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Thursday, 1 October, 1998, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
Sarin uncovered
rockets
Iraqi rockets filled with sarin were destroyed after the Gulf War
Sarin is one of a group of nerve gas agents invented by German scientists in the 1930s as part of Hitler's preparations for World War II.

Huge secret stockpiles of sarin weapons were built up by the superpowers during the Cold War years of the 1950s and 1960s.

How deadly is it?

Sarin is 20 times as deadly as cyanide. It has been described as the poor man's atomic bomb because of the large numbers of people that can be killed by a small amount. A drop the size of a pin-head is sufficient to kill a person.

Sarin kills by blocking the action of an enzyme which removes acetylcholine, the chemical that transmits signals down the nervous system. It effectively cripples the nervous system.

How is it made?

There are four main ingredients needed for the production of sarin, including phosphorus trichloride.

It is a type of weapon that can only be manufactured in a laboratory, though it does not require very sophisticated equipment. It is very dangerous to manufacture.

Where has it been used?

Although the Germans never released sarin in battle, it was used to lethal effect by Iraq during the 1980s both in the war against Iran and against the Kurds.

After the Gulf war, United Nations inspectors found large quantities of sarin in production at an Iraqi chemical weapons plant.

The Japanese doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, also used the nerve agent in a Tokyo subway in 1995.

See also:

09 Nov 98 | Middle East
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