Concerns flared Friday that the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group has its hands on chemical weapons, after a senior American military official confirmed preliminary tests show traces of sulfur mustard on mortars fired by ISIS militants.
According to Fox News, U.S. Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, chief of staff for the military operations in Iraq and Syria, said the field testing into whether mustard gas was used is not conclusive, so final tests are underway to get the full make-up of the chemicals.
He did say, however, that the early tests showed the chemical agent on fragments from mortar rounds fired on August 11 against Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq.
The attack was the first reported incident of ISIS using chemical weapons since the terror group came to prominence last year. Suspicions were first raised last week, as U.S. officials pointed to evidence of possible mustard gas in the attack.
One official who had seen the latest intelligence reports from the region told Fox News last Thursday that the victims had "blisters" matching the symptoms of other victims of mustard gas.
Killea told Pentagon reporters on Friday that Kurdish forces brought the mortar fragments to U.S. forces for testing, so there may be questions about the chain of custody of the evidence.
Senior U.S. officials earlier told The Wall Street Journal, however, that ISIS may have obtained the mustard gas in Syria, where the Damascus government admitted to having large stockpiles of the chemical when it agreed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal in 2013.
Another official left open the possibility that ISIS had taken the mustard gas from old weapons stockpiles that belonged to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and weren't destroyed.
According to the Journal report, U.S. intelligence officials believed ISIS had seized a small amount of mustard gas prior to the August 11 reported attack. But officials fear that ISIS could discover more hidden caches of chemical weapons elsewhere in Syria as troops loyal to Bashar Al-Assad lose ground in the country's bloody civil war.
Officials who spoke to CNN late last week said that the United States government has test results from an ISIS attack in Syria that confirm the terror group used a mustard agent as a weapon. The Iraq attack was still being investigated at the time.
Earlier this week, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) voiced "serious concern" over reports that the ISIS has used chemical weapons in Iraq.
Information regarding the use of mustard gas by ISIS is relatively new. U.S. intelligence agencies have said in the past they believed the group has used chlorine gas in attacks in Iraq, though chlorine is not a banned chemical agent.
At the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power said last week the U.S. was speaking with the Kurds who had made the allegations to gather more information, according to Fox News.
She said that if reports of chemical weapons are true, they would further prove that what ISIS calls warfare is really "just systematic attacks on civilians who don't accord to their particularly perverse world view."
(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)