Syrian rebels — including a unit linked to al-Qaida — are battling government troops for control of a town that is the site of one of Syria’s main facilities for producing chemical weapons.
Among the weapons thought to be produced in a military base in al-Safira is the lethal nerve gas sarin, and the rebels besieging the town include the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group that recently declared its allegiance to al-Qaida, according to an alarming report from The Telegraph
“Should the tide of battle turn in al-Nusra’s favor, there is the possibility of the West’s worst-case scenario unfolding — Syria’s weapons of mass destruction falling into al-Qaida’s control,” the newspaper observed.
“More than 500 times as toxic as cyanide and deadly in milligram-size doses, a single canister of sarin could unleash carnage if released in a [subway line] in London or New York.”
The Syrian regime that is battling the rebels reportedly controls the world’s fourth-largest cache of chemical weapons, which includes mustard gas and the nerve agent VX in addition to sarin.
Intelligence sources believe Bashar al-Assad’s government has up to 200 warheads filled with sarin and thousands of artillery shells filled with sarin and VX.
But those sources don’t know for certain where the stockpiles of chemical weapons are today.
“The contents of the plant at al-Safira, for example, may have been moved to other, more secret storage spaces for safekeeping,” The Telegraph points out.
Last week the Obama administration said it had evidence that sarin was used during combat operations in Syria. Obama has warned that the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” that Assad must not cross.
But Western officials are increasingly concerned that chemical weapons could be unleashed not only by Assad on the rebels but also “by his more extreme opponents on the outside world,” The Telegraph reports.
Republican Sen. John McCain on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” warned: “There are a number of caches of these chemical weapons. They cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists.”
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