The regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad expressed its concerns to the United Nations this past Saturday of an opposition rebel initiated chemical weapons attack upon the civilian population.
Syria raised its concerns to the UN after the recent rebel capture of the Syrian-Saudi Chemical Company (SYSACCO) factory, an industrial chemical plant that manufactures chlorine near Aleppo. The city of Aleppo currently serves as the opposition stronghold.
The plant is located 40 kilometers east of Aleppo, near the Euphrates River.
According to Al-Akhbar
, a Lebanese news publication, there are several 100-kilogram tanks containing chlorine at the facility, each of them “capable of destroying a town of 25,000 people.”
The publication reports that upon discovering rebel forces had seized control of the plant, the al-Assad regime asked international observers who were in the country at the time to intervene, fearing that the chlorine could be used for the purposes of chemical warfare.
However, the rebels refused to allow observers to remove the chlorine tanks from the plant, though they did agree to evacuate the facility and declare it a “sealed zone,” while retaining control of the area of the city where the plant is located.
The daily expressed the fears of the Syrian regime that the chlorine could be used in a chemical weapons attack, since the rebels retain control of the area.
Perhaps what makes this crisis situation all the more disturbing and vexing for the Syrian government is the fact that the plant was seized by rebel fighters with the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group that some have referred to as al-Qaida’s Syrian contingent.
Chemical Weapons Double Standard?
Finding itself in a very desperate situation, the regime turned to the international community for assistance in dealing with the ongoing crisis of the militant takeover of the chemical plant only to have those requests rejected or ignored.
The cold shoulder response prompted the regime to publicly blast the west for what it perceives as a chemical weapons double standard.
Syria saved the worst of its criticism for the U.S. which it singled out and referred to as a "terrorist sponsor" for its continued support of opposition rebels.
reports that the Syrian foreign ministry in its official statement to the UN this past Saturday said
Syria is defending its people against terrorism, which is supported by known countries, with the United States at the forefront
Syria also took the opportunity to reiterate its claim that it would never use chemical weapons against its own citizens.
Because of the al-Assad regime’s infamous history and its very long track record of human rights abuses, sponsorship of the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, and its alliances with rouge states Iran and North Korea, the west is less apt to take claims of rebel-based atrocities made by the regime seriously.
While al-Assad and the use of chemical weapons by his regime present a genuine threat, the threat posed by jihadists with a fully functioning chemical plant in their control presents a situation that is even more precarious.
The jihadists are unlikely to respond to demands by the UN, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or western nations to relinquish control of the facility. What’s more, as religious fanatics who voice disappointment to Allah as their only fear in life, they are less likely to be swayed by the threat of violent force from the U.S. or a criminal trial in The Hague as al-Assad and his regime would be.
Nor is it known exactly how much sway – if any at all – the rebel commanders, specifically those of the Free Syrian Army, have over the Syrian al-Qaida offshoot and its ultimate decision to give up control of the chlorine facility and abstain from chemical warfare.
While the jihadists of the al-Nusra Front are certainly an element in the overall opposition movement, they are not believed to be beholden to the authority of the rebel commanders and are suspected of having their own agenda, an agenda that does not always appear to be in sync with the goals and values of its opposition allies.
If militants were to actually utilize the chlorine from that facility in an attack on the civilian population of a Syrian city, it would constitute an act of terrorism.
In addition to the seizure of the chlorine plant, a video has recently been making the rounds on the internet featuring rather disturbing tests with chemical weapons by The Almighty Wind Brigade, a collection of fighters in the opposition rebel movement that up until recently was unheard of.
In the video a lab mask wearing militant stands near a glass box with two rabbits inside before mixing chemicals in a beaker inside that box. Upon the mixing of the chemicals a gas is emitted from the beaker. A minute later, the rabbits begin to suffer violent convulsions and then die.
After the rabbits die the militant with the lab mask says: “You saw what happened? This will be your fate, you infidel Alawites, I swear by Allah to make you die like these rabbits, one minute only after you inhale the gas.”
The toxic gas used in the video is believed to either be a nerve gas or hydrogen cyanide gas.
It is not known if The Almighty Wind Brigade has links to the al-Nusra Front or is actually the al-Qaida offshoot operating under a different name.
What is the Al-Nusra Front?
The al-Nusra Front also occasionally referred to as Jabhat al-Nusra was formed in 2011 with help from members of al-Qaida in Iraq which have also been instrumental in the training and support of the fledgling militant group.
