Daily Beast: Syria Likely Used Chemical Weapons in January; Obama 'Stiffs' Survivors of Attacks

February 20th, 2014 3:16 PM

Kudos to the Daily Beast for reporting this story. Don't hold your breath for the network news outlets to pick up on it and doggedly pursue it.

In an exclusive published at the website today, Josh Rogin and Noah Shachtman explain how there's credible evidence that regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad may have used chemical weapons in January 2014, something that U.S. intelligence officials are denying but which eyewitnesses on the ground insist occurred (excerpt follows; emphasis mine):

On Jan. 13 in the Syrian city of Daraya, five people were killed and more than 20 injured after being exposed to a mysterious gas. Syrian activists, including some witnesses on the ground, believe that the attack is evidence the Syrian government is still using chemical weapons against its own people—months after that regime pledged to destroy its nerve gas arsenal.

A group of survivors of Syrian government atrocities, including chemical weapons attacks verified by U.N. inspectors, visited Washington this month to press the White House, State Department, and Congressional officials to take a more active role in preventing atrocities in Syria—and to further investigate this alleged attack on Jan. 13.

The U.S. government, however, isn’t inclined to do so—despite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s promise in September to give up his chemical stockpile, and despite mounting calls in Washington to do more about the ongoing carnage in Syria.

“I don’t think it’s a credible claim,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “There were a bunch of rebel groups involved in that conflict at the time. And they can’t get their story straight.”

Eyewitnesses say otherwise. Oussama al-Chourbaji, a pharmacist from Daraya who represents the medical office of the Daraya local council, said he witnessed the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 13 attack and the treatment of victims.

“We don’t know exactly what chemical was used, but I can tell you all of those who were affected or killed had the exact same symptoms as the August 21, 2013 attack (in East Ghouta) in which Sarin gas was used,” he said, referring to the massive chemical strike in the Damascus suburbs that killed nearly 1400 people, by some estimates, and brought the United States to the brink of intervening in the Syrian civil war.

Doctors on the ground collected samples of blood and other evidence from the victims but were unable to smuggle the samples out of the country to be examined, said al-Chourbaji. The samples are still in the hands of local leaders. One surviving victim from the attack was able to leave the city and is currently being transported to Jordan.

Obviously nothing has been proved definitively here, but it does seem like there's reason to investigate. Kudos to the Daily Beast for this exclusive.