London: Elite commandos have been training to storm an Islamic State chemical weapons factory in Britain as fears grow that jihadis returning from Syria or Iraq are poised to launch a deadly gas attack.
The crack troops staged the UK’s biggest-ever chemical weapons exercise in recent years in a direct response to intelligence assessments that suggest terrorists will try to smuggle the deadly substances into the UK, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
More than 100 Royal Marines wearing the state-of-the-art protective equipment joined RAF chemical weapons experts and Ministry of Defence scientists on the two-week training mission, codenamed Exercise Toxic Dagger.
The drill at Salisbury Plain culminated in an attack by the Green Berets on a simulated storage facility for sarin – the deadly nerve agent allegedly used by Syrian forces earlier this month.
Intelligence experts fear jihadis will bring sarin back to Britain from war-torn Syria, where it is said to be relatively easy to obtain after six years of civil war.
Earlier this month, huge bombs containing sarin were dropped on the village of Khan Sheikhoun, killing at least 86 people and injuring hundreds more.
Footage of children dying as gas seeped into their homes persuaded US President Donald Trump to launch 58 US Tomahawk cruise missiles at the airfield where the Syrian jets that allegedly dropped the sarin were based.
UK intelligence experts believe IS leaders in the Middle East are ordering dozens of British jihadis to leave Syria and Iraq and prepare to launch chemical weapons attacks in this country.
The Mail on Sunday understands the sarin is likely to be transported in liquid form and kept inside protective aluminium casings. As sarin is odourless in its pure form, it is difficult for the security services to detect. Sarin mixes easily with water and experts fear it could be used to pollute public supplies. It also evaporates into a lethal vapour and can cause death within a minute if inhaled.
Concerns about just how easily IS fanatics could use sarin to cause a mass-casualty incident in Britain convinced military top brass to stage Toxic Dagger in February. Details about the exercise have only now been released by defence sources.
The exercise, held amid tight security, was led by troops from B Company, 40 Commando and chemical weapons specialists from 20 Wing RAF Regiment. All photography was banned and troops were ordered not to pass on the latest intelligence on the chemical weapons threat to Britain.
But a Marine who completed the course said: ‘The exercise culminated in a deliberate attack on a suspected chemical laboratory. ‘There were numerous chemical attacks and “Gas, gas, gas!” was heard as the lead section confirmed the nerve agent was on the site. There were also huge casualties from a chemical mortar.’
A Ministry of Defence spokesman would only comment: ‘Our forces are highly trained to keep the UK safe and secure.’