The radical Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) continues to ride high in Iraq, where it has captured large portions of the country in a blitz advance since toppling the second-largest city of Mosul last Monday.
After capturing Iraq's largest oil refinery, and becoming the "world's richest terrorist organization" by looting 500 billion Iraqi dinars ($425 million) from banks in Mosul, the Islamists have now captured a massive chemical weapons complex.
ISIS fighters on Thursday seized the al-Muthanna complex, located 60 miles north of Baghdad, which was a central base of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program and stores hundreds of tons of lethal mustard and sarin gas, reports the Telegraph.
"We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site by (ISIS)" said US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. “We do not believe that the complex contains CW (chemical weapons) materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.”
Despite Psaki's approximation, experts say ISIS has chemical weapons experience, and that the chemicals could be used to create an improvised chemical explosive, adding to the lethal arsenal at ISIS's disposal.
A CIA report on the sprawling facility, which includes two concrete encased bunkers, reveals that 150 tons of mustard gas were created at the site each year during peak production starting in 1983, and that production of sarin gas began in 1984.
The report's most recent description of the facility in 2007 notes that "two wars, sanctions and UN oversight reduced Iraqi’s premier production facility to a stockpile of old damaged and contaminated chemical munitions (sealed in bunkers), a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities."
"Some of the bunkers contained large quantities of unfilled chemical munitions, conventional munitions, one-ton shipping containers, old disabled production equipment and other hazardous industrial chemicals," added the report.
CNN reports that ISIS's conquest of Iraq has doubled the number of Iraqi refugees to over 1.1 million displaced people.
US President Barack Obama so far has shown a highly inconsistent position on ISIS's advance in Iraq. Last Friday he committed to not sending troops to Iraq, only to send over 500 marines, dozens of helicopters, and the aircraft carrier George HW Bush into the Persian Gulf on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he ruled out American airstrikes on ISIS, while hinting this was a possibility on Thursday, saying "we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action."