Defense

NBC: Blood Samples Show Nerve Agent In Syria Chemical Attack, US Officials Say

The U.S. has obtained blood and urine samples from victims of a suspected chemical attack in Syria that tested positive for two toxic agents, NBC News reported Thursday.

The samples show the presence of chlorine gas and an unnamed nerve agent, according to the NBC report, which cited “two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.”

It was not immediately clear what hospitals or medical organizations provided the samples. The U.S. officials reportedly said they were “confident” in the intelligence, but not 100 percent sure because they could not guarantee the chain of custody.

The attack in the formerly rebel-held town of Douma killed at least 60 people and left hundreds more injured over the weekend. The U.S. and Western allies are currently weighing a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, pending confirmation that regime forces carried out the attack.

If the use of a nerve agent is confirmed, it could tip the decision in favor a retaliatory strike. The U.S. has refrained from taking action against Syria over documented chlorine gas attacks, but President Donald Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to a sarin gas attack on civilians in April 2017.

Trump has promised a swift response to the alleged Douma attack, but military action has been delayed as U.S. defense officials and European allies debate where and how to respond.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis struck cautious note, telling lawmakers that a strike against Syria “is not yet in the offing” because evidence is still being gathered and evaluated.

“So, I cannot tell you that we have evidence, even though we have a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin was used,” Mattis said.

Syria denies it carried out a chemical attack in Douma, and its ally Russia has suggested that rebels staged the incident in order to provoke a U.S. response against the Assad regime. Moscow said Thursday that it would act to protect its troops embedded with Syrian forces from any U.S. military action.

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