Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed Wednesday that the Syrian government did not use chemical weapons the previous day in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, and that Tuesday's gas poisoning there was accidently caused by an airstrike on a terrorist-held facility where the chemicals were being manufactured.
In a video briefing, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said intelligence data showed Syrian government forces conducted an airstrike in the area of eastern Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday, April 4, between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., local time. Konashenkov said the airstrike targeted and hit a “terrorist ammunition depot” where there were "workshops for the manufacture of bombs filled with toxic agents.”
The ministry claimed that while the airstrike destroyed the terrorists’ facilities, it also caused an unintended release of poison gas.
Tuesday’s poisonous gassing in Khan Sheikhoun claimed the lives of at least 70 civilians, mostly children and women, and sparked international outrage directed at Kremlin ally Bashar al-Assad.
The timing of the incident would appear to contradict Moscow’s version of events: the first reports of gas poisoning in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 came at least five hours before the Russian Defense Ministry says the Syrian airstrike hit the terrorist facilities in the area.
Reuters news agency reported that the bombings in Khan Sheikhoun took place at around 6:30 a.m., local time, and that victims with gas poisoning symptoms flooded local hospitals soon after that.
Mounzer Khalil, head of Idlib's health authority, said hospitals in the province were overflowing with victims.
"This morning, at 6:30 a.m., warplanes targeted Khan Sheikhoun with gases, believed to be sarin and chlorine," he told a news conference.
Meanwhile, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the Managing Director CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) at UK Avon Protection Systems, called the Russian version of events “rubbish” via Twitter.
Later, he told the BBC that the idea a nerve gas like sarin could spread after a weapons manufacturing process had been bombed was "unsustainable.”
On Thursday, authorities in Turkey announced that autopsies of victims’ bodies have confirmed the use of chemical weapons.
This is not the first time the Syrian government has been accused of using chemical weapons. The UN and numerous human rights groups have presented reports of systematic violations.