North Africa: Syria Chemical Weapons Stir Maghreb Fears
International laboratories started analysing samples collected from the site of the deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria, the United Nations announced this week.
“This is about our collective responsibility to mankind,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday (September 3rd).
The August 21st attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta killed hundreds of civilians, including women and children.
The UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in March despatched teams to Syria to investigate allegations of chemical weapons’ use. Last week, Ban told them to go to Ghouta.
The investigators faced many challenges, including threats to their personal safety, analyst and former OPCW worker Ralf Trapp told al-Shorfa.
Within two weeks of the Ghouta attack, they had to analyse shrapnel, take soil and tissue samples, and talk to victims, doctors, rescue crews and eyewitnesses, all in an effort to get to the truth of what happened, Trapp explained.
Syria is among the few countries that has neither signed nor acceded to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
But according to Maghreb experts, Syrian civilians are not the only ones at risk.
“The use of such weapons will have repercussions for the entire region,” Tunisian criminal law professor Khalid al-Yaakoubi said.
Last week, Tunisia condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria regardless of the source and goals. It said their use was a stark violation of international law, a crime against humanity and a serious escalation in the Syrian crisis.
For the Maghreb region, chemical weapons pose a particular threat, al-Yaakoubi explained, given the “unstable political atmosphere and the spread of al-Qaeda-linked extremist groups that always seek to boost and diversify their arsenal”.
“There is no doubt that the fall of these weapons in the hands of such groups will lead to catastrophic results and cause serious consequences for regional security,” he told Magharebia.
“Therefore, the international community must intervene, as per the law, to protect the world and humanity against their danger,” al-Yaakoubi added.
Nabil Ben Zekri, a professor of international relations in Tunis, agreed that terrorists could indeed try to acquire chemicals weapons.
“In this case, the international community will lose control over them, turning the entire Middle East into a conflict zone,” he said.
Malian Touareg journalist and Sahel security analyst Osman Mohamed Osman voiced similar concerns. “People have started to realise that there are no longer any global guarantees against such dangerous weapons, especially as they may fall in the hands of extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda,” he said.
“Al-Qaeda is ready to use anything,” he told Magharebia. “There is no doubt that it will seek to possess chemical weapons,” the Malian analyst added.
Political activist Khalid Moulay Idriss also sees the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta as a “serious development for world security”.
“There are rumours that the Syrian regime is ready to experiment with these types of poisons and distribute them to jihadist groups, to destabilise the region and the world in case its chances to survive wane,” he said..
“This is a worrying thing, given that the Islamic groups are linked from the ocean to the Gulf,” Idriss added.
Mohamed Mahmoud in Cairo, Monia Ghanmi in Tunis and Jemal Oumar in Nouakchott contributed to this report for Magharebia