A fact-finding mission by the UN’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, has confirmed that sarin nerve gas was used as a chemical weapon in the April 4 attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.
“Based on its work, the FFM (fact-finding mission) is able to conclude that a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance,” said the confidential report, parts of which were obtained by several news agencies.
“The release that caused this exposure was most likely initiated at the site where there is now a crater in the road,” it added.
“It is the conclusion of the FFM that such a release can only be determined as the use of sarin, as a chemical weapon.”
The findings by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will now be taken up by a joint UN-OPCW panel to determine whether Syrian regime forces were behind the attack.
At least 87 people including many children were killed in the attack that the United States, France and Britain have said was carried out by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The US made a retaliatory cruise missile strike days later against a Syrian airbase from where it said the chemical weapons attack was launched.
“I strongly condemn this atrocity, which wholly contradicts the norms enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention,” OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement on the Khan Sheikhoun attack. “The perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes.”
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged the international community to work together to bring to justice those responsible for the Khan Kheikhoun attack.
OPCW’s confirmation that sarin was used as a weapon “cannot be ignored,” Johnson said.
Although the report did not apportion blame, Johnson said that “the UK’s own assessment is that the Assad regime almost certainly carried out this abominable attack.”
“I urge our international partners to unite behind the need to hold those responsible for this atrocity to account,” he added.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement that she had the “highest confidence in the OPCW report.”
“Now that we know the undeniable truth, we look forward to an independent investigation to confirm exactly who was responsible for these brutal attacks so we can find justice for the victims,” she added.
The OPCW-UN joint investigative mechanism (JIM) has already determined that Syrian regime forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that ISIS used mustard gas in 2015.
Russia, Syria’s ally, has dismissed the findings as not credible. In February, Moscow vetoed a UN resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Syria over chemical weapons use in the six-year war.