UNITED NATIONS — The sarin gas attack in Syria last April that killed several dozen people — and prompted President Donald Trump to launch nearly 60 cruise missiles onto a Syrian air base — was conducted by government forces, said an expert panel charged with identifying the perpetrators.
The Joint Investigative Mechanism, comprising experts from the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, released a report Thursday that says the April 4 attack in Khan Sheikhoun was the work of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The group also attributed a Sept. 16, 2016, mustard gas attack in Um-Housh to the Islamic State, the militant group that has been trying to overthrow Assad.
Combined, the two confirmations bring to six the number of chemical weapons attacks whose perpetrators have been identified by the independent panel.
The group, established by the UN Security Council in August 2015, has attributed three other attacks to the Syrian government and one other to ISIS.
It was the focus of a Security Council vote on Tuesday when Russia’s ambassador vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that would extend the group’s mandate, which expires in mid-November.
“Today’s report confirms what we have long known to be true,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN. “Time and again, we see independent confirmation of chemical weapons used by the Assad regime. And in spite of these independent reports, we still see some countries trying to protect the regime. That must end now.”
Nations that fail to support the JIM “are no better than the dictators or terrorists who use these terrible weapons,” Haley said.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said Tuesday that the vote on the fate of the JIM should be postponed until after it had produced the report on Khan Sheikhoun. The veto by Russia, one of five permanent members of the 15-nation Security Council, all but doomed the expert panel.
Eleven members voted in favor of the resolution to renew the group’s work for another year, and two countries, China and Kazakhstan, abstained — while Russia and Bolivia rejected it.
Russian officials could not be reached for comment.
Trump authorized the cruise missile attack on the Shayrat military airfield in Homs province, saying he was moved to act by images of children writhing uncontrollably as they suffered from the gas attack.
The JIM report said its leadership panel “expresses its shock and dismay about the existence and use of these weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, and its deep sympathy to those affected by them.”