Summary of historical attacks using chemical or biological weapons

compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last updated 5 December 2017

The following table summarizes known historical instances of the use of chemical or biological weapons, in reverse chronological order. The listing is limited to events after 1900 (while there were some earlier instances of chemical/biological warfare, these instances were generally of very limited effectiveness). Note that some incidents are disputed, and casualty figures in some cases are very uncertain. Events included: Sources are provided following the table.

datelocationattackeragentaffected popcasualtiesdescription
21 - 27 Oct 2016near Mosul, IraqIslamic State militantssulfurcivilians, soldiers2 killed, 1,500 injuredsulfur mine set on fire, producing widespread sulfur dioxide plumes
8 Mar 2016Taza, Kirkuk, IraqIslamic Stateblistering agentcivilians1 killed, 600 injuredattack on town; fatality was 3-year-old child
23 Jan 2015between Mosul, Iraq, and Syrian borderIslamic State militantschlorineKurdish soldiers~30 injuredtruck bomb with chlorine-filled tanks used against troops
Sep - Oct 2014Duluiya and Balad, IraqIslamic State militantschlorine, possibly mustard gasIraqi and Shiite soldiers40 injuredbombs with chlorine-filled cylinders used against defending troops
27 Mar - 22 Apr 2014Syria--Damascus, Kafr Zita in Hama, and Talmenes in IdlibSyrian military suspectedchlorine, otherscivilians104 killed, 200 injuredchlorine bombs used on civilians in two towns
21 Aug 2013Damascus suburbs, SyriaSyrian militarysarin nerve gas?civilian urban areas1,429 killed (including 426 children), 2,200 injuredrockets with chemical agents fired at about 12 areas in suburbs south and east of Damascus, targeting rebel-held areas
19 Mar - 13 Apr 2013Syria--Damascus, Al-Otaybeh, Khan al-Assal, Adra, Aleppo, Sheikh Maqsoud, and SaraqebSyrian military?multiple chemical agents?rebel soldiers and civiliansat least 44 killed, 76 injuredmultiple attacks, mostly blamed on Syrian government; Syrian government accuses rebels of the attacks
Apr 2012 - Jun 2013Afghanistan--Takhar province (9), Sar-e-Pul province (4), othersIslamist terroristspesticides?schoolchildren1,952 injured (including 1,924 children)23 poison attacks on girls' schools, some cases of water poisoning
Mar 2012 - Apr 2013AfghanistanIslamist terroristsrat poison?police, other civilians53 killed, 40 injured9 attacks involving poisoning of food at police stations/academies
Apr - Aug 2010Afghanistan--Kabul (6), Kunduz (4), othersIslamist terroristspesticides?schoolchildren672 injured (including 636 children)20 gas attacks on girls' schools
11 Mar 2007IraqIslamist terroristsmustard gasU.S. soldiers2 injuredfailed improved explosive device using chemical weapon artillery shells
Oct 2006 - Jun 2007Iraq cities--Ramadi (6), Baghdad (3), Falluja (3), othersIslamist terroristschlorinecivilian targets115 killed*, 854 injured (including 85 children)15 car/truck bombings with chlorine tanks used; most fatalities were from the explosions, most injuries from the chemical releases
8 Oct 2006Numaniyah, IraqIslamist terroristspoisonpolicemen7 killed, 700 injuredpoisoning of food at meal on police base; unconfirmed
25 Sep 2006Baghdad, IraqIsalmist terroristsmustard gasU.S. soldiers2 injuredimproved explosive device using chemical weapon artillery shells
15 May 2004Baghdad, IraqIslamist terroristssarin nerve gasU.S. soldiers2 injuredfailed improvised explosive device using chemical weapon artillery shell near Baghdad airport
24 Jun - Jul 2003near Mosul, IraqIslamist terroristssulfurcivilians, soldiers? injuredsulfur stockpiles at mine set on fire, producing widespread sulfur dioxide plumes; at least 41 U.S. soldiers injured
11 Nov 2002Changde, PR Chinacriminalpoisonschoolchildren193 injured (mostly children)poisoning of food at high school
26 Oct 2002Moscow, RussiaRussian soldiersfentanyl incapacitating agentterrorists and civilian hostages124 killed, 501 injuredChechen terrorists took 800 hostages at Moscow theater, 23 Oct; Russian forces used fentanyl when storming the theater and killing all the terrorists on 26 Oct, but many hostages were killed or injured by the gas
18 Sep - 9 Oct 2001United States--Washington, DC, New York City, NY, othersBruce Ivins?anthraxgovernment and civilian media individuals; postal employees and customer5 killed, 17 injuredanthrax-laced letters mailed to federal officials in Washington DC and new media offices in multiple locations; many casualties among postal workers
20 Mar 1995TokyoAum Shinrikyo cultsarin nerve gasTokyo subway12 killed, 5,511 injurednerve gas releases in subway; many permanent injuries
28 Jun 1994Matsumoto, JapanAum Shinrikyo cultsarin nerve gascivilians7 killed, 270 injuredovernight release of nerve gas in city
21 Jan 1994Ormancik, Turkeyterroristschemical agentcivilians16 killedattack on village using chemical grenades
16 Mar 1988Halabja, IraqIraqi militarycyanide, mustard gas, nerve agentsIraqi Kurdish civilians5,000 killed, 8,000 injureduse of chemical agents against civilians in village; additional use of agents by Iranian military possible