The group has acknowledge its alliance with al-Qaida and views itself to be a regional branch of that terrorist entity.
With an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 fighters, al-Nusra Front has featured rather prominently in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
Its fighters are said to be the best trained and most feared in the Syrian conflict.
Though al-Nursa Front has a series of field commanders that serve as lieutenants in the group, as of late a single terror mastermind or kingpin has yet to be identified.
According to the BBC, despite the fact that the U.S. is supporting the rebel opposition in its fight to topple the Syrian government, the al-Nursa Front have referred to both that nation and Israel as "enemies of Islam."
Al-Nursa Front seeks to replace the al-Assad regime with an Islamic state ruled under Sharia Law.
Besides fighting Syria's military and police forces in insurgency warfare, the al-Nursa Front has unleashed a steady and unrelenting stream of terrorism throughout the year. Some of al-Nursa Front's most notable acts of terrorism have included:
*June 27 - Drousha:
al-Nursa Front militants raid the Al-Ikhbariya TV television news station and abduct 11 employees. Explosives that were detonated by the militants after they made their escape leveled the entire building and resulted in the deaths of four guards and three journalists. The Free Syrian Army claimed that Syria's elite Republican Guards were behind the bombing. However, this later proved to be untrue when members of al-Nursa Front released photos of the 11 employees they abducted from the news station and claimed responsibility for the attack.
*Mid-July - Damascus:
Mohammed al-Saeed, a pro-regime broadcast news journalist was abducted from his home. On August 3, al-Nursa Front militants released a statement claiming responsibility for the abduction and execution of the popular journalist.
*October 3 - Aleppo:
Militants with al-Nursa Front simultaneously detonate three car bombs in Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square killing 44 and wounding another 122 people. The bombed targets included an Officer's Club, a historic hotel and a popular cafe. That attack has thus far been the deadliest perpetrated by the group.
Chlorine: The Original Chemical Weapon
Chlorine is used primarily as a water disinfectant. It can be found virtually anywhere in the world where there is a nation with paved roads and a functioning government.
When used as a chemical weapon, chlorine is assigned to the choking class of chemical warfare agents.
Chlorine as well as other choking agents are very severe respiratory irritant and causes harm to an individual by attacking the nose, throat and lungs - the primary elements of the respiratory system.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) symptoms of acute exposure to chlorine at high levels include: violent cough, lightheadedness, nausea and vomiting, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, severe abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath and a feeling of suffocation.
Chlorine causes a medical condition known as dyspnea which obstructs the intake of air by cause the throat to swell shut. Meanwhile, chlorine also causes the mucous membranes in the lungs to secrete large amounts of fluid. The lungs begin to fill up with fluid while displacing the remaining air left in the body. This condition is known as pulmonary edema - a very severe emergency that can often be fatal if professional and advanced medical attention is not obtained quickly.
Respiratory failure via pulmonary edema is the primary cause of fatality from chlorine.
Pulmonary edema is sometimes referred to by medical professionals as "dry land drowning."
Though dating back to antiquity, the modern era of chemical warfare began in World War One with chlorine.
The first major use of chemical weapons during the modern era involved the weaponization of chlorine at the Battle of Ypres during World War One.
On April 22, 1915, at the Belgium town of Ypres, Germany forces unleashed thousands of tons of chlorine gas on the battlefield during their battle with French Allied troops. The gas formed a massive five mile long low-laying cloud that eventually killed 5,000 French Allied troops while maiming another 10,000.
Out of nearly two dozen other toxic chemicals that were used for the purposes of chemical warfare during World War One, chlorine was by far the most utilized.
Chlorine's use during that epic conflict earned it the title of "the original chemical weapon" of the modern era.
Though other chemical warfare agents have since come into being that are far more toxic, chlorine still remains a very real threat if misused.
In more recent times chlorine has been used in acts of terrorism.
In 2006, the militant Sunni Muslim group, al-Qaida in Iraq, utilized chlorine canisters and hijacked tanker trucks transporting the toxic chemical in a series of terrifying terrorist attacks against Shia Muslim neighborhoods in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
It should be noted that hundreds of fighters from al-Qaida in Iraq have recently traveled to Syria and are currently serving with the al-Nursa Front - whom ironically (and disturbingly) enough currently remain in control of an entire chemical plant that manufactures tens of thousands of tons of chlorine.