Assad’s 1000-ton chemical arsenal: Dictator has a stockpile of sarin and lethal nerve agents, say French spies
America last night said it had the first proof that sarin gas was used by Syria in an attack that killed more than 1,400 civilians.
Secretary of State John Kerry claimed samples of hair and blood provided to the US by people in Damascus had ‘tested positive’ for the nerve agent.
He said that President Bashar Assad has now ‘joined the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein’ in deploying chemical weapons against his population. He added that the case for a military attack was getting ‘stronger by the day’ – which follows the leak of a report by French spies that Assad has stockpiled more than 1,000 tonnes of poison gas including sarin.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama said there would be no reprisals until Congress voted on military action after its summer break on September 9.
In theory, as commander-in-chief of US forces, he could ignore any vote that refuses to authorise missile strikes.
Opposition politicians warned the president might struggle to secure backing. Even Republican congressman Peter King, who supports military action against Assad, said: ‘I think it is going to be difficult’. But bullish Mr Kerry said of a Congress vote: ‘We are not going to lose.’
Speaking of the evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria, he added: ‘I can share with you today that blood and hair samples that have come to us through an appropriate chain of custody, from east Damascus, from first responders, it has tested positive for signatures of sarin.’
It was the first time Washington has pinpointed the chemical used in the attack on Ghouta, a rebel-held area of the Syrian capital on August 21.
Mr Kerry added: ‘So this case is building and this case will build.’
Assad remained defiant last night in the face of possible military strikes, insisting Syria was ‘capable of confronting any external aggression’.
The tyrant said the threat of a bombardment would not discourage the regime from its ‘principles’ of crushing the rebels, who he described as ‘terrorists’.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad mocked President Obama’s decision to consult Congress as showing ‘hesitation and confusion’. Yesterday it emerged that details of the huge arsenal of chemical weapons stockpiled by Syria have been unearthed by French spies.
Assad has amassed more than 1,000 tonnes of poison gas including sarin and VX, the most toxic nerve agent ever created.
A leaked intelligence report said the tyrant possessed missiles capable of firing the substances 300 miles – within range of British military bases in Cyprus.
Secret service chiefs in Paris also blamed the Syrian government for the massacre, which the US claims killed 1,429 civilians including 426 children.
Assad’s henchmen fired projectiles containing sarin into a rebel-held suburb simply to ‘cause terror’, they concluded. The four-page briefing paper was compiled by agents working for the Direction Generale de la Securité Exterieure, the French equivalent of MI6 and the Direction du Renseignement Militaire, the military intelligence corps.
The memo was sent to President François Hollande, who has vowed to join military action to punish ‘those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents’.
Mr Hollande is due to publish the document this week in a bid to convince the French public to back missile strikes.
He came under fresh pressure yesterday to consult the French parliament about taking military action, following the example of Mr Obama.
The leaked intelligence reports disclosed that Assad had accumulated one of the world’s biggest chemical arsenals.
Stockpiles include Yperite, a substance similar to mustard gas used in the First World War, the tasteless and odourless nerve agent odourless VX and hundreds of tonnes of sarin gas.
The dictator also has an arsenal of bombs capable of dropping up to 300 litres of sarin, as well as Scud, Grad and SS21 missiles with a range of 310 miles and artillery shells which could fire poison gas 30 miles. A French intelligence source said: ‘We have had the Syrian chemical weapons in our sights for more than 25 years.’
The report said Syria used a series of fake companies to buy chemicals, supposedly for legitimate purposes, which it then used as weapons.
French intelligence agents said poison gas canisters were fired from Grad rockets, followed by a huge artillery barrage in a bid to destroy evidence of chemicals.
Meanwhile, UN weapons inspectors were yesterday preparing to brief Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon following a four-day investigation of the attack.
They left Syria for the Netherlands with their evidence early on Saturday, which will be examined by the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. Samples are thought to include soil, swabs from munitions, blood and hair from the victims and possibly even flesh from dead bodies.
It could be a fortnight before the final report is released.