As part of the Obama administration’s repeated insistence – though without offering proof – that the recent sarin gas attack near Damascus was the work of the Assad regime, the administration has downplayed or denied the possibility that al-Qaida-linked Syrian rebels could produce deadly chemical weapons.
However, in a classified document just obtained by WND, the U.S. military confirms that sarin was confiscated earlier this year from members of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, the most influential of the rebel Islamists fighting in Syria.
The document says sarin from al-Qaida in Iraq made its way into Turkey and that while some was seized, more could have been used in an attack last March on civilians and Syrian military soldiers in Aleppo.
The document, classified Secret/Noforn – “Not for foreign distribution” – came from the U.S. intelligence community’s National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC, and was made available to WND Tuesday.
It revealed that AQI had produced a “bench-scale” form of sarin in Iraq and then transferred it to Turkey.
A U.S. military source said there were a number of interrogations as well as some clan reports as part of what the document said were “50 general indicators to monitor progress and characterize the state of the ANF/AQI-associated Sarin chemical warfare agent developing effort.”
“This (document) depicts our assessment of the status of effort at its peak – primarily research and procurement activities – when disrupted in late May 2013 with the arrest of several key individuals in Iraq and Turkey,” the document said.
“Future reporting of indicators not previously observed would suggest that the effort continues to advance despite the arrests,” the NGIC document said.
The May 2013 seizure occurred when Turkish security forces discovered a two-kilogram cylinder with sarin gas while searching homes of Syrian militants from the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra Front following their initial detention.
The sarin gas was found in the homes of suspected Syrian Islamic radicals detained in the southern provinces of Adana and Mersia.
Some 12 suspected members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested. At the time, they were described by Turkish special anti-terror forces as the “most aggressive and successful arm” of the Syrian rebels.
In the seizure, Turkish anti-terror police also found a cache of weapons, documents and digital data.
At the time of the arrest, the Russians called for a thorough investigation of the detained Syrian militants found in possession of sarin gas.
This seizure followed a chemical weapons attack in March on the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo, Syria. In that attack, some 26 people and Syrian government forces were killed by what was determined to be sarin gas, delivered by a rocket attack.
The Syrian government called for an investigation by the United Nations. Damascus claimed al-Qaida fighters were behind the attack, also alleging that Turkey was involved.
“The rocket came from a place controlled by the terrorists and which is located close to the Turkish territory,” according to a statement from Damascus. “One can assume that the weapon came from Turkey.”
The report of the U.S. intelligence community’s NGIC reinforces a preliminary U.N. investigation of the attack in Aleppo which said the evidence pointed to Syrian rebels.
It also appears to bolster allegations in a 100-page report on an investigation turned over to the U.N. by Russia. The report concluded the Syrian rebels – not the Syrian government – had used the nerve agent sarin in the March chemical weapons attack in Aleppo.
While the contents of the report have yet to be released, sources tell WND the documentation indicates that deadly sarin poison gas was manufactured in a Sunni-controlled region of Iraq and then transported to Turkey for use by the Syrian opposition, whose ranks have swelled with members of al-Qaida and affiliated groups.
The documentation that the U.N. received from the Russians indicated specifically that the sarin gas was supplied to Sunni foreign fighters by a Saddam-era general working under the outlawed Iraqi Baath party leader, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.
Al-Douri was a top aide to Saddam Hussein before he was deposed as Iraqi president.
The sarin nerve gas used in the Allepo attack, sources say, had been prepared by former Iraqi Military Industries Brig. Gen. Adnan al-Dulaimi. It then was supplied to Baath-affiliated foreign fighters of the Sunni and Saudi Arabian-backed al-Nusra Front in Aleppo, with Turkey’s cooperation, through the Turkish town of Antakya in Hatay Province.
The source who brought out the documentation now in the hands of the U.N. is said to have been an aide to al-Douri.
Al-Dulaimi was a major player in Saddam’s chemical weapons production projects, the former aide said. Moreover, Al-Dulaimi has been working in the Sunni-controlled region of northwestern Iraq where the outlawed Baath party now is located and produces the sarin.