Fact Sheet

Syria Biological Facilities

Syria Biological Facilities

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There is very little detailed information available about the organizations and facilities associated with the Syrian BW program. It is believed that all research, development, and production activities and facilities associated with the BW program are under the direct control of the Centre D'Etude et Recherché Scientifique (CERS). This agency is run by a director-general with the rank of minister, who is directly responsible to the president. [1] The Centre D'Etude et Recherché Scientifique provides most research and development functions for the Syrian military. Since the 1970s, CERS has also been responsible for the development of civilian science and technology in Syria, and it was in this context that the institute was able to develop cooperative relationships with Western chemical companies.

The primary biological weapons agent facility is reported to be located at the Damascus-based Scientific Research Council, where anthrax, cholera, and botulism are developed by the Biological Research Facility are produced. [2] It should be noted that research on infectious diseases is part of the mandate of this agency and that anthrax is endemic to Syria and the region, where it affects the health of pastoralists and agricultural workers. In regards to this situation, Syria has a program for the vaccination of livestock against anthrax.

There are also speculative suggestions that the Damascus production line for chemical bomblets established in 1997 may be capable of producing bomblets suitable for the dissemination of biological weapons.

In 1992, an additional facility in the Syria coastal town of Cerin was identified as being responsible for biological weapons production. [3] These reports conflict with the general thrust of open source information, which generally suggests the existence of a Syrian BW research program.

Since the late 1980s, Syria has undertaken a sustained effort to increase its national capabilities in the fields of pharmaceuticals and bio-technology. This effort has involved the establishment of a number of joint-venture companies and the construction of approximately 12 pharmaceutical factories. These facilities produce for local and export markets. Although no specific allegations have been leveled at any of these facilities, it is possible that their construction and operation has resulted in the transfer of skills and technologies to Syria that might be of relevance to a biological weapons program. However, if these transfers of dual-use capabilities have resulted in the construction of any dedicated facilities for biological weapons applications, this information has not appeared in open sources.

[1] Dany Shoham, "Gas, Guile and Germs: Syria's ultimate weapons," Middle East Quarterly (Summer 2002), www.meforum.org.
[2] Richard M. Bennett, "The Syrian Military: A Primer," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, August/September 2001, www.meib.org.
[3] "Investigation: Syrian CW programs," Middle East Defense News (Paris), 28 September 1992, pp. 5-6.

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Biological weapon (BW)
Biological weapons use microorganisms and natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals, or plants.  Biological weapons can be derived from: bacteria (anthrax, plague, tularemia); viruses (smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fevers); rickettsia (Q fever and epidemic typhus); biological toxins (botulinum toxin, staphylococcus enterotoxin B); and fungi (San Joaquin Valley fever, mycotoxins). These agents can be deployed as biological weapons when paired with a delivery system, such as a missile or aerosol device.
The common name of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, as well as the name of the disease it produces.  A predominantly animal disease, anthrax can also infect humans and cause death within days.  B. anthracis bacteria can form hardy spores, making them relatively easy to disseminate.  Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the USSR/Russia have all investigated anthrax as a biological weapon, as did the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo.  Anthrax-laced letters were also used to attack the U.S. Senate and numerous news agencies in September 2001.  There is no vaccine available to the general public, and treatment requires aggressive administration of antibiotics.
Cholera: A disease of the digestive tract caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. A water-borne disease, cholera infections usually occur via contaminated water or foods. Cholera causes severe diarrhea followed by severe dehydration, and can result in death within hours or days. Sanitation in the developed world has greatly lessened cholera’s public health impact. Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army used cholera against the Chinese military and civilian populations during World War II.
Botulinum Toxin
Botulism is caused by exposure to botulinum toxin (a neurotoxin).  Most often caused by eating contaminated foods, botulinum poisoning prevents the human nervous system from transmitting signals, resulting in paralysis, and eventually death by suffocation.  Botulinum toxin is the most toxic known substance. 15,000 times more toxic than VX nerve gas, mere nanograms of botulinum toxin will kill an adult human.  A significant bioweapons concern, botulinum toxin has been investigated as a weapon by Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States, Iraq and unsuccessfully by the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo. 
Dual-use item
An item that has both civilian and military applications. For example, many of the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of chemical weapons have legitimate civilian industrial uses, such as the production of pesticides or ink for ballpoint pens.


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