Report Confirms Use of Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

A watchdog group says the nerve agent sarin was responsible for the deaths of more than 80 civilians in April.

A survivor of a 2013 chemical attack in Damascus points to a piece from one of the rockets on April 7, 2017.
A survivor of a 2013 chemical attack in Damascus points to a piece from one of the rockets on April 7, 2017. (Bassam Khabieh / Reuters)

A report from the watchdog group that monitors the international chemical weapons treaty concluded Thursday that sarin, a deadly nerve agent, led to the deaths of more than 80 civilians in an April attack on Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. The group, known as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), did not draw conclusions as to who was responsible for the atrocity, arguing that it was outside their mandate. The U.S. has already accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of orchestrating the attack, which it called “reprehensible.”

On Friday, the director-general of the OPCW issued a statement arguing that “the perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes.” The Syrian government has denied any involvement, claiming to have destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile following a UN mandate in 2013. Meanwhile, the Russian government, which is allied with Assad, argued that the regime “accidentally hit a stockpile of chemical weapons that belonged to rebels or terrorists.” In the past, Assad has been keen to blame attacks on Syrian rebel fighters.

Three days after the chemical attack on April 4, the U.S. launched 59 tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base, marking the nation’s first military operation against an Arab government since President Obama’s intervention in Libya in 2011. President Trump was reportedly moved to action after viewing images of Syrian children struggling to breathe from what has now been confirmed as exposure to sarin. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” Trump said while announcing the missile strike. Assad has since argued that the U.S. fabricated the story of a chemical weapons attack in an attempt to justify their own military action.

Thursday’s report is significant, since it offers convincing evidence that an attack not only took place, but was carried out against innocent victims using inhumane tactics. To arrive at their conclusion, the OPCW interviewed local witnesses, attended autopsies, and collected bio-medical samples of deceased victims, along with samples from the environment. On Thursday, the U.S. State Department argued that “the facts reflect a despicable and highly dangerous record of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime.” The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, added: “We have the highest confidence in the OPCW report, which confirms what we already knew: Chemical weapons were used against the Syrian people.”

Lending additional weight to the report is the fact that it comes just days after the White House claimed the Assad regime was preparing for another chemical attack that “would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.” On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer warned that “[Assad] and his military will pay a heavy price” for any further attacks on civilians. Haley issued a similar warning via Twitter, arguing that Syria and its allies, Russia and Iran, would be held responsible for any affront to the Syrian people. Both Haley and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have since claimed that the warning effectively thwarted Assad’s preparations. “I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women, and children,” Haley told lawmakers on Wednesday.