271 Syrians on US financial blacklist for sarin gas strike

Washington targets centre said to have developed chemical arms

WASHINGTON • The United States government has put 271 Syrian chemists and officials on its financial blacklist, punishing them for their presumed role in a deadly chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town earlier this month.

In one of its largest-ever sanctions announcements, the Treasury Department on Monday took aim at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), which it said was responsible for developing the alleged sarin gas weapons used in the April 4 attack.

The attack left 87 people dead, including many children, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, provoking outrage in the West, which accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of responsibility for the atrocity.

The sanctions will freeze all assets in the US belonging to the 271 individuals on the blacklist, and block any American person or business from dealing with them.

According to the Washington- based Nuclear Threat Initiative think-tank, the SSRC is Syria's leading scientific research centre and has close links to the country's military.

The sanctions will freeze all assets in the US belonging to the 271 individuals on the blacklist, and block any American person or business from dealing with them.

The centre was the subject of two earlier sanctions declarations, in 2005 and 2007, because of its alleged role in developing weapons of mass destruction.

The US Treasury asserted in a statement that the SSRC is behind the Syrian government's efforts to develop chemical weapons and the means to deliver them.

The 271 individuals either have scientific expertise for the programme or have been involved in it since 2012, the statement said.

"These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support centre for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women and children," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"These sanctions are intended to hold the Assad regime and those who support it, directly or indirectly, accountable for the regime's blatant violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2118," he said.

Mr Assad has said the attack was a "fabrication" by the West.

The US military responded on April 7, firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield to punish the government and send a warning against any further chemical weapons attacks.

But an effort to get the United Nations to add pressure on Damascus failed when Mr Assad's close ally, Russia, vetoed a Security Council resolution on April 12 demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation into the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has welcomed the US sanctions, saying they send a warning to those who would use chemical weapons. He added: "Only a political settlement will bring an end to the war in Syria."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline '271 Syrians on US financial blacklist for sarin gas strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe