CIA director says ISIS group has used, can make chemical weapons

CIA director John Brennan.
CIA director John Brennan. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - CIA director John Brennan has said that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters have used chemical weapons and have the capability to make small quantities of chlorine and mustard gas, CBS News reported Thursday (Feb 11).

"We have a number of instances where ISIL has used chemical munitions on the battlefield," Mr Brennan told CBS News, which released excerpts of an interview to air in full on the 60 Minutes news programme on Sunday (Feb 14), using another name for the militant group.

The network added that he told 60 Minutes the CIA believes that the ISIS group has the ability to make small amounts of mustard or chlorine gas for weapons.

"There are reports that ISIS has access to chemical precursors and munitions that they can use," Mr Brennan said.

Mr Brennan also warned of the possibility that the ISIS group could seek to export the weapons to the West for financial gain.

"I think there's always the potential for that. This is why it's so important to cut off the various transportation routes and smuggling routes that they have used," he said.

When asked if there were "American assets on the ground" searching for possible chemical weapons caches or labs, Mr Brennan replied: "US intelligence is actively involved in being a part of the efforts to destroy ISIL and to get as much insight into what they have on the ground inside of Syria and Iraq."

The release of the excerpts of Brennan's interview comes two days after similar comments from spy chief James Clapper before a congressional committee.

"ISIL has also used toxic chemicals in Iraq and Syria, including the blister agent sulfur mustard," Mr Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told lawmakers on Tuesday (Feb 9).

He said it was the first time an extremist group had produced and used a chemical warfare agent in an attack since Japan's Aum Supreme Truth cult carried out a deadly sarin attack during rush hour in the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Last year, officials in the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan said blood tests had shown that ISIS fighters used mustard agent in an attack on Kurdish peshmerga forces in August.

Thirty-five peshmerga fighters were exposed and some taken abroad for treatment, officials said.

At the time of the attack, The Wall Street Journal cited US officials as saying they believed ISIS had used mustard agent.