U.S. Officials Doubt Syrian Rebels’ Chemical Attack Claim

Updated 2:56 p.m. 12-24-2012
By Noah Shachtman and David Axe WIRED.COM


Opposition activists in Syria are claiming that the embattled regime of Bashar Assad gassed rebel forces in the battleground city of Homs on Sunday. U.S. officials tell Danger Room that they are skeptical about the rebels’ chemical weapon claims, however.

Al Jazeera reported that seven people died after inhaling a gas sprayed by government forces in a part of Homs held by the rebel Free Syrian Army. “We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin,” rebel Raji Rahmet Rabbou told the Qatar-based news organization.

The “poisonous material” was deployed by government warplanesHaaretz reported, citing a rebel statement. The Assad regime, meanwhile, is blaming the rebels for the attack.

Al Jazeera posted two videos it said were obtained from “a field clinic in the city.” The graphic videos appear to depict gasping victims of what could be construed as a nerve agent attack.  However, the origins and contents of these videos have yet to be verified by other sources.

U.S. officials note that several things about the video are inconsistent with a sarin strike. There are complaints of strong smells; sarin is odorless. There are reports that the victims inhaled large amounts of the chemical; a minuscule of amount of inhaled sarin can be fatal.

“It just doesn’t jive with chemical weapons,” one U.S. official tells Danger Room.

In fact, the symptoms shown in these videos might have been caused by other chemicals — possibly chlorine, phosgene, or cyanogen chloride, according to one independent review of the clips (.pdf). Or we might simply be seeing a severe asthma attack.

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Note: RT reports that “Three weeks ago, the Syrian Foreign Ministry warned the UN that rebels might use chemical weapons after they gained control of “a toxic chlorine factory” east of Aleppo, AFP reported. This may be referring to a Syrian-Saudi plant which produces sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride for agriculture.”

If it is indeed chlorine, then it might be the rebels (Al Qaeda) that did this attack as a false flag operation.

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