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Syria chemical weapons scare: Is Assad threatening to use them, or lose them? (+video)

A report suggests that Syria has ramped up activity at chemical-weapons sites. But President Bashar al-Assad might simply be sending a message to the international community.

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The spike in concern over Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons stems in part from worries that an increasingly desperate President Bashar al-Assad might use them against advancing rebel forces in the country’s 21-month-old civil war.

But Mr. Assad also might be sending a different signal to the US and the international community, analysts say. By ordering “activity” at chemical weapons sites, Assad could be reminding the international powers demanding his departure that his fall would likely be followed by chaos – in which radical Islamists could get their hands on Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.

“By far the greater threat is that the state collapses, with the threat of terrorists getting their hands on these weapons,” says Charles Blair, an expert at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in Washington.

US officials claim that the Syrian military has gone as far as loading precursor chemicals for the nerve gas sarin into bombs, NBC News reported Thursday. Their use would have serious consequences for the Assad regime. President Obama repeated this week that any use of the weapons by Syria is a red line for the United States.

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