US designates 2 Islamic State leaders tied to chemical weapons.]

To date, the Islamic State’s chemical arsenal has been fairly basic, relying on chlorine and mustard agent. The Islamic State of Iraq, the predecessor organization to the current Islamic State, used chlorine gas in a series of suicide bomb attacks in 2007.

In Apr. 2017, Colonel John Dorrian, then spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, was asked about the Islamic State’s chemical capabilities. “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 repeatedly highlighted the Islamic State’s use of low-grade chemical weapons.

In Jan. 2015, for instance, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that Abu Malik, an Islamic State “chemical weapons engineer,” had been killed in an airstrike near Mosul, Iraq. Malik had “worked at Saddam Hussein’s Muthana chemical weapon production facility before affiliating with al Qaeda in Iraq in 2005.”

Then, in July 2016, 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 in Iraq and continued to work his way up 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,” according to DOD.

In Dec. 2016, 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.

*Note: Parts of this article were adapted from previous reports published at FDD’s Long War Journal.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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