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Russian account of Syrian chemical attack is 'infantile', say experts

Chemical gas attack survivor Ismail Reslan, receives medical treatment at an hospital in Idlib, Syria on April 6, 2017 (Huseyin Fadil/Anadolu)
Chemical gas attack survivor Ismail Reslan, receives medical treatment at a hospital in Idlib, Syria on 6 April 2017 (Huseyin Fadil/Anadolu)

Moscow's suggestions that civilians were poisoned following a Syrian airstrike on a weapons depot that contained chemical weapons have been widely rejected.

Chemical weapons experts and security analysts have now also discredited the claims as "fanciful" and "infantile".

The Russian defence ministry claimed on its Facebook page that a Syrian airstrike hit "workshops, which produced chemical warfare munitions" in the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday.

Chemical weapons expert, Col Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told the BBC that the Russian version of events was "pretty fanciful".

Gordon told BBC Radio 4 that all signs showed the chemical used was sarin gas and that the idea that nerve gases like sarin could spread after a weapons manufacturing process had been bombed was "unsustainable".

"I think this is pretty fanciful and no doubt the Russians trying to protect their allies. Axiomatically, if you blow up sarin you destroy it."

Security expert Dan Kaszeta also concluded: "From a technical chemical weapons perspective, it seems unlikely that the Russian 'warehouse/depot' narrative is plausible as the source of the chemical exposure."

Read more: Russia: Assad hit a 'terrorist warehouse of toxic substances'

After explaining the complex methods of manufacturing sarin and the difficulties in storing the chemical substance, he concluded that only a few countries really ever cracked the technology for making "unitary" sarin that had any kind of useful shelf-life.

"Even assuming that large quantities sarin were located in the same part of the same warehouse (a practice that seems odd)," he said, "an airstrike is not going to have the devastating effect that it did."

"Dropping a bomb on the binary components does not actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent. It is an infantile argument," Kaszeta added. "It would go up in a ball of flame, a very large one, which has not been in evidence."

Sarin gas

    The effects of exposure are instant and lead to an excruciating death. Inhaling even tiny amounts causes drooling and vomiting. Less than a minute after exposure, the victim's nervous system is under sustained attack, making the body unable to control breathing, the victim foams at the mouth with blood-flecked discharges.

Kaszeta also raised serious doubt about the capabilities of Syrian opposition forces having sufficient quantities of any of the nerve agents, which he says, relies on a sophisticated supply chain of exotic precursors and an industrial base.

"Are we to seriously believe," he asked, "that one of the rebel factions has expended the vast sums of money and developed this industrial base, somehow not noticed to date and not molested by attack? It seems an unlikely chain of events."

Even if this improbable scenario is to be believed, it does not put the Syrian regime in the clear. If the Syrian regime actually did believe that the warehouse stored chemical warfare agents then striking it deliberately was an act of chemical warfare by proxy, said Kaszeta.

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Europe & RussiaMiddle EastNewsRussiaSyria
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