Le Monde said that a new report revealed how the Syrian authorities have been circumventing the agreement to dismantle their chemical arsenal, by concealing weapons at times, eliminating “suspicious” employees and secretly importing nerve drugs at other times.
In a joint report between Benjamin Bart and Stephanie Maupas, the French newspaper indicated that the veil of mystery that was hiding the chemical weapons program of the Syrian regime had begun to be torn apart, which allowed it to evade its obligations to the international community.
The authors of the report explained that two non-governmental organizations, at the forefront of the struggle against impunity in the Syrian conflict, namely the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Syrian Archive, submitted a report on Monday to several national and international investigation bodies, showing in depth and accuracy how this program works that caused the killing Hundreds of civilians since 2011.
This 90-page document, which Le Monde, the Washington Post, the Financial Times and Deutsche Zeitung each obtained an exclusive copy of, reveals how the authorities in Damascus manipulated the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was believed to have dismantled the Syrian chemical arsenal.
The report is based – according to Le Monde – on the analysis of open sources, the use of data derived from the records of the United Nations, and the testimonies of about 50 Syrian officials who defected in recent years from the regime in Damascus, after they were working in the Center for Scientific Studies and Research, which is the government agency responsible for developing weapons. Syrian traditional and non-traditional.
These sources explained – according to the newspaper – the structure of this military-industrial complex, which was not known before, and the tricks that the Syrian authorities resorted to to mislead the investigators of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to preserve the offensive ability in the chemical field.
According to Le Monde, these ploys relied on transferring part of the stockpile of weapons and lethal materials to Republican Guard bases, on chasing, imprisonment, and in some cases disposing of suspected employees, and on establishing a secret channel to import products that are involved in the formation of nerve gas, such as sarin.
The newspaper mentioned that nerve gas was used in 2013 in Ghouta, and led to the killing of 1,200 of its residents by suffocation, which angered the international community, and crossed the “red line” drawn by then-US President Barack Obama, and prompted Washington, Paris, London and Washington to plan reprisal attacks. Suspended due to last-minute arrangements and agreement between the latter and Moscow
The program is still going strong
Under this agreement, which was approved by the United Nations and approved by Damascus, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was mandated to destroy the Syrian stockpile and the chemical weapons production system, and the United States and Russia announced that “the mission was accomplished” after the organization carried out two missions that included 27 sites for the production of these weapons on the basis of the Damascus report. .
Nevertheless, the western centers, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, continued to suspect that Damascus deliberately downplayed the importance of its arsenal, especially since chemical attacks continued on areas controlled by anti-Assad rebels after 2013.
The newspaper says: Today, this new report – which delves deep into the mysteries of the Syrian Death Factory – helps to understand the cause.
Steve Costas of the Open Society Justice Initiative quotes that their research “shows that Syria has a strong chemical weapons program, and that OPCW member states should hold them accountable for their ongoing violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
After 3 years of work, the report was sent – according to Le Monde – to 5 different institutions: the investigation and identification team of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international impartial and independent mechanism, which is a branch of the United Nations that collects evidence of crimes committed in Syria, the Ministry of Justice. The American Federal Bureau of Investigation, the German Federal Prosecutor who recently received a complaint against the Syrian regime in connection with the attacks in Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun.
The newspaper pointed out that the most important piece of information in the report was the re-publication of the news of the Syrian news site Zaman Al Wasl in 2017, stating that the chemical weapons reserves at the Institute 1000 in Jamraya, were transferred 5 days before the arrival of the OPCW investigators, to the stores of the 105th Brigade. For the Republican Guard located a few kilometers away.
According to the report, the chemical program – which was implemented by the Center for Research and Scientific Studies in Syria – began in the mid 1980s under the supervision of the Air Force Intelligence Service, and it is a maze of branches, institutes and units that show concern for division to prevent leakage and penetration by foreign spy services.
Kick in the anthill
Le Monde said that the experience of the chemical weapons manufacturing process began in cooperation with the 3000 Institute and the 4000 Institute, and that experts from Iran and North Korea, which have alliance ties with Damascus, contributed.
Although the mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) began in 2013, followed by the American, French and Israeli strikes on the infrastructure of the Syrian regime in the wake of the attack on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017, the regime was able to resist, especially since the 450 branch of the 3000 Institute – which represents the nerve center of the program. The Syrian chemist, which was officially disbanded in 2013, is still working, possibly under a different name.
The testimonies of defectors from the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center revealed new entities that were not known before, such as two workshops for the production of barrel bombs filled with chlorine, one of them located in Jamraya, and the other near Masyaf, and a site for the production of bilateral bombs near Aleppo was discovered, after it was discovered. Close it in 1998.
According to a number of former employees of the center, the Israeli bombing in April 2018 of the Institute 4000 located in this area only affected the administrative buildings, and another air attack on Project 99, a factory to build Scud missiles, hidden in the Taqsis Mountains failed. Between Homs and Hama.
Employees were killed
The newspaper warned – according to a defector – that the Syrian regime itself sometimes destroys its sensitive facilities, as happened in 2012, during the transfer of the Institute of 4000, when Damascus aviation dropped two tons of bombs on a building near Aleppo, fearing that the rebels would seize missiles. Cornet anti-tank that was in it.
The strict security measures and supervision of employees have contributed to stopping their dissent and the failure of confidential information to be leaked – as Le Monde says – especially that travel abroad and moving within the country require a permit, and it is sufficient for an employee to have any information outside his field of activity to be arrested or expelled.
The two generals, Bassam Al-Hassan and Youssef Ajeeb, are overseeing the hunt for potentially disloyal officials, and “several employees were killed, died in prison, or disappeared.” According to the report, the center’s engineer, Ayman al-Habli, was executed by the regime for “cooperating with the Israeli enemy” in 2010.
Broken the supply chain
The most recent disclosure in the report – according to the newspaper – is related to the mechanisms of supplying the center with chemicals, as investigators discovered, thanks to the Comtrade database (a huge commercial record kept by the United Nations Statistics Division) that between 2014 and 2018, 69 categories of products were exported. Which is likely to be subject to sanctions to Syria from 39 countries, including 15 European countries.
It mainly includes isopropanol, which is a precursor to sarin gas, and it is allowed to be marketed only if its concentration is less than 95%, and the Justice Initiative for Open Complex and the Syrian Archive have identified companies based in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland facing legal sanctions.
Three Belgian companies were convicted in February 2019, and the director of one of them was sentenced to one year in prison, and an investigation was opened in the Netherlands for violating import restrictions imposed on Syria, Le Monde says.