Their quest raises an alarming scenario for the West, given the determination to strike major cities that the group showed with its attack last week in Paris.
US intelligence officials don’t believe IS has the capability to develop sophisticated weapons like nerve gas.
So far it has used mustard gas on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.
However, Iraqi officials expressed concern that the large safe haven the extremists control since overrunning parts of Iraq and Syria last year has left Iraqi authorities largely in the dark over the IS program.
“They now have complete freedom to select locations for their labs and production sites and have a wide range of experts, both civilians and military, to aid them,” a senior intelligence official said.
Officials: Islamic State seeking chemical weapons https://t.co/WdZF92mdr6— TOI Israel Region (@TOIIsraelRegion) November 19, 2015
The official, like others from the Iraqi and US intelligence agencies who have first-hand knowledge of the IS chemical weapons program, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive information.
So far, the only overt sign of the group’s chemical weapons programme has been the apparent use of mustard gas against Iraqi Kurdish fighters and in Syria.
Iraqi authorities fear the use could be expanded.
A senior officer in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, said that about 25% of the troops deployed there were equipped with gas masks.
More recently, Iraq’s military received from Russia 1,000 protective suits against chemical attacks, said Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee.
Al-Zamili, citing intelligence reports he has access to, told the AP the group has managed to attract chemical experts from abroad as well as Iraqi experts, including ones who once worked for Saddam Hussein’s now-dissolved military industrialization authority.
The foreigners include experts from Chechnya and Southeast Asia, the Iraqi intelligence officials said.
IS recently moved its research labs, experts, and materials from Iraq to “secured locations” inside Syria, al-Zamili added, apparently out of concern of an eventual assault on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, captured by IS in the summer of 2014.
Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Zahner, who was the top American military intelligence officer in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 and went on to lead the National Security Agency’s electronic spying arm, noted that al-Qaeda tried for two decades to develop chemical weapons and didn’t succeed.
However, he said, US intelligence agencies have consistently underestimated the Islamic State group, which has shown itself to be more capable and innovative than al-Qaeda and has greater financial resources.