An international team of investigators determined for the first time in a report published Friday that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his younger brother Maher are suspected of being tied to several chemical weapons attacks carried out in the country in 2014 and 2015.
According to Reuters, while a joint inquiry for the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) previously named a number of Syrian military units that carried out chemical weapons attacks, the investigators hitherto never mentioned any commanders or officials involved in the incidents.
The latest report, which was seen by Reuters but has not been made public, indicated that 15 people associated with the Syrian government have been involved in the use of chemical weapons during the country’s deadly civil war.
“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,” Reuters reported, quoting “a source familiar with the inquiry.”
However, Virginia Gamba, the head of the joint inquiry team, denied any list of individual suspects had yet been compiled by the UN and the OPCW.
“There are no … identification(s) of individuals being considered at this time,” she told Reuters by email.
While Assad himself could not be reached for comment regarding the report, a Syrian government official told Reuters that the accusations concerning the use of chemical weapons had “no basis in truth.”
Governments in Paris, London and Washington have called for sanctions against perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria, including against the regime in Damascus.
But the Syrian government has been shielded by its ally Russia, which has questioned previous UN findings, and said the evidence is not conclusive enough to warrant sanctions.
Syria agreed to get rid of its chemical stockpile and to refrain from making any use of toxic substances in warfare when it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, under pressure from Russia.
AFP contributed to this report.