U.S. intelligence agencies are concerned that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad might still harbor some chemical weapons and could use them in an attempt to prevent his ouster, the Wall Street Journal reports.
While Assad was supposed to relinquish all of his chemical weapons as part of a 2013 deal brokered by the United States and Russia, intelligence officials say he might have retained small amounts of deadly nerve agents. His regime has also launched dozens of attacks with chlorine, an industrial chemical that can be lethal when weaponized.
The Journal reports:
Last year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad let international inspectors oversee the removal of what President Barack Obama called the regime’s most deadly chemical weapons. The deal averted U.S. airstrikes that would have come in retaliation for an Aug. 21, 2013, sarin-gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people.
Since then, the U.S. officials said, the Assad regime has developed and deployed a new type of chemical bomb filled with chlorine, which Mr. Assad could now decide to use on a larger scale in key areas. U.S. officials also suspect the regime may have squirreled away at least a small reserve of the chemical precursors needed to make nerve agents sarin or VX. Use of those chemicals would raise greater international concerns because they are more deadly than chlorine and were supposed to have been eliminated.
The intelligence is "being taken very seriously because he’s getting desperate" and because of doubts within the U.S. intelligence community that Mr. Assad gave up all of his deadliest chemical weapons, a senior U.S. official said. […]
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the British army’s chemical-weapons unit, said: "Even if the regime had only one ton of VX left, that would be enough to kill thousands of people."
The Assad regime now reportedly controls only about one-fourth of Syria amid victories for the Islamic State, other terrorist groups, and U.S.-backed rebels.