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U.S. Investigates Reports ISIS Used Chemical Weapons In Attack On Kurds


The self-proclaimed Islamic State has beheaded captives. They've kidnapped young girls and used them as sex slaves. And now the U.S. is trying to answer this question. Did ISIS use chemical weapons against Kurdish forces in Iraq? As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, American intelligence agencies are trying to get soil and other samples to determine whether chemical agents were used.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Officials tell NPR the suspected chemical weapons attack occurred earlier this week during an artillery barrage in the village of Sultan Abdullah just south of Mosul. Officials say some Kurdish troops after the attack showed symptoms consistent with chemical weapons exposure, possibly mustard gas. It's uncertain how many Kurdish troops were affected. High concentrations of mustard gas can be fatal.

RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Mustard is what we call blister agent, so it burns the skin and the eyes.

BOWMAN: That's Raymond Zilinskas. He directs the chemical and biological weapon nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif.

ZILINSKAS: The first symptoms are usually either that the eyes shut up and you can't see see, or, if it's the skin that's affected, it looks, at the beginning, like a sunburn.

BOWMAN: Zilinskas says its use will be of particular concern because of the lack of protective gear.

ZILINSKAS: All these populations like the Kurds - they're completely unprotected, so that would be a big deal if somebody actually got a hold of mustard.

BOWMAN: The Wall Street Journal first reported on the incident. Still, one Pentagon source says it's uncertain what, if any, chemical was used. It's possible the chemical used was chlorine, the source said. There's evidence ISIS in the past constructed roadside bombs together with chlorine, which can damage the lungs. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.