April at­tack in Syria tied to sarin nerve agent

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - LOUISA LOVELUCK

BEIRUT — A chem­i­cal at­tack in April that killed at least 84 Syr­ian civil­ians and left scores more foam­ing at the mouth in­volved sarin nerve agent, a global watch­dog said Fri­day, days after the White House ac­cused Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment of plan­ning an­other deadly as­sault.

In a state­ment re­leased ahead of a fuller fact-find­ing re­port, the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons de­scribed the day­break as­sault on the op­po­si­tion-held town of Khan Sheikhoun as an “atroc­ity.”

“The per­pe­tra­tors of this hor­rific at­tack must be held ac­count­able for their crimes,” said Ah­met Uzumcu, the body’s di­rec­tor gen­eral.

Al­though the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons said that it was not within the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s man­date to at­tribute blame for the at­tack, Euro­pean in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have said that sam­ples col­lected in its af­ter­math bore the hall­marks of chem­i­cal weapons used by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment.

Im­ages of Khan Sheikhoun’s ca­su­al­ties writhing in pain, many of them young chil­dren, prompted Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to or­der mis­sile strikes on the air base from which the Syr­ian war­planes had taken off.

This week, U.S. of­fi­cials said they had ob­served in­di­ca­tions that the base was be­ing used to pre­pare fresh chem­i­cal at­tacks.

In a state­ment late Mon­day, the White House warned that As­sad would pay a “heavy price” for do­ing so.

Chem­i­cal weapons ex­perts say the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment has used its sup­plies of toxic agents pri­mar­ily to de­pop­u­late civil­ian ar­eas and strike fear into those who re­main there.

As­sad’s mil­i­tary was sup­posed to have sur­ren­dered its chem­i­cal stock­piles to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors in 2014. But Western diplo­mats and the in­spec­tors them­selves had long sus­pected that a por­tion was never de­clared.

Uzumcu said in a state­ment last month that the fact-find­ing team for the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons was work­ing to clar­ify “un­re­solved is­sues” over the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s de­clared chem­i­cal stock­piles.

U.S. of­fi­cials have mon­i­tored lead­er­ship fig­ures and re­searchers from a Syr­ian chem­i­cal war­fare unit mov­ing be­tween fa­cil­i­ties linked to the pro­duc­tion of weapons in re­cent weeks, ac­cord­ing to an in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The rev­e­la­tions in­di­cated that Wash­ing­ton has mon­i­tored Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram more closely than was pub­licly known.

On the morn­ing of the April 4 at­tack, a net­work of civil­ian ob­servers is­sued an alert as Syr­ian war­planes took off from the nearby Shayrat air­field and headed north to Khan Sheikhoun.

As the air­craft cir­cled in the sky, an ob­server ra­dioed col­leagues to warn of an im­mi­nent at­tack. “Guys, tell peo­ple to wear masks,” the ob­server said, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script. “It has chem­i­cals with it. I am sure of that.”

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