Syria has tested chemical weapons systems using tanks and helicopters.

German Weekly publication “Der Spiegel” has reported that witnesses have seen Syrian forces test firing chemical weapons systems at its research centre at Safira, east of Aleppo, in August.

According to the report, a total of five or six shells designed to deliver chemical agents were fired by both tanks and helicopters, at a site called Diraiham in the desert near to the village of Khanasir. The Safira site is thought to be Syria largest testing centre for chemical weapons, the official title is a “scientific research centre”.

The site is thought to house scientists from Iran and North Korea and according to western intelligence agencies they produce chemical agents such as Sarin, Tobun, and mustard gas.

Der Speigel says that during recent months the guards have been replaced and reinforced by more than 100 elite troops from the 4th Tank Division. Diesel powered generators to safe guard the electricity supply from sabotage from the rebels were delivered as well.

According to the report the rebels were quoted as saying “We hope American troops will secure the plant. We don’t want the regime to be able to use the weapons, but nor do we want them to fall into the hands of radicals after the downfall.”

The article doesn’t go into details with regards to the helicopters used to test the weapons but they could have been either the multi-role Mil Mi-8/17 Hip or the Mil Mi-25 Hind gunships, both capable to carry rockets that can theoretically be loaded with the chemical agent.

Richard Clements for

A Syrian Mil Mi-17 at the Tishreen War Panorama Museum, in Damascus (image by David Cenciotti)