Disturbing new photos of ethnic Kurds killed by Islamic State fighters are stoking fears the terrorist army may be using chemical weapons seized from Saddam Hussein’s old arsenals, according to a Middle East watchdog.
The pictures, obtained by the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), show the bodies of Syrian Kurds who appear to have been gassed by ISIS in the besieged Kobani region this July. That fighting came just one month after Islamic State forces surged through the once-notorious Muthanna compound in Iraq, the massive base where Hussein began producing chemical weapons in the 1980s, which he used to kill thousands of Kurds in Halabja in northern Iraq in 1988.
Jonathan Spyer, editor of the MERIA Journal, told FoxNews.com that experts believe the Kurds were slaughtered in July with what “appears to be a case of mustard gas or some kind of blistering agent.”
“It is fairly concerning that, if the pictures are genuine -- and I have no reason to believe they are not -- then this [use of chemical weapons] is looking clearer and clearer,” Spyer said.
The images of the dead Syrian Kurds show bodies with large areas of white, blistered skin apparently having been burned away. Nisan Ahmed, the Kurdish authority health minister, told Spyer that, “burns and white spots on the bodies of the dead [indicated] the use of chemicals which led to death without any visible wounds or external bleeding.”
Experts believe the chemical weapons were used on July 12, in the village of Avidko, close to Kobani, the Kurdish town on the Turkish border that is now the scene of fierce fighting between Kurds and Islamic State forces.
If Islamic State fighters did indeed gain chemical weapons in Muthanna, it would corroborate a 2007 CIA report that confirmed their presence there. That report was cited when, in June, Islamic State fighters captured the Muthanna facility from Iraqi soldiers and allegedly seized a cache of chemical weapons, including more than 2,500 degraded chemical rockets contaminated with deadly mustard gas.
But State Department officials said weeks later that they did not believe anything there could be used for warfare.
“We do not believe that the complex contains [chemical weapons] materials of military value, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
If Islamic State has chemical weapons, they also could have obtained them in Syria, where embattled President Bashar Assad has several factories for making deadly chemical weapons, despite pledging to get rid of them under pressure from the West. The group could even have produced the weapons themselves, using commercially-available ingredients, according to Ryan Mauro, a terrorism analyst for The Clarion Project, a New York research institute.
But Mauro noted that, while use of chemical weapons can have tremendous shock value, conventional weapons are every bit as deadly.
"The only difference is how the world and international media reacts to chemical weapons with shock and outrage, while stories of greater damage with conventional weapons have become so common that their usage is no longer considered 'news,'" Mauro said.