Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has been blamed for the chemical weapons attack by President Trump
Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat – who served as head of chemical warfare in Syria’s powerful 5th Division until he defected in 2013 – said Assad has hidden hundreds of tonnes of the nation's chemical arsenal despite claiming he had given over their entire supply to the United Nations.
In 2014, Syria was believed to have handed its entire chemical arsenal to the UN’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) after they were criticised for its involvement in sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people in September 2013.
But according to a former Assad general, the Syrian despot failed to declare large amounts of sarin precursor chemicals and other toxic materials.
Aftermath of the suspected-chemical weapons attack which occurred on April 6
Gen Sakat told the Telegraph: “They [the regime] admitted only to 1,300 tonnes, but we knew in reality they had nearly double that. They had at least 2,000 tonnes. At least.”
The former army chief, who has maintained contact with officials inside Syria, believes the undisclosed stockpile includes several hundred tonnes of sarin agent, precursor chemicals, aerial bombs capable of being filled with chemical agents and chemical warheads for Scud missiles.
His comments come after Assad was blamed by the White House for a chemical weapons attack which killed at least 87 people, including 30 children, in the Syria’s northern Idlib province on April 6.
Remains of an ammunition shell at the scenes of the attack
We knew in reality they had nearly double that. They [Syria] had at least 2,000 tonnes
Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat
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Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of the British military's chemical weapons unit who is now advising Syrian NGOs, said has backed the general’s claims saying they are “plausible”.
Mr de Bretton-Gordon added the figure is most likely higher than his initial estimate of 200 tonnes.
According to Gen Sakat, the weeks and months before the OPCW inspectors arrived the regime was busy moving to hide its hoard.
Tonnes of chemicals were allegedly transported to Syria’s heavily fortified mountains outside Homs and to the coastal city of Jableh near the nation’s largest military base shared with the Russians.
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A child receiving treatment at a field hospital after an alleged chemical attack in Idlib, northen Syria
Gen Sakat also said the regime had been not manufactured new nerve agents since 2014 as they already have a stockpile.
He continued: “They don’t need any more, they have all they need already.”
But the former head of Syria’s chemical warfare said he believes the Assad regime has been experimenting with different mixes of the gases, such as sarin with tear gas, in order to create a mélange of symptoms that would make the cause of death and injuries hard to identify.
Following the handover of Syria’s chemical weapons, the OPCW reportedly submitted further concerns to the UN Security Council but after intervention from Russia in September 2015 the issue was allegedly dropped.
One senior UN official told the Wall Street Journal: “There was absolutely no appetite in the UN or among member states to open that can of worms.”