Syria’s dictator Bashar Al-Assad personally ordered the development and production of nerve gas in order to use it against his own people in early 2009, two years before the country’s civil war erupted, the French investigative website Mediapart has revealed.
Scientists involved in the country’s chemical weapons program told the French news site that the Assad regime ordered the equipping of seven military bases with storage facilities for chemicals needed to create sarin gas.
The nerve gas was later added to modified munitions that could be fired from helicopters, the report said.
The site also obtained smuggled documents from the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) which Assad directly controls.
In 2011, when Syrian soldiers began to desert to rebel forces, Assad told a CERS unit known as Department 3000, to modify shells and grenades to contain nerve gas to use against opponents of the regime.
One of the people Mediapart interviewed served as the director of Department 3000’s research section until the war began.
The scientist told Mediapart he was loyal to the program because he was told it was the only way to pressure Israel into returning the Golan Heights to Syria.
Only many years later, he said, did he understand that the primary goal was to prepare to respond to a possible coup by launching chemical attacks on the Syrian population itself. His suspicions were confirmed when he was told to prepare miniaturized chemical weapons and equip specific airbases with them.
“The runways of the chosen airbases weren’t long enough to enable our Sukhoi-22 bombers or MiG-23s to take off,” he explained. “At one base, effectively, there were only helicopters.”
“Another base, in Suwayda province, was so close to the border that the Israelis could have destroyed it with mortar shells had they thought it endangered them.”
Consequently, he said, it was clear these weapons weren’t intended to be used against Israel.
The former official said he had told his direct supervisor there was no sense in stocking chemical weapons at those particular bases and in that manner. He also wrote to the intelligence chief, Ali Mamluk, who is responsible for CERS, to tell him “that we’d received an absurd order.” At that point, he said, he didn’t yet understand “that the idea of using sarin against the opposition came from him.”
The scientist went on to say that the Assad regime was ready to use all mean to quell the revolution and did not hesitate to use chemical weapons. He noted that the first time the Assad regime used chemical weapons was back in October 2012 in an attack on the town of Salqeen in rural Idlib.
French intelligence verified the documents smuggled from CERS with the evidence serving as the center of France’s statement at the UN Security Council that accused the Assad regime of using the sarin nerve agent in Idlib, Jobar, the town of Saraqib, and most recently in the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)