Islamic State militants in Libya have reportedly seized large quantities of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and sarin, a nerve agent.
An anonymous Libyan military official spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic international newspaper, and said: “Unfortunately chemical weapons exist in locations known to the militias, who have seized large amounts of them to use in their war against the Libyan army.”
The weapons belonged to former leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi. “Before his death, Gadhafi left approximately 1,000 cubic tons worth of material used for manufacturing chemical weapons and about 20,000 cubic tons of mustard gas,” the military official said.
This has sparked concern across Europe because of Islamic State group's history and past actions. According to Daily Mail, Islamic State has used chlorine as a weapon in Iraq and allegedly has developed significant expertise in chemical warfare from individuals who developed weapons for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“We saw what a single ton of not very good quality sarin did in Ghouta (Syria). While we don’t know how much IS has acquired, and though the Libyan sarin dates back to the Gadhafi era, it would still have a toxicity and pose a danger,” said former British Army Officer Hamish de Bretton-Gordon in an interview with Daily Mail. “Libya is virtually Europe and so the fear factor from a European perspective is huge. I should think the security forces will be watching this situation very closely.”
He explained that although the weapons are in a degraded state, they likely remain dangerous and should be taken seriously despite their age.
After seizing territory in both Iraq and Syria, many believe that Islamic State is now looking to increase efforts in targeting Libya. Last week, Islamic State released a video of the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were kidnapped in Libya.
Last year Libyan officials said they had destroyed the last known chemical weapons from Gadhafi’s regime. “Libya is totally empty of any presence of chemical weapons ... which could pose a threat to the safety of people, the environment or neighboring regions,” said Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdelaziz at the time.
The source speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat said only 60 percent of stockpiles had been destroyed.