French Intelligence Blames Assad For Chemical Deaths In Khan Sheikhun
RFE/RL April 26, 2017
A French intelligence report has concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve-gas attack earlier this month in northern Syria and that Assad or members of his closest entourage ordered the strike.
"There is no doubt that sarin gas was used" in the suspected attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told the media after presenting the report on April 26.
"There is also no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime, given the way that the sarin used was produced," Ayrault said.
At least 87 people were killed in the suspected attack, which prompted the United States to respond with a cruise-missile strike on a Syrian air base -- its first assault on Assad's government in the six-year-old conflict.
The declassified six-page report -- put together by France's military and foreign intelligence services -- said it reached its conclusion based on samples obtained from the impact strike on the ground, and a blood sample from a victim.
The document said that among the elements found in the samples was hexamine, a hallmark of sarin produced by the Syrian government.
"The French intelligence services consider that only Bashar al-Assad and some of his most influential entourage can give the order to use chemical weapons," the report said.
It added that militant groups in the area did not have the capacity to develop and launch such an attack and that the extremist group Islamic State (IS) was not in the region.
The report also said that Assad's claim to the AFP news agency on April 13 that the attack was fabricated was "not credible" given the mass flows of casualties in a short space of time arriving in Syrian and Turkish hospitals.
Russia, which has backed Assad throughout the six-year-old war in Syria, said the French report was not enough to prove who was behind the suspected attack.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on April 26 that Moscow's position on the attack was "unchanged" and "that the only way to establish the truth about what happened in Khan Sheikhun is an impartial international investigation."
Russia has said that the attack could have been staged, or that Syrian government bombs could have hit a rebel-held chemical-weapons facility -- claims that the United States and other Western government say are not credible.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which examines chemical attacks but does not place blame, said on April 19 that samples from victims showed that sarin or a similar substance was used.
On April 20, the OPCW rejected a Russian-Iranian move to launch a new investigation, with Western diplomats saying Moscow's aim was to get its own investigators or those of an allied country involved.
The United States and other countries have voiced support for the existing OPCW investigative mechanism.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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