Is Al Qaeda Using Chemical Weapons?
Earlier this week, the commissioner of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that testimony gathered from casualties and medical staff indicated that the nerve agent sarin was used by rebel fighters. In an interview with a Swiss-Italian television station, Carla Del Ponte, a veteran war crimes prosecutor, said, “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.” Del Ponte added, "This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities."
The commission later released a statement saying that investigators had “not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict”. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the U.S. is “highly skeptical” that Syrian rebels had used chemical weapons and added, “We find it highly likely that chemical weapons, if they were in fact used in Syria - and there is certainly evidence that they were - that the Assad regime was responsible.”
But Del Ponte’s statements raise the issue of whether or not Syrian rebel forces have access to chemical weapons. A U.S. State Department official told CNN that the United States does not have information suggesting that rebels have "either the capability or the intent to deploy or use such weapons." But, the source also said facts are not complete and the investigation continues.
Al-Nusra Front, the strongest Syrian opposition group, is actually a front for al Qaeda in Iraq, who have been known to use chemical weapons in the past, detonating a series of chlorine bombs from 2006 through 2007. Evidence shows, however, that there has been a debate among al Qaeda leadership regarding the use of chemical weapons. A letter written by Osama bin Laden five days before his death urges his followers who were considering “poison” to be “careful of doing it without enough study of all aspects, including political and media reaction.”
The Syrian civil war, which began with anti-government protests in March 2011, has now claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and forced 1.2 million Syrian refugees to flee.
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