JIM probe into Syria chemical attack fails ‘basic standards’ – Russia’s OPCW envoy

The UN-OPCW investigation is “skewed” towards one theory behind the chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province, disregarding any information that would cast doubt on Damascus’ involvement in the April incident, Russia’s OPCW envoy told RT.

The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which has been probing the chemical attack in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun on April 4, failed to address any concerns that Russia voiced during the entire course of the investigation, Alexander Shulgin said. In its conclusions, released on October 26, JIM said it was “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun,” alleging that “sarin was delivered via an aerial bomb that was dropped by an airplane.”

In April, Washington, working under a similar assumption, immediately used the chemical incident as an excuse to launch a volley of Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airbase, pinning blame on Damascus just days after the incident. The “retaliatory attack” was reportedly ordered after US President Donald Trump was shown footage of the alleged suffering of the victims.

“It was believed that President Trump while looking at these terrible pictures was so appalled that he ordered an instant airstrike against the Syrian Airbase,” Shulgin said. He added that the footage of young victims “was kind of a triggering point in the whole story,” but JIM’s investigation of the incident offered “absolutely no explanation at all.”

“Some experts found it troubling that the children all had hugely dilated pupils, which is quite contrary to the known effect of this gas – sarin, which is very powerful nerve agent known to cause the victim's pupils to [contract], to be reduced to a size of a pin, pinpointed pupils,” the diplomat explained.

Shulgin pointed out that JIM experts were well aware of this anomaly, but said “they were not asked to investigate this particular thing.” Shulgin recalled how the Russian side was repeatedly told: “Don't worry, just wait for the JIM reports, we’ll have all the answers.” But in their conclusions “there is no hint as to what has happened to the children,” he added.

“One day I spoke with one of the experts here in the Hague, and obviously he was not pleased with my questions, and at some point, he told me: ‘Well don't you understand it is all about [it being an] information war’" Shulgin told RT.

The UN-OPCW mission has apparently, from the very beginning, settled on an aerial attack as the main theory behind the incident. Moscow, meanwhile, after examining the size and shape of the crater left from the explosion, continues to insist that the detonation and dispersal of the chemical agent likely occurred on the ground. Russia slammed the conclusions of JIM and questioned whether its mandate, which expires next week, should be renewed in its current form.

“We are of the view that the JIM report, the seventh report, has been established by a flagrant disregard of [the] basic higher standards of the Chemical Convention, UN Security Council resolutions and previous decisions by the ECE executive council,” Shulgin said, voicing the overall concerns that have been made public before.

“It is about the non-respect of the chain of custody, basic methods of investigation whereby samples should be taken by authorized experts who are expected to ensure their custody, in other terms, protection, all the way until a designated laboratory,” Shulgin emphasized.

READ MORE: ‘Syrian opposition has motive for chemical attacks, while govt has every motive to prevent it’

The JIM mission, which never actually visited the site of the alleged attack, instead relied on evidence collected by the militant groups controlling the area. The investigation also failed to properly inspect the Shayrat Airbase by not gathering ground samples there. Shulgin said JIM’s team trusted data provided by questionable sources – the militants – while dismissing information offered by the Syrian government.

“It is about very skewed approach whereas information collected, provided by various NGOs affiliated with the terrorist armed groups are trusted, whereas the data, information provided by the Syrian authorities are at best ignored,” he noted.