Samples Taken Show Sarin Used in Syria Gas Attack, British UN Envoy Says

The U.K. shares America's assessment that it's 'highly likely' the Assad regime was responsible

Men ride past a hazard sign at a site hit by an airstrike in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria April 5, 2017.
AMMAR ABDULLAH/REUTERS

Samples taken from the site of a deadly toxic gas attack in Syria and analyzed by British scientists have tested positive for sarin or a sarin-like substance, Britain's UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday. 

"The United Kingdom therefore shares the U.S. assessment that it is highly likely that the regime was responsible for a sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April," Rycroft said. 

At least 70 people were killed, including 20 children, and hundreds were injured in the attack, with hundreds more suffering from respitory problems. Shortly after the assault, the Syrian army published a statement denying any use of chemical weapons. 

U.S. intelligence, however, confirmed on Tuesday that the Syrian regime did use sarin gas on civilians and that the Syrian and Russian governments are seeking to confuse the international community by disseminating "false narratives."

“The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017,” the document says.

Sarin is an insecticide that was developed into a nerve gas. Absorbed through any exposure, to the skin or membranes or lungs, or mixed into water, sarin does not inevitably kill, but its victims suffer badly until its effects wear off.

Sources in Israel believe that Syrian President Bashar Assad himself, or senior officials in his regime, approved the use of chemical weapons on Khan Sheikhoun against the backdrop of growing confidence in the regime’s stability.

According to Israeli security officials, even after the 2013 agreement to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles, the Syrian regime still kept residual quantities of chemical weapons, including sarin nerve gas. 

Most of the infrastructure for producing these weapons was destroyed as part of the agreement, and it is possible that Syria has been trying to rebuild the CERS weapons plant, including apparently relaunching the manufacture of chemical weapons.

Nevertheless, the gas used in the attack is likely to be the remnants of old stockpiles the Syrian regime held onto. Since the agreement, the regime has used chemical weapons of various types on a number of occasions, but this is the first time in almost four years that sarin, a particularly lethal gas, was used.