ISIS strikes northern Iraq by chemicals, twice

Men with the coffin of the three-year-old killed in the attack. Photograph: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images
Men with the coffin of the three-year-old killed in the attack. Photograph: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images

Islamic State fighters have launched two chemical attacks near the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, killing a three-year-old girl and wounding up to 600 people, Iraqi officials have said.

Security and hospital officials said the latest incident took place early on Saturday in the small town of Taza, which was also struck by a barrage of rockets carrying chemicals three days earlier.

“There is fear and panic among the women and children,” said Adel Hussein, a local official in Taza. “They’re calling for the central government to save them.”

Related: US intelligence head warns of Isis chemical attack capability

Hussein said a German and an American forensics team had arrived in the area to test for the presence of chemical agents.

The wounded are suffering from infected burns, suffocation and dehydration, said Helmi Hamdi, a nurse at the Taza hospital. He said eight people had been transferred to Baghdad for treatment.

US and Iraqi officials said American special forces captured the head of the Isis unit trying to develop chemical weapons in a raid last month in northern Iraq. The US-led coalition said the chemicals Isis has used so far include chlorine and a low-grade sulphur mustard, which is not very potent.

“It’s a legitimate threat. It’s not a high threat. We’re not, frankly, losing too much sleep over it,” US army Col Steve Warren said on Friday.

The coalition began targeting Isis’s chemical weapons infrastructure with airstrikes and special operations raids two months ago, Iraqi intelligence officials and a western security official in Baghdad said.

Airstrikes are targeting laboratories and equipment, with further special forces raids targeting chemical weapons experts planned, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters.

The extremist group is believed to have set up a special unit for chemical weapons research made up of Iraqi scientists who worked on weapons programmes under Saddam Hussein, as well as foreign experts.

The group is believed to have created limited amounts of mustard gas. Tests confirmed the gas was used in a town in Syria when Isis was launching attacks there in August 2015. There have been other unverified reports of the group using chemical agents on battlefields in Syria and Iraq.

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