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Oklahoma Chief: ISIS Chemical Attacks in U.S. Possible

Lawmakers and municipal officials are growing increasingly concerned about the Islamic State’s efforts to obtain and use chemical weapons to attack soft targets within the United States.

The extremist group has already been caught working with Abu Malik, a former chemical engineer who worked for the chemical weapon production facility of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Members of a U.S.-led multinational operation battling Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria tracked down Mr. Malik in Iraq in January and killed him in an airstrike – temporarily disrupting the terrorist group’s ability to potentially produce and use chemical weapons. Now lawmakers and officials are beginning to worry that Islamic State supporters could be planning a deadly chemical strike inside the United States.

Oklahoma City Fire Department Chief Keith Bryant told a congressional hearing Thursday that there is “clear evidence” that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, has been using roadside bombs with chlorine to try to panic Iraqi forces. The group has also been discussing on social media sites how its followers can use cyanide and sulfuric acid to launch potential terror attacks on the American homeland.

“Documents that we’re seeing from extremist websites and so forth encourage people to actually look at and consider using those facilities, those chemicals that are out there in communities, as weapons,” Mr. Bryant said in an interview.

Read Chief Bryant’s Testimony
Agents of Opportunity: Responding to the Threat of Chemical Terrorism

Pentagon officials say that they had no confirmation that the Islamic State has chemical weapons. Those officials, however, have been tracking the extremist group’s attempts to develop that capability.

Lawmakers took that concern one step further during the chemical threats hearing, which was hosted by the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications.

“We find ourselves at a pivotal time in our fight against terrorists around the world,” said Rep. Martha McSally, the Arizona Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee overseeing emergency preparedness issues. “ISIS is better resourced, more brutal and more organized than any terrorist group to date. “

Islamic State militants would like to launch a psychological attack on the American people, said Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for defense programs at The Heritage Foundation. A conventional attack, such as a car bomb, may offer the terrorists “more bang for the buck,” but would lack the impact that the extremists want, he said.

“There is kind of this attraction to chemical and biological weapons because they’re not used very often, and there’s a psychological effect that affects populations,” he said.

The Islamic State has already used low-grade chemical weapons against Kurdish fighters fighting with the U.S.-led alliance in Iraq. Militants paired chlorine gas with a truck bomb in January and detonated the truck on a road leading from Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, to the border of Syria. Kurdish fighters said they found about 20 gas canisters, which had been put on the truck prior to its detonation, The Associated Press reported. The Kurdish government was eventually able to confirm through an independent laboratory that chemicals were used during the attack.

One senior Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the attacks, played down the threat to the U.S. homeland.

“There are no preexisting chemical weapons for them to steal,” the official said. “So as [Islamic State militants] come into connection with factories that have the ability to produce chemicals, they then have access to that chemical.”

But lawmakers said the country must be prepared.

“We are particularly focused on the threat to the United States from individuals who have traveled to Iraq and Syria to train and fight with ISIS and those inspired by their extremist message here at home,” Ms. McSally said. “We must ensure we work to prevent any attacks on U.S. soil, but we must also be prepared should one occur.”

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