6 Sep 1987Zamboanga City, Philippinesterroristspoisonpolicemen19 killed, 140 injuredwater poisoning with pesticide at constabulary
1987 - Aug 1988Iraq-IranIranian militarymustard gas, cyanideIraqi soldiers?some use
2 - 3 Dec 1984Bhopal, Indiaaccidentalmethyl isocynate gascivilians3,787 killed, 558,125 injured (including 200,000 children)accidental release from pesticide plant, with gas plume blown across city of Bhopal
9 - 19 Sep 1984The Dalles, Oregon, United StatesBhadwan Shree Rajneesh cultsalmonellacivilian restaurants751 injuredfood poisoning in several restaurants; was experiment in preparation to interfere with upcoming election
Aug 1983 - Jul 1988Iraq-IranIraqi militarychemical agentsIranian soldiers and civilians21,000 killed, 92,000 injuredextensive use against soldiers and civilians
Jun 1979 - mid 1981AfghanistanSoviet and Afghan militariesmultiple chemical agentscivilians and rebel soldiers3,042 killedused in at least 47 instances in the invasion of Afghanistan
Apr 1979suburbs southeast of Sverdlovsk, USSRaccidentalanthraxcivilians68 killed, 300 injuredaccidental release from bioweapons production facility caused anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk; cause of outbreak was denied by Soviet government
18 Nov 1978Guyana--Jonestown, GeorgetownPeople's Temple cultpoisoncult members and children913 killed (including 276 children)mass suicide by cult members
1978 - 1983western KampucheaVietnamese militarychemical agentscivilians, soldiers1,014 killedused in at least 124 instances by government forces against rebel areas
mid 1975 - 1983Laos--Vientiane, Xiangkhoang, and Louangphrabang provincesLaotian and Vietnamese militarieschemical agentscivilians, soldiers6,504 killedused in at least 261 instances by government forces against rebel areas
Jul 1963 - 1967YemenEgyptian militarymustard gas, phosgene, nerve agentssoldiers, civilians527 killedmultiple attacks
1961 - 1970VietnamUS militaryAgent Orange, other herbicidesjungle and crop areasthousands of long-term injuries?extensive use of herbicides by US forces in Vietnam; agents not harmful to humans by design, but various health effects identified
14 Apr 1946Camp Stalag 13, Nuremberg, GermanyJewish terroristscyanideSS prisoners2,283 injuredpoisoning of bread for Nazi prisoners
2 Dec 1943Bari, Italyaccidentalmustard gascivilians83 killed, 628 injuredGerman aerial attack on Allied ships in harbor strikes one loaded with mustard gas shells; gas release causes military and civilian casualties
Dec 1941 - Apr 1945Germany, Poland, AustriaGerman governmentZyklon B, carbon monoxideconcentration camp prisoners1,600,000 killed*use in gas chambers for genocide against concentration camp prisoners, mostly Jewish civilians; note this is only a portion of overall Holocaust deaths by other means
1940 - 1942China--11 citiesJapanese militarycholera, other bioagentscities2,400 killed, 10,000 injuredmultiple attacks, some causing significant casualties among Japanese soldiers as well
8 Sep 1939Jaslo, PolandPolish resistancemustard gasGerman soldiers2 killed, 12 injuredchemical agent bombs used against attacking German troops
1938 - 1945ChinaJapanese militarymustard gas, other chemical agentsChinese soldiers and civilians10,000 killed, 72,000 injuredchemical weapons extensively used throughout war in China; many chemical weapons left behind after end of World War II, causing continued casualties as they are discovered
1935 - 1936EthiopiaItalian militarymustard gasEthiopian soldiers15,000 casualtiesmultiple attacks
1934 - 1937SinkiangSoviet militarymustard gasChinese soldiers?multiple attacks
1932 - 1945Ping Fan, ManchuriaJapanese militarymultiple biological agentswar prisoners1,000 killed, 2,000 injuredtests of bioweapon agents on prisoners
1924 - 1925MoroccoSpanish militarymustard gasRif soldiers and civilians1,000 casualties?gas used multiple times in Spanish campaign against Rif tribe
May 1921Tambov area, RussiaRed armychemical agentspeasant rebels and civilians?used during Russian civil war
1919RussiaBritish militarymustard gasRed Army soldiers?used during Russian civil war
22 Apr 1915 - Nov 1918Europe--Poland, France, Belgium, others; Ottoman EmpireGerman, French, British, American, Russian militarieschlorine, phosgene, mustard gas, multiple other chemical agentssoldiers90,000 killed, 1,300,000 injuredchemical weapons attacks during World War I; tear gas first used by France in 1914, lethal agents first used by German (1915), then by Allies (British in 1914, US in 1918); fatalities 56,000 Russian, 9,000 German, 8,100 British, 8,000 French, 4,600 Italian, 3,000 Austria-Hungarian, 1,460 American; injuries 419,000 Russian, 191,000 German, 182,000 French, 180,600 British, 100,000 Austria-Hungarian, 71,300 American, 60,000 Italian

Sources (list under construction):

© 2013-2016, 2017 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 5 December 2017.
Return to Home. Return to Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Unconventional Warfare.