At the urging of the Syrian government, the United Nations is investigating reports of an alleged chemical weapons attack last Tuesday that may have been launched by Islamic jihadist rebels with ties to al-Qaida.
Alex Thomson of the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News reported Saturday he was told by a senior source in the Syrian Army ‘that a home-made locally-manufactured rocket was fired, containing a form of chlorine known as CL17, easily available as a swimming pool cleaner.”
The Syrian military official confirmed to Thomson the rocket came from an area of the country “that is controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra – a jihadist group said to be linked with al-Qaeda and deemed a ‘terrorist organisation’ by the US.
The military’s version of events is that the home-made rocket was fired at a military checkpoint situated at the entrance to the town. The immediate effects were to induce vomiting, fainting, suffocation and seizures among those in the immediate area.
CL17 is normal chlorine for swimming pools or industrial purposes. It is rated as Level 2 under the chemical weapons convention, which means it is dual purpose – it can be used as a weapon as well as for industrial or domestic purposes. Level 1 agents are chemicals whose sole use is as weapons, such as the nerve agents sarin or tabun.
While chlorine is not technically classified as a “chemical weapon,” officials in Washington said the launch “could have been a ‘creative use’ of a caustic agent,” the report said.
The United Nations acted quickly when asked by the Syrian government to investigate. Thomson reported the U.N. and international community are taking claims of a chemical attack very seriously.
According to the article, the U.N. has insisted on “‘unfettered access’ to the area under investigation.” U.N. officials will speak to doctors and medics who handled patients on Tuesday, and they will examine “blood and soil samples” that have already been taken.
Although 26 people, including Syrian soldiers were killed in the Tuesday attack, that number of fatalities is small for what would truly be seen in a “full chemical weapon attack,” Thomson said.