Initial probe suggests Syria attack victims exposed to sarin: Turkey

A Syrian child receives treatment after the alleged chemical attack at a field hospital in Saraqib, Idlib province, northern Syria, April 4, 2017.
A Syrian child receives treatment after the alleged chemical attack at a field hospital in Saraqib, Idlib province, northern Syria, April 4, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

ISTANBUL (AFP, Reuters) - An initial analysis of victims of the suspected chemical attack in Syria who were brought to Turkey for treatment suggests they were exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin, the Turkish health ministry said on Thursday (April 6).  

“According to the results of the initial analysis, the findings suggest the injured were exposed to a chemical substance (Sarin),” the health ministry said in a statement, confirming that 31 people were being treated in Turkey and three had died in hospital.

Earlier on Thursday, Turkey said autopsies of three Syrians killed in an attack in rebel-held north-western Syria confirmed that chemical weapons had been used by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, state media reported.

“Autopsies were carried out on three of the bodies after they were brought from Idlib. The results of the autopsy confirms that chemical weapons were used,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said, quoted by state-run Anadolu news agency.  

“This scientific investigation also confirms that Assad used chemical weapons,” Bozdag added, without giving further details.

  • What is sarin?

  • Sarin is a colourless, tasteless, odourless nerve agent that affects the brain's ability to communicate with the body's organs through the nervous system.

    Sarin vapour is deadly if inhaled, while contact with sarin liquid can also be fatal.

    When exposed to sarin, symptoms range from confusion, blurred vision, nausea, to convulsions, loss of consciousness, paralysis, and respiratory failure that can be fatal. 

    It works by inhibiting the action of a crucial enzyme that allows muscles and organs to contract.

    Asphyxiation follows after the muscles and organs are constantly stimulated and malfunction.

    Sarin is considered "the most volatile" nerve agent, according to the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    This is because it can quickly and easily change states from a liquid to a vapour and spread into the environment.

    It was first manufactured in 1938 by scientists in Nazi Germany, who were originally creating pesticides.

Thirty-two injured Syrians were brought to southern Turkey for medical treatment but three of them died in hospital.  At least 86 people were killed early on Tuesday in Khan Sheikhun and dozens more were being treated after they were found convulsing and foaming at the mouth.  

Autopsies were conducted by officials from the World Health Organisation in the southern province of Adana together with officials from Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Bozdag said.  

The wounded had been brought from Idlib through Turkey’s Cilvegozu border gate for the treatment in the Reyhanli district of Hatay province.  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal critic of Assad, called the Syrian president a “murderer” on Wednesday after denouncing the world’s “silence” on the deaths.  

Russia, Assad’s main ally, has said a Syrian air strike had hit a “terrorist warehouse” but Erdogan has yet to make any reference to the Russian claim.  

Moscow has been one of the regime’s biggest supporters together with Iran while Turkey has given support to Syrian opposition fighters.  

Recently Ankara said it “successfully completed” its military operation supporting Syrian rebels against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group launched last August in northern Syria.