RFI: What are the conclusions of your research?
JB: We had investigations in place, both in Syria and in Iraq and two independent investigation teams on either side of the border. The first incident occurred either on the 21 or the 22 of June this year. Our analysis suggests that IS filled and improvised mortar bombs of 120mm in caliber with a chemical agent which is probably chlorine.
The first conclusion is that the Islamic State group is making improvised projectiles which contain chemical agents, and they are using these against Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq. They’ve also used them against Kurdish civilians in Syria.
There are indications that suggest that the projectile which was launched around the Mosul dam area against Peshmerga positions in Northern Iraq was an chlorine-based agent, and the projectiles which were launched against YPG, Kurdish People’s Protection Forces, in Syria, as well as against the civilian population in the area, was probably phosgene.
RFI: What are the effects of these weapons?
JB: The impact of the suspected chlorine agent is nausea, vomiting, and ear, nose and throat irritation. Of the phosgene are indications from twelve YPG personnel that were affected by the first attack that we documented in Syria. The effects are similar: it affects the sinuses, it creates nausea and vomiting, but also leads to temporary paralysis below the waist.
RFI: Is there any connection as far as you can tell between the chemical weapons programme of the Syrian government and these weapons you have researched?
JB: From the evidence that we have, no. And it looks like that the chemical agents used were locally civilian market-available. Chlorine has a number of applications and that substance is already present in Iraq and has been used by Sunni militia in the South of Iraq before.
Phosgene-based organic compounds are used in agricultural production, particularly for fumigating grains. And given that that area of Syria is a high-yields agricultural area, we expect that to be present anywhere.
The one thing to notice is that in the construction of improvised explosive devices of which these chemicals-carrying devices are also a type, the Islamic State group has tended to use whatever is locally available. And it has experimented with it.
RFI: Is the beginning of a trend, or is it just an experiment which is one-off?
JB: My fear is that it was an experiment which in some cases proved quite successful. It has caused injuries and it has had an impact on military operations of the Peshmerga in northern Iraq and on the YPG in Syria. During research over the past year we saw that when the Islamic State group come across a certain explosive type or create a new explosive type that they will run through several iterations of that device. So this may be a testing phase, but we should expect that they are likely to test them again and refine that localised technology.
RFI: What effect do you hope your report will have on the international community?
JB: That it draws attention to the situation in north-eastern Syria, and arguably the situation in north-eastern Syria vis-à-vis the Islamic State group against the Kurdish forces, the YPG, and also the Peshmerga in northern Iraq.
Secondly we hope that this will ring alarm bells. It is important for us to notify the international community of these events, because they potentially could have a long-term impact, if in particularly Western governments decide to put boots on the ground.
And it is important that the forces that are combating the Islamic State group in these regions have access to protection so that they can render safe those devices and dispose of toxic remnants.