Chemical incident in Khan Shaykhun deliberately staged by militants, Syrian probe finds
The “Syrian government has concluded its own investigation, based also on the results of analyses made by foreign governmental organizations. During the probe, it was conclusively determined that the so-called incident in Khan Shaykhun from beginning to end was staged by militants according to a prearranged scenario,” Faisal Mekdad announced at a news conference in Damascus Wednesday.
The investigation conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which found traces of sarin in the samples of soil supposedly coming from Khan Shaykhun, where the incident took place on 4 April, has many flaws and cannot be deemed conclusive, Mekdad stated.
“The investigation conducted by OPCW specialists, to put it bluntly, is laughable and we told the organization about it. How can the organization analyze samples, delivered by the militants from another country?” Mekdad questioned.
“We suspect though, that such probes are just a formality. We’d like to remind that there’s a crucial ‘chain of custody’ principle. Who can guarantee that the samples allegedly coming from the crater were indeed there? Or how they got there?” Mekdad said. “Who can guarantee the alleged witnesses would not falsify the facts?”
“The chain of custody requires control by an OPCW representative and not those interested in smearing the Syrian government and fabricating facts, used by the US to justify such terrorist acts as the strike on the airbase,” he added.
The incident almost immediately prompted the United States to launch a volley of Tomahawk cruise missiles on Syria's Shayrat Airbase. The US attack, according to Mekdad, was planned beforehand, while the Khan Shaykhun incident was used as a pretext “without bothering to conduct their own investigation.”
The Syrian government would welcome an open investigation and would provide all the support required, the official underlined.
“Such [an] investigation must start from Damascus. You can go to the scene in Khan Shaykhun, or head another way – to Shayrat Airbase, where the experts on the fact-finding mission will get access to everything they would need to conduct an open, impartial and neutral probe.”
Moscow has consistently called for a proper, impartial investigation of the incident. It has also criticized the OPCW report as it was based on data and testimonies provided by “various NGOs” without the necessary verification. Russia's OPCW representative, Aleksandr Shulgin, told RT that the report itself admits that the investigative team decided not to visit the incident scene due to alleged “security factors” and was thus unable to gather the necessary material evidence directly from the spot.
In addition to challenging the OPCW report, Syria's deputy foreign minister also highlighted other discoveries made by the Syrian army in the recently liberated areas of the country. The find, he said, not only prove the use of combat chemical agents by militants, but also indicate the foreign origins of some of the toxic substances.
“Large amounts of special compounds, containing Turkish-made chemical agents, have been uncovered during liberation of certain resident areas. According to specialists’ evaluations, these compounds are used for chemical weaponry production,” Mekdad said.
Apart from components for chemical warfare agents production, the army also allegedly uncovered foreign factory-made riot-control chemical munitions.
“In [the] Aleppo countryside, as well as Djobar, Kabun in Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus governorate, we’ve registered terrorist usage of irritating chemical substances used by police as riot control agents. Weapon and munitions stockpiles have been secured after [the] liberation of the regions from terrorists, the spoils have also contained combat-ready irritant chemical agents,” Mekdad said.
“Those chemical agents have been produced by British and American companies,” Mekdad said, adding that the “hand grenades and warheads for grenade launchers” contained gases, namely CS and CN, used for riot control.
On par with chemical weapons, the use of “riot control agents as a method of warfare” is also explicitly prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
“Thus we can firmly state that the US and UK, as well as their regional allies, in violation of the CWC provide all sorts of support to terrorist organizations, operating in Syria. They supply the militants not only with conventional weaponry, but with the poisonous compounds,” Mekdad concluded.
The April 4 incident, according to various estimations, claimed the lives of between 74 to 100 civilians and injured hundreds. Washington rushed to blame Damascus based on open-source intelligence, while the Syrian government strongly denied responsibility. On April 7, US President Donald Trump authorized the firing of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airbase from where US intelligence said the chemical attack was launched.