Suspected mustard gas victim (Image via Yasser Alhaji, Aleppo)
Yesterday I received an image via Twitter from a local journalist which sent a chill down my spine. It showed a long canister spilling a dark liquid that had allegedly been fired on Marea close to Aleppo, northern Syria. The question was… was the image authentic, when was it taken and if so what weapon was being fired in the area? I had already heard rumblings that Islamic State had access to chemical weapons. The fear was that this was the deadly sulfar mustard gas a cytotoxic and vesicant agent meaning that it can seriously affect body cells and causes large skin blisters and due to its properties is now banned from use.
I first heard of mustard gas as a child in relation to my late grandfather who had fought in the trenches of the First World War (1914-18). He was barely more than a boy, a naive youth from a poor family with many children, sucked in on tales of better food, travel and adventure similar to today just now there are more sophisticated recruitment techniques. I was shown his “gas card”. He had been caught up in a mustard gas attack, also known as Hot Stuff, H.S. or H. Fortunately he was not too close to site of impact and was taken to a field hospital then on to a health facility on the coast of France and later back to England to recuperate. As soon as he recovered sufficiently it was back to the trenches, this time with great reluctance.
Soldier with moderate mustard gas burns sustained during First World War showing characteristic bullae on neck, armpit and hands (Wikipedia)
Vera Brittain wrote in her book, Testament of Youth about the “Great War”,
“I wish those people who talk about going on with this war whatever it costs could see the soldiers suffering from mustard gas poisoning. Great mustard-coloured blisters, blind eyes, all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke.”
Gas attacks were one of the biggest fears for young soldiers during the First World War, it was an unseen enemy, causing major panic when an alert was raised and a scrabble for face masks. The men would notice an unusual smell but the odour dissipated quickly and was difficult to detect with symptoms taking hours to develop unlike other gases. As Josh Briggs wrote, “the chemical agent would stay in the ground for weeks, depending on the temperature. The colder the ground, the longer the mustard gas would linger…. One drop of the chemical weapon could cause skin burns on people within 10 cubic meters.”
See following link,
“How mustard gas works”
At the end of the war there were an estimated 1.3 million casualties as a result of chemical weapon agents.
Today the Guardian has reported that mustard gas was likely used by Islamic State on Marea on 21st August 2015 possibly from stockpiles taken from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime which were thought to have been destroyed or degraded. The paper noted, “other possibilities, according to former chemical weapons inspectors, include Isis affiliates in Libya smuggling Muammar Gaddafi’s mustard-filled shells or precursor chemicals or Isis compelling scientists in its Iraqi or Syrian territorial holdings to manufacture the toxic chemicals.”
The Guardian stated,
“the Syrian-American Medical Association, which has set up a field hospital in Marea, said 50 civilians showing symptoms of chemical exposure arrived in the facility on Friday following the artillery barrage. They showed initial symptoms that included respiratory problems, redness in the eyes and skin irritations. About 30 of the people developed skin blisters and samples from their blood and clothing as well as the shelling site were taken for further analysis.”
The paper also reported on Ahmed Latouf and his family who displayed the kind of symptoms seen in First World War Soldiers appearing several hours after exposure,
“twelve hours later, however, his skin started to bubble and weep. His wife was soon in worse shape, with giant blisters spreading across her shoulders and most of her body gripped by a burning rash. His four-day-old daughter was in an even worse condition, and is not expected to live.”
The following is information was tweeted by Yasser Alhaji whose Twitter accounts states he is a journalist in Aleppo, who alerted me to an attack though PLEASE NOTE… this could not be independently confirmed so the following are all ALLEGED…
“The shells used by isis targeting marea ..” tweeted on August 23rd
The following photos were alleged to be first 2 victims of gas attacks though again could not be independently confirmed
“The first casualty of isis chemical attack on marea. .died today ..”
“Second casualty of isis chemical attack on marea died today 22 years old Ayman Hafez. ..”
“To all NGO and the United Nations the people of North Aleppo they are in need sleeping under the trees …”
Another alleged attack 1st Sept?
“New chemical attack on marea by isis two hours ago …”
“This what isis shelled marea today with ..”
“Marea today 1st Sept”
One tweet today, Sept 2nd from the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCS) referring to a Facebook page alleged,
“yesterday morning, ISIS targeted #Marea city in the northern suburbs of Aleppo with more than 20 Gvozdika shells loaded with chemical agents and others loaded with toxic gases. The shells were launched from ISIS-controlled areas in #Tel_Malid village, about 3 km from the city, which led to dozens of casualties. The medical units in the region received many of them.”
Yasser Alhaji also tweeted today Sept 2nd,
“New chemical attack on marea by isis two hours ago …”
The Center for Disease Control US has published the following detailed link on identifying and treating those who have been exposed to Sulfur mustard,
SITE Intel Group, provider of Jihadist/Far Right & Far Left/Cyber Security News appears to back-up claims that IS are in possession of chemical weapons, a tweet yesterday read,
IS Fighter Affirms Group’s Reported Use of Chemical Weapons http://tinyurl.com/pxb44do
The Daily Beast also reported the likelihood of IS having chemical weapons in its arsenal quoting one of their fighters Omar Yilmaz,
“the regime uses chemical warfare on a regular basis these days, and nobody bats an eye—yet when [ISIS] captures it from them and uses it against them it’s all of a sudden a huge problem?” ISIS fighter Omar Yilmaz, 27, said in a Tumblr post. “Fight them the way they fight you.”
Is Europe at risk?
There are also fears (whether likely or far- fetched) that IS could target Europe with chemical weapons. Retired Army Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon told The Daily Mirror,
“It is not easy to make Mustard Gas but it is possible and a lone wolf could get the information off the internet and dark web.
“If you tried to buy the precursors in the UK or US you would most likely be picked up.”
“Could IS move Mustard Gas out of the Syria/Iraq theatre of war? That is the real issue I expect.”
See following link,
“ISIS set to target Europe with Mustard Gas smuggled from Syria”
“Molecule of the Month: Mustard Gas”
All possible attacks with chemical weapons should be taken very seriously and every effort made to ascertain if this is the case and determine what agents are used as a matter of urgency. I take such incidents seriously as I was one of the first independent writers to be alerted to the gas attack on East Ghouta in 2013 which turned out to be true… see following,
“East Ghouta, Damascus: Syrian opposition claiming chemical attacks with hundreds killed, urgent investigation required”
As I was writing this, someone tweeted me saying an account linked to Syrian opposition alleged that there were no gas attacks and it was a ploy to attract more support from US however account was then suspended so it was not possible to question further.
I pray that the recent reports are incorrect, better that than the terrible injuries that can result from sulfur gas or other chemical agents. I remember when my grandfather was dying, I was taken in to see him. He had a history of breathing difficulties and was writhing around in his bed and shouting out names. Years later as an adult my mother told me he was reliving the war in his final hours of life. Although he rarely talked about his experience, whatever he witnessed (perhaps he was back again in the trenches during a gas attack) it disturbed him to the end of his days.
“The ugly threat of an ISIL with chemical weapons”
“Where Did ISIS Get Its Chemical Weapons?”
CHEMICAL WEAPONS, TORTURE, MASS KILLINGS
The truth about Assad’s war on Syria
“Gassed: More allegations of Assad atrocities in Syria photos, videos, Amnesty International Press Release”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.