Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Despite repeated international warnings to the al-Assad regime against the use of chemical weapons, the Free Syrian Army [FSA] has stated that it believes it likely that al-Assad will use such weapons as a last resort should it lose hope in the possibility of reaching a political solution.
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama warned that al-Assad will face “consequences” should he use chemical weapons against the Syrian people. He said “the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable.” For her part, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on Wednesday, said the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for Washington. She added “our concerns are that an increasingly desperate al-Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons, or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating in Syria.”
Captain Abdul-Salam Abdul-Razzaq, a Syrian army defector who was part of the al-Assad military’s “Chemical Weapons Department”, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the regime has already used this kind of weapon, albeit in a limited manner, namely in Baba Amr last year. The regime also threatened to use chemical weapons in al-Zabadani, distributing gas masks and radiation suits to its troops”. He added “these are only worn when chemical weapons are used.”
The al-Assad regime defector also revealed that “tests were being conducted on such weapons nearly 6 weeks ago in al-Muslimiya district in eastern Aleppo in the presence of Iranian experts.”
Captain Abdul-Razzaq also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the al-Assad regime had provided its troops with pamphlets claiming that “it is the terrorist gangs that are using chemical weapons”, perhaps as the first step in a denial should it use such arms. He stressed that as of early November, chemical weapons were being stored in numerous warehouses around the country, but these were later transferred to the Rif Dimashq area.
He revealed that the Syrian regime is in possession of a large arsenal of chemical weapons which is under the control of Scientific Research Centres based in Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia. He said that these research centres are managed by three senior Brigadier Generals affiliated to the infamous Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate, adding that the chemical weapons are under the direct supervision of experts from Iran, Russia and North Korea. Abdul-Razzaq revealed that a recent decision was taken to relocate these chemical weapons, particularly as foreign intelligence apparatus, including America’s Central Intelligence Agency [CIA], had uncovered their previous locations.
As for whether the FSA possesses the necessary expertise to deal with a chemical weapons attack, Captain Abdul-Razzaq informed Asharq Al-Awsat that FSA elements possess only a limited understanding of this, mostly from chemical weapons drills they would have undertaken as part of the regular Syrian army before their defection.
He added “however, we have acted to raise the awareness of the troops, as well as the people, towards these kinds of weapons by distributing pamphlets that contain pertinent information, most importantly that such weapons are usually deployed by aircraft flying at low altitude trailing a cloud of smoke.”
He also revealed that “the explosion [of a chemical weapon] would be faint, not loud…whilst medium-sized dark-brown fragments will be clear to see at the site of explosion.”
Abdul-Razzaq stressed that it would be very difficult for the FSA to attack a chemical weapons warehouse, particularly as this would first require intelligence as to where these warehouses are located, and then the military capabilities to secure it.
For his part, FSA Deputy Chief of Staff Colonel Aref al-Hammoud informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Syrian regime is afraid and so it may take the international warnings into consideration. However the regime’s savage history confirms that it would not hesitate to use chemical weapons to kill the largest possible number of its own people.”
He added that “the Syrian regime has a huge arsenal of chemical weapons, and this has not been gathered today, rather this dates back several years. They are stored in warehouses in mountainous regions of Syria and guarded by Special Forces units, most prominently Unit 417 in Damascus and Unit 418 in Homs.”
Colonel al-Hammoud acknowledged that the regime may have transported these chemical weapons to more secure locations, particularly in light of its recent defeats at the hands of the rebel forces, adding that these new warehouses are on the list of FSA targets. The FSA Deputy Chief of Staff also stressed that should his forces manage to confiscate any chemical weapons, they will immediately deliver them to specialists to be disabled adding that the FSA will never use internationally banned weapons.
He said “in the event that the regime taking the decision to use chemical weapons, the FSA would not be able to combat this, as this primarily requires anti-aircraft weaponry to disable and mitigate the effects of these weapons as much as possible.”