British companies sent chemicals that make deadly sarin to Syria

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Syrian chemical weapon attack
Photo credit: bocktherobber.com

While European Union officials announced Friday they are convinced the chemical attack that killed 1,429 people, including 426 children, was the work of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, the Daily Mail reported that the chemicals used to produce the deadly nerve agent could have come from Great Britain.

The British government admitted that five export licenses were issued to two British companies that sold the chemicals to Syria, between July 2004 and May 2010, according to the Daily Mail. The companies provided the country with sodium fluoride, which is used to make sarin.

British officials called the sales a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances and condemned them as “grossly irresponsible.”

“These are very disturbing revelations uncovered by The Mail [last] Sunday regarding the provision of sodium fluoride to Syria,” said Thomas Docherty, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee. “At no time should we have allowed President Assad’s regime to get its hands on this substance.”

The British Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would not reveal how much sodium fluoride was bought and sold, or which companies were involved because of client confidentiality, but several media outlets reported that the sales were approved on the basis that the chemicals were strictly for use in the cosmetics industry.

Intelligence experts believe Assad’s regime diverted the chemicals into its weapons program to produce sarin. According to the Daily Mail:

Sarin, which is made by combining the fluorine in sodium fluoride with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and phosphorous, is considered one of the world’s most dangerous chemical warfare agents. It disrupts the nervous system, over-stimulating muscles and vital organs.

It is more than 500 times as toxic as cyanide. It can be inhaled as a gas or absorbed through the skin. In high doses, sarin suffocates its victims by paralysing the muscles around their lungs, and one drop can kill in minutes.

After testing clothing recovered from the scene of the deadly attack in Syria, scientists at the British military research laboratory at Porton Down proved that sarin was used, according to the Daily Mail.

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