How easy is it for terrorists to get chemical weapons?

Some chemical weapons, such as chlorine and mustard gas, are relatively easy for terrorists to acquire, but turning them into an effective weapon has always been a problem for them, says Dr Ralph Trapp, an international disarmament consultant.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed that a “non-state” actor used chemical weapons – sulfur mustard – in Syria in August of this year. However, the watchdog did not specify which rebel group was responsible for the attack in the town of Marea in the Aleppo province.

The OPCW’s fact-finding team “was able to confirm with the utmost confidence that at least two people were exposed to sulfur mustard and were in the process of recovering from the exposure,” the organization said. “It is additionally very likely that the effects of sulfur mustard resulted in the death of a baby.

READ MORE: OPCW finds chemical weapons use during rebels vs ISIS fighting in Syria – Reuters

Earlier, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) reportedly unleashed such deadly chemical agents in both Syria and Iraq.

RT asked Dr. Ralph Trapp, an international disarmament consultant who used to work for the OPCW, why the watchdog did not specify which Syrian insurgent faction was responsible for the latest chemical attack in its report.

The mandate of this fact-finding mission is primarily to establish the fact that something like that has taken place, not necessarily who was the culprit,” he said.

We have a separate mechanism for that, which has been established by the Security Council. It’s a joint mission between the UN and the OPCW – called the joint investigation mechanism – that will now have to look into who was responsible for [the attack] and try and gather evidence to substantiate culpability here.

When asked how easily chemical weapons can be acquired, produced, and used by terrorists these days, Dr. Trapp said “it depends on the chemicals.”  

Some are very easy to acquire. Chlorine – it’s a product that’s all around us, but it’s also not a very effective chemical agent. Mustard gas is more difficult to make, but if you have access to the right chemicals – chemistry itself and technology are not so complicated… If you talk about other kinds of agents – nerve gas for example – that gets more complicated. The problem is not just to make the agent; the problem is also to find the way of disseminating it properly so that it’s actually an effective weapon. That always was one of the problems that terrorist organizations faced in the past,” he said.

Previously, the use of chemical weapons in Syria had often been blamed on the Assad government, but it was confirmed last year that Damascus has destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile.  

As to whether enough is being done now to make sure terrorists don’t get their hands on such weapons, Dr. Trapp said “probably not”.

I think what is important is to recognize that we have quite a number of countries now involved this regional conflict in Syria and Iraq and the fight against ISIS and it’s high time we find ways of talking to each other and finding a common approach. Otherwise there’re going to be complications on the ground…,” he said.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.