Salih al-Sabawi

Salih al-Sabawi was a chemical weapons engineer and a former member of al-Qaeda and ISIS. On January 24, 2015, Sabawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike near Mosul, Iraq.“ISIL Chemical Weapons Expert Killed in Coalition Airstrike,” Central Command, January 31, 2015, https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/884941/isil-chemical-weapons-expert-killed-in-coalition-airstrike/.

Sabawi was a Russian-trained engineer who worked as a chemical weapons engineer for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Sabawi worked at the Muthana chemical weapon production facility—Iraq’s primary site for the production of chemical weapons agents—before joining al-Qaeda in 2005.“ISIL Chemical Weapons Expert Killed in Coalition Airstrike,” Central Command, January 31, 2015, https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/884941/isil-chemical-weapons-expert-killed-in-coalition-airstrike/; “Isis seizes former chemical weapons plant in Iraq,” Associated Press, July 9, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/09/isis-seizes-chemical-weapons-plant-muthanna-iraq.

In the summer of 2014, Sabawi reportedly met with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi where he later joined ISIS as the group’s chief chemical weapons engineer.Joby Warrick, “ISIS planned chemical attacks in Europe, new details on weapons program reveal,” July 11, 2022, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/07/11/isis-chemical-biological-weapons/; “ISIL Chemical Weapons Expert Killed in Coalition Airstrike,” Central Command, January 31, 2015, https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/884941/isil-chemical-weapons-expert-killed-in-coalition-airstrike/. Sabawi was responsible for producing the group’s arsenal of chemical weapons, and within his first six months, ISIS managed to manufacture mustard gas, bombs, and rockets filled with chlorine.Joby Warrick, “ISIS planned chemical attacks in Europe, new details on weapons program reveal,” Washington Post, July 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/07/11/isis-chemical-biological-weapons/. However, during that time, U.S. and Iraqi Kurdish intelligence discovered that Sabawi was working to produce weaponized anthrax as well as neurotoxins and a toxin used by the Soviets in political assassinations.Joshua Thurston, “US airstrike ‘stopped Isis chemical weapons programme’,” The Times, July 12, 2022 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/us-airstrike-stopped-isis-chemical-weapons-programme-gqxmx2srq.

According to media sources, the weapons created by Sabawi were to be used by French and Belgian ISIS volunteers who went on to orchestrate the November 2015 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people and wounded around 400 others. The weapons Sabawi produced were set to target Western Europe as well as U.S. military bases.Joshua Thurston, “US airstrike ‘stopped Isis chemical weapons programme’,” The Times, July 12, 2022 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/us-airstrike-stopped-isis-chemical-weapons-programme-gqxmx2srq.

Sabawi’s efforts in producing, and ultimately using, chemical weapons for ISIS presented a significant threat to international security. On January 30, 2015, the United States launched an airstrike near Mosul, Iraq, targeting and killing Sabawi. Following the strike, the U.S. launched subsequent strikes that destroyed Sabawi’s network of labs and production centers. By 2016, all of ISIS’s known chemical weapons facilities were destroyed.“ISIL Chemical Weapons Expert Killed in Coalition Airstrike,” Central Command, January 31, 2015, https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/884941/isil-chemical-weapons-expert-killed-in-coalition-airstrike/.

Also Known As

Extremist entity
ISIS
Type(s) of Organization:
Insurgent, territory-controlling, religious, terrorist, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Islamist, jihadist, pan-Islamist, Salafist, takfiri
Position(s):
Chemical weapons engineer

ISIS is a violent jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria. The group has declared wilayas (provinces) in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the North Caucasus. ISIS has also waged attacks in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, and Kuwait.

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Fact:

On January 23, 2019, two car bombs exploded outside of a mosque in Benghazi, Libya, killing 41 people and injuring 80 others. No group claimed responsibility for the blast, but remnants suggested an ISIS affiliate was responsible.  

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