U.S. Treasury brings sanctions against Syria for sarin gas attack

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks on new U.S. sanctions against Syria during a briefing at the White House Monday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

April 24 (UPI) — The financial intelligence and enforcement arm of the U.S. Treasury on Monday announced sanctions against the Syrian government for a chemical attack earlier this month that killed nearly 100 civilians and harmed hundreds more.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted nearly 300 government employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center with the punitive sanctions — one of the agency’s largest enforcement actions in history.

The employees, 271 in all, have been involved in the development and production of non-conventional weapons used by Damascus, OFAC said in a news release.

“These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad‘s horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women and children,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will hold the entire Assad regime accountable for these blatant human rights violations.

“We take Syria’s disregard for innocent human life very seriously.”

The United States and several other nations believe Assad is responsible for launching the sarin gas attack on the northern village of Khan Sheikhoun, near battle-scarred Aleppo, on April 4. More than 80 civilians died as a result of the strike, including women and children, which drew an intensive retaliatory strike from the U.S. government two days later.

The Syrian government workers targeted by the sanctions, who are trained chemical specialists, have worked in Assad’s chemical weapons program since at least 2012, the Treasury said.

The punitive action is not the first against Damascus, but it is the first financial measure against the Middle Eastern nation motivated by the chemical attack.

Assad and his Russian allies have repeatedly denied that the regime was behind the sarin attack, saying the Syrian government doesn’t even own any chemical weapons. Western officials have dismissed the claims, citing previous attacks by Assad that utilized chemical weapons.

Even the production of sarin gas, a toxic and deadly nerve agent, has been strictly barred by the Chemical Weapons Convention since 1997.

Eighteen Syrian officials and five branches of the country’s military were targeted by U.S. sanctions in January after a United Nations report concluded that Assad was also behind at least three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015.

“These sanctions are intended to hold the Assad regime and those who support it — directly or indirectly — accountable for the regime’s blatant violations,” OFAC said. “The named individuals are designated for materially assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, and having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the government of Syria.”


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