A French intelligence report published Wednesday offers detailed evidence tracing the recent chemical attacks on civilians straight back to the Syrian government.
The report focused on the April 4 sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which killed more than 80 people. It provided some of the best publicly available evidence tying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to the attack, as well as showing the ineffectiveness of the 2013 agreement that was supposed put an end to Assad’s chemical arsenal.
“France assesses that major doubts remain as to the accuracy, exhaustiveness and sincerity of the decommissioning of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal,” said the six-page National Evaluation. “In particular, France assesses that Syria has maintained a capacity to produce or stock sarin, despite its commitment to destroy all stocks and capacities.”
Assad was supposed to relinquish his arsenal of chemical weapons under an internationally-negotiated agreement promoted by the Obama administration in 2013.
French officials made their assessment based on evidence collected at the scene, including environmental samples from Khan Sheikhoun and a blood sample from a victim. They then matched the results from the samples with an unexploded grenade found at the scene of a previous Syrian chemical attack on Saraqib in 2013.
“The sarin present in the munitions used on 4 April was produced using the same manufacturing process as that used during the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Saraqib,” said the report. “Moreoever, the presence of hexamine indicates that this manufacturing process is that developed by the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (CERS) for the Syrian regime.”
CERS is the organization primarily responsible for the development of the Syria’s unconventional weapons. The addition of hexamine makes sarin more effective nd was developed by CERS, according to French intelligence.
“This is the first open confirmation from a national government that hexamine is used by the Syrian government in the manufacture of sarin, confirming a hypothesis that had been circulating for over three years,” Dan Kaszeta, a chemical weapons expert and former U.S. Army Chemical Corps officer, told Foreign Policy in a piece published Wednesday. “The presence of hexamine ties all of these sarin incidents together, and it ties them firmly to the Syria government.”
Hexamine has not been found in other foreign sarin programs, according to Kaszeta.
French intelligence assessed that only Assad and the “most influential members of his inner circle” have the authority to order a chemical attack. Furthermore, the report noted that the attack on Khan Sheikhoun came during a counter-offensive by Syrian forces in nearby Hama.
French intelligence was also aware that a Sukhoi Su-22 bomber took off from the al-Shayrat Airbase on the morning of April 4, launching up to six strikes around the Khan Sheikhoun area. This appears to confirm the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that the sarin attacks originated from al-Shayrat, which was later hit with a massive airstrike authorized by President Donald Trump.
The report also discounted the theory that local armed groups in the area were responsible for the attack. It noted that while the Islamic State has used mustard gas in Syria in the past, France has no evidence that radical groups possess sarin or the ability to deploy it from the air. It also denied the theory that the attack was staged, given the “massive influx in a limited time toward hospitals” and the “simultaneous, massive uploading of videos showing symptoms of the neurotoxic agents.”
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