Sarin was used in Syria attack, chemical weapons watchdog says


BEIRUT — The prohibited nerve agent sarin was used in an attack that killed dozens of people in Syria in April — an incident which prompted a U.S. airstrike in the country — the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Friday.

An OPCW fact-finding mission confirmed that people were exposed to sarin on April 4 in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

The watchdog did not say who was behind the attack, demanding that “the perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes.”

The fact-finding mission report has been shared with state members of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW’s Executive Council, which will consider the findings at a meeting scheduled for July 5, the watchdog added in a statement.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoun killed at least 87 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

On April 7, the United States launched dozens of missiles on the Shayrat airbase in central Syria, from where the attack on Khan Sheikhoun is thought to have been mounted.

Damascus and its key ally Russia have dismissed allegations that the attack was carried out by Syrian government forces.

The OPCW said Friday that its fact-finding mission advance team was deployed within 24 hours of being alerted to the incident and was able to “attend autopsies, collect biomedical samples from casualties and fatalities, interview witnesses and receive environmental samples.”

It added that, for security reasons, the team was unable to visit Khan Sheikhoun, but they were deployed to a neighboring country, an apparent reference to Turkey.

“A rigorous methodology was employed for conducting an investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons that took into account corroboration between interviewee testimonies; open-source research, documents, and other records; and the characteristics of the samples including those provided by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the OPCW said.

There have been reports about several chemical attacks in Syria since the country slid into a strife in 2011.

In 2013, U.N. investigators said they had reasonable grounds to believe that limited amounts of toxic chemicals were released in Saraqeb, also in Idlib, and other Syrian towns. However, they were not able to establish the circumstances of the attacks and who was responsible.