A Tour of Syria’s Chemical Weapons

Syrian chemical weapons sites revealed as defector adds new details on regime’s plans to use nerve gas

Bashar al-Assad / AP
September 28, 2012

Rebels in Syria have disclosed new details on the Damascus regime’s chemical weapons storage sites, as a military defector last week outlined plans by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to use the deadly arms.

U.S. intelligence agencies recently reported on several chemical arms sites in Syria that were revealed in five YouTube videos uploaded to the Internet in July, according to officials familiar with the recordings.

The posting of the videos coincided with the defection in July of Maj. Gen. Adnan Sillu, head of Syria’s chemical arms forces, who told Britain’s Times of London newspaper that Assad will use the arms to stay in power and that his regime has discussed handing over some of the weapons to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah.

The five rebel videos use Google Earth maps software to show chemical arms storage and production plants—some hidden in underground bunkers—and Scud missiles armed with chemical warheads, according to U.S. officials who have analyzed the videos.

They are likely to be used by U.S. or Israeli military planners in any future attacks designed to eliminate Syria’s chemical arms stockpiles.

Israel’s military said in June that it would be forced to act against Syria to prevent advanced rockets and chemical arms from falling into the hands of terrorists like Hezbollah.

The 10-minute-long videos were judged to be accurate by U.S. officials in describing suspected hidden Syrian chemical facilities.

One video reveals a major chemical weapons facility in the downtown area of the Syrian capital of Damascus located a short distance by underground tunnel from al-Mazzeh military airfield in southwestern Damascus.

The tunnel can accommodate tractor trailer-sized trucks and exits several buildings on the base. An Arabic-speaking narrator on the video shows the path of the tunnel leading to an underground storage area north and east of the airfield.

The narrator said the roof of the bunker includes 45 feet of reinforced concrete designed to withstand a strike from U.S. Tomahawk missiles. The facility is said to contain a variety of chemical weapons, from hand grenades filled with the blistering agent mustard to chemical weapons rockets of differing sizes.

The video shows an aircraft runway near the facility, which is called Zone 86, and housing used by senior Syrian military officers and members of the paramilitary Shabiha.

The video also states that a building near Saraya traffic circle is a residence for foreign technicians from Iran and North Korea.

The Sanid News Network, a pro-rebel news outlet, posted the videos online.

A second video reveals what is believed to be the largest storage facility for Syria’s biological and chemical weapons, located in a residential area north of Damascus between Al-Tal and Aysh Wurur.

Roads are identified in the video that lead to tunnels built into mountains that stretch 1,500 feet inside the mountain and are hardened against attack.

The narrator of this video, identified as Abu Saqr, stated that he has been inside one of the tunnels that had separate storage rooms sealed with heavy metal doors.

Among the chemical agents stored in the bunker are mustard agent and cyanide and nerve agents Sarin, Tabun, and the ultra-lethal VX nerve agent.

The reported biological weapons at the facility include weaponized "bacteria and viruses" that can be transmitted to populations through food, water, and soil.

The video narrator also asserted that Iran is storing enriched uranium in the underground facility.

A third video around eight minutes long purports to show a Syrian chemical weapons factory located near al-Dumayr.

The factory is located east of al-Dumayr on the north side of a highway underneath an earthen berm 30 to 45 feet high. Roads are shown exiting the berms, and camouflaged tanks are nearby.

The plant has a high wall around its perimeter and, according to the video narrator, is operated by Iranians and North Koreans.

An underground storage facility is located nearby the plant.

Another of the rebel videos includes images of Syrian short-range Scud missiles at a base southwest of al-Qutayfah that the narrator asserts are armed with chemical weapons warheads. The missiles are shown loaded on trailers with a nearby underground storage facility for the chemical arms.

The last video uses Google Earth to identify what it claims to be an underground chemical weapons factory near the military airbase at al-Nasiriyah. It was described as an underground chemical weapons production facility and research center.

The Syrian defector, Maj. Gen. Sillu, stated in the interview published Sept. 19 that he took part in leadership discussions about using chemical weapons against civilians.

"We were in a serious discussion about the use of chemical weapons, including how we would use them and in what areas," Sillu said. "We discussed this as a last resort—such as if the regime lost control of an important area such as Aleppo."

Sillu said the meeting held at a Syrian chemical arms center five miles south of Damascus prompted him to defect because he opposed the use of the deadly arms against the population.

Sillu, now residing in Turkey, also said the Syrian regime considered handing over chemical weapons to Hezbollah.

"They wanted to place warheads with the chemical weapons on missiles—to transfer them this way to Hezbollah. It was for use against Israel, of course," he said.

The Damascus government in the past had opposed supplying chemical arms to Hezbollah over concerns about the fallout from arming the terrorist group, he said.

"Now, if they have nothing to lose why not share these weapons? If a war starts between Hezbollah and Israel it will be only good for Syria," Sillu said.

Sillu said members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps took part in meetings on chemical weapons.

"They were always coming to visit and to advise. They were always sending us scientists and bringing our scientists to them," he said. "They were also involved on the political side of how to use the chemical weapons."

The CIA in the past has said that reports of Syrian development of chemical and biological arms were exaggerated.

In 2003 the agency blocked congressional testimony by then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton that was to express new concerns about Syrian chemical and biological weapons.

Since that time, the Syrian program has continued to grow.

Israel also attacked a nuclear plant in Syria at al-Kibar that was being built with North Korean assistance.