A report by a chemical weapons watchdog concluded that a helicopter controlled by Syria’s elite “Tiger Forces” military unit dropped a chlorine cylinder on the rebel-held city of Saraqib in February 2018.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that, at approximately 21:22 on 4 February 2018, during ongoing attacks against Saraqib, a military helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force under the control of the Tiger Forces hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder,” said the report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. “The cylinder ruptured and released a toxic gas, chlorine, which dispersed over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals.”
The dozen individuals who were exposed to the chemical suffered from skin irritation, chest pain, and nausea, the report noted.
Witnesses told the OPCW that on the day of the attack, “they heard a helicopter sound between 21:15 and 21:22, and one or two items falling and hitting the ground.” One person who had been staying in a nearby shelter “recounted that he went to see what had happened and started feeling sick when getting closer to the area in the direction of the origin of the sound.” Video evidence obtained by the OPCW confirmed witness accounts.
Despite growing evidence indicating otherwise, the Assad regime has flatly denied ever using chemical weapons in the conflict.
The OPCW report relied on interviews with victims and medical personnel who responded to the incident, samples from the scene examined by toxicologists, and satellite imagery obtained by the team which identified several “impact points.”
Responding investigation, Syrian authorities had alleged that White Helmet rescue workers had worked with jihadi groups to “stage” the incident in order to “forge accusations against the Syrian Arab Army.” The watchdog group found no evidence supporting that claim.
Syria’s infamous Tiger Forces is a pro-government, Russian-backed, intelligence-driven air militia “widely regarded as the most powerful and most brutal of the four intelligence branches,” according to the Middle East Institute. The unit’s founder has been accused of ordering the killing of hundreds of the protestors in the early days of Syria’s decade-long conflict.
The Monday report is the second OPCW investigation into the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. The first confirmed the use of a sarin nerve agent and chlorine against civilians in a March 2017 attack on the town of Ltamenah, killing three people and injuring 32, who suffered from vomiting, breathing difficulties, and frothing at the mouth.