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article imageISIS capabilities increasing with use of chemical mortar shells

By Karen Graham     Jul 18, 2015 in World
ISIS has become an even greater threat to the world with the discovery of an unexploded shell fired by the militant group in Iraq last month. The device is crude, and explains the reason it didn't explode on impact.
The unexploded shell was leaking, causing Kurdish fighters to get sick. A French ordinance technician said the chemical was probably chlorine, but more tests were needed to confirm this, says the New York Times.
Mortar shells with chemicals have been fired from ISIS positions at Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria three times in the past few weeks, and this development, which investigators are saying involves toxic industrial and agricultural chemicals have become worrying.
It signals an escalation of the groups capabilities, and while the weapons are still considered rudimentary, that does not mean the group is not learning from their failures.
ISIS has used chemical weapons in their suicide bombings, but the leap to placing the chemicals in shells is an entirely different story. Reuters reported that ISIS used "makeshift chemical projectiles" in Syria late last month. About 12 Kurdish fighters with the YPG militia "experienced burning of the throat, eyes and nose, combined with severe headaches, muscle pain and impaired concentration and mobility."
The White House said on Friday they were aware of the reports on the use of chemical weapons by ISIS and was seeking additional information. "We continue to monitor these reports closely," Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.
More details on the unexploded shell
The unexploded shell was found by Gregory Robin, a former French military ordnance disposal technician who now works for Sahan Research, a think tank partnered with Conflict Armament Research. James Bevan is the director of Conflict Armament Research.
Mr. Robin spoke with the New York Times. "The tail of the shell had been broken," Mr. Robin said by telephone on Friday. He said the shell was leaking and had a powerful odor of chlorine that caused irritation to the airways and eyes.
An internal report filed by the Kurdish government said, "the mortar shell appeared to have been manufactured in an ISIS workshop by casting iron into mold method. The mortar contains a warhead filled with a chemical agent, most probably chlorine.”
“Soon we should have an exact composition of the chemical in this projectile, but I am certain it is chlorine,” Mr. Robin said. He added, “What I don’t know is what kind of burster charge it had,” talking about the small explosive charge that was supposed to break open the shell. The shell didn't explode because, for some reason, there wasn't a charge, Robin said.
As for the other shells, reportedly filled with chemicals and fired by ISIS the past few weeks, Robin and Bevan both have formulated an opinion. Based on photographs of the shell fragments in the other bombings, the fragments didn't appear consistent with chemical weapons because the shell walls were too thick.
Bevan, Robin, and another field investigator said it was possible that ISIS has been experimenting, and the attacks were tests of new weapons from the Islamic State's makeshift weapons production lines. The field investigator summed up everyone's feeling, saying, “My guess is that this is going to happen again,” he said, “because it was effective.”
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