On Thursday, CNN reported that U.S. intelligence believes the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is creating a “chemical weapons cell” in a region of Syria being called their new de facto capital. According to a U.S. official that spoke to the news agency, the chemical weapons cell is made up of weapons specialists from Iraq and Syria and is being set up within the Euphrates River Valley in an ISIS-controlled area just across the Iraqi border.
A U.S. defense official reportedly told CNN that “thousands” of ISIS militants and sympathizers could be congregating in that location. The area, now being called their de facto capital, may also be the hiding place of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State.
This new region has developed as their main congregation since much military pressure has been put on ISIS to get out of their current de facto capital, Raqqa. Recapturing Raqqa from ISIS control remains a main objective of the U.S.-led coalition, the official told CNN.
“We know they have been moving a lot of their leadership out of Raqqa and we suspect much of their technical expertise and planning as well,” Pentagon spokesman U.S. Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway told CNN.
Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in the region, did not confirm the reports of the new chemical weapons cell, but did say that “we have seen ISIS use low-grade chemical agents in the past.”
“We know ISIS is willing to use chemical weapons,” Dillion continued. “This is not something we want to see them get good at.”
U.S. military officials told CNN that there have been at least 15 chemical weapons attacks in or around West Mosul since mid-April.