International investigators have said for the first time that they suspect Bashar al-Assad and his brother are responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, according to a document seen by Reuters.
A joint inquiry for the United Nations and global watchdog the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had previously identified only military units and did not name any commanders or officials.
Now a list has been produced of individuals whom the investigators have linked to a series of chlorine bomb attacks in 2014-15 – including Assad, his younger brother Maher and other high-ranking figures – indicating the decision to use toxic weapons came from the very top, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.
The list, which has been seen by Reuters but has not been made public, was based on a combination of evidence compiled by the UN-OPCW team in Syria and information from Western and regional intelligence agencies, according to the source, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The list identifies 15 people “to be scrutinized in relation to use of CW (chemical weapons) by Syrian Arab Republic Armed Forces in 2014 and 2015”. It does not specify what role they are suspected of playing, but lists their titles.
The list is split into three sections. The first, titled “Inner Circle President”, lists six people including Assad, his brother who commands the elite 4th Armored Division, the defense minister and the head of military intelligence.
The second section names the air force chief as well as four commanders of air force divisions. They include the heads of the 22nd Air Force Division and the 63rd Helicopter Brigade, units that the inquiry has previously said dropped chlorine bombs.
The third part of the list – “Other relevant Senior Mil Personnel” – names two colonels and two major-generals.
Assad and members of his inner circle are responsible for dozens of chemical attacks, most notably the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta in 2013 where over 1,200 people were killed, many of them children. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office + Agencies)