Unconfirmed reports are circulating on social media Islamic State militants carried out a chemical attack in battling Kurdish forces in Kobani. Several journalists reporting from the ground Tuesday night -- and at least one Kurdish official -- said they were aware of such reports, but doctors lack necessary equipment to diagnose the cause of Kurdish victims' complaints. The patients said they had difficulty breathing, and many had burns on their skin, teary eyes and swollen lips. Syria (as well as Iraq) is thought to possess chemical weapons, and U.S. and coalition forces have feared such weapons might fall into ISIS' hands.
"It could have been a silent missile or a missile placed in the neighborhood beforehand,” co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) Asya Abdullah told the Kurdish Question. “Many people have lost consciousness and are struggling to breathe and see. We are investigating the situation but do not have the necessary technical equipment or expertise."
Journalists reporting from the Kobani area near the Turkish border reportedly spoke to doctors on the scene who confirmed the PYD’s description of victims. Al Aan TV reporter Jenan Moussa posted on Twitter a doctor said victims "on their way to clinic speak of following symptoms: teary eyes, suffocation and skin burns.” Victims also had “swollen lips,” Moussa added.
“Several patients came to health center at 11:10 p.m. with burn in the throat, as well as complaining about headache, though their situation is not very severe," Ahmed reportedly told Civiroglu. "We are not sure what the cause is yet, but we are planning to send affected patients to Suruc [neighboring city in the Turkish side of the border] in the morning for further examination.”
Reports of a similar chemical attack surfaced last week in Kobani when several Kurdish fighters’ bodies appeared to show signs of blistering.
“Burns and white spots on the bodies of the dead indicated the use of chemicals, which led to death without any visible wounds or external bleeding,” Kurdish Health Minister Nisan Ahmed told the journal Middle East Review of International Affairs.
There have been rumors ISIS militants have obtained chemical weapons. Given that Kobani is on the Syrian border with Turkey, the weapons could have come from an undisclosed Syrian stockpile that used to belong to the Damascus regime.
After the Bashar Assad regime carried out a chemical attack that killed nearly 1,000 people last year, it was forced to dismantle and surrender stockpiles. A year after the attack though, the U.S. State Department said a “number of critical issues remain unresolved” about Syria's chemical weapons program.
The substance allegedly being used in Kobani has yet to be confirmed. However, there have been several chlorine attacks in Syria since Assad was supposed to have surrendered his weapons cache. Chlorine is not banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention but when used in large concentrations, it can be weaponized. Symptoms of chlorine attacks include teary eyes, a burning sensation in the throat, the sensation of suffocation and a headache.
ISIS has been battling Kurdish fighters in Kobani for more than a month, trying to consolidate territory from their de-facto headquarters in Raqqa to the Turkish border. Despite an increase in U.S-led coalition airstrikes and aid drops aimed at pushing insurgents back and helping Kurdish fighters, the battle for Kobani continued Tuesday night.