French intelligence has concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or members of his inner circle ordered the strike, a declassified report showed.
The chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people, according to a war monitor, Syrian opposition groups and Western countries. It prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base, its first deliberate assault on the Assad government in the six-year-old conflict.
Assad has said in two media interviews since April 4 that the evidence of a poison gas attack was false and denied his government had ever used chemical weapons.
The six-page French document, seen by Reuters, and drawn up by France’s military and foreign intelligence services – said it reached its conclusion based on samples they had obtained from the impact strike on the ground and a blood sample from a victim.
“We know, from a certain source, that the process of fabrication of the samples taken is typical of the method developed in Syrian laboratories,” Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters after presenting the findings to the cabinet.
“This method is the signature of the regime and it is what enables us to establish the responsibility of the attack. We know because we kept samples from previous attacks that we were able to use for comparison.”
Among the elements found in the samples were hexamine, a hallmark of sarin produced by the Syrian government, according to the report.
It said the findings matched the results of samples obtained by French intelligence, including an unexploded grenade, from an attack in Saraqib on April 29, 2013, which Western powers have accused the Assad government of carrying out.
“This production process is developed by Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) for the regime,” the report said.
The United States on Monday blacklisted 271 employees belonging to the agency.
Syria agreed in September 2013 to destroy its entire chemical weapons program under a deal negotiated with the United States and Russia after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
The report said that based on its assessments, there were “serious doubts on the accuracy, completeness and sincerity of the dismantlement of Syria’s chemical arsenal.”