White House sanctions Syrian research firm that developed chemical weapons

In a broad stroke on Monday, the United States levied sanctions against staffers with a Syrian research facility it says is responsible for developing chemical weapons used in an attack on the Syrian village of Khan Shaykhun April 4.

The sanctions applied affect 271 employees with a government-run research facility, the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which the U.S. says produces chemical weapons for the Damascus government.

“These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. 

Under Monday’s sanctions, the assets of employees of SSRC in the U.S. are frozen and American firms are prohibited from engaging in business with them.

Mnuchin followed at a White House press briefing Monday with a vow to “pursue and shut down the financial networks” of those associated with the development of Syria’s chemical weapon program.

“The United States is sending a strong message with this action: That we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by any actor,” he said.

On April 4, a chemical agent suspected of being sarin, killed 80 civilians in Khan Shaykhun.

Syria claims a government airstrike on a warehouse in rebel-controlled Khan Shaykhun used to develop and store chemical weapons inadvertently caused a toxic leak.  Days later, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described Western and U.S. allegations his government masterminded the attack as a “fabrication.”

Following the early April attack, President Trump ordered a missile attack on the Shayrat airfield, which the White House says was instrumental in carrying out the chemical attack.

Prior to Monday’s sanctions, both Presidents Bush and Obama had targeted Syrian individuals affiliated with SSRC, claiming the institution’s intent was not peaceful, but was involved with developing chemical and biological weapons.

 

[Reuters] [BBC] [Photo courtesy AFP via Times of Israel]