Syria sarin evidence ‘cherry-picked’

AFP-JIJI

The United States knew that an al-Qaida-linked rebel group in Syria was capable of producing sarin gas but ignored it in blaming the Syrian regime for a chemical attack in August, a veteran U.S. journalist has charged.

In a long article published by the London Review of Books, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh accused President Barack Obama’s administration of “deliberate manipulation of intelligence” in the Syrian chemical weapons affair to justify intervention.

Administration officials denied the charges and said there was no evidence to support Hersh’s claims.

Hersh does not absolve the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad of responsibility for the Aug. 21 attack on a Damascus suburb, which by U.S. estimates killed more than 1,400 people, but he contends the administration “cherry-picked” some of the intelligence about it or was silent about other reports that didn’t fit with its version of events.

Hersh evokes a top-secret four-page report sent to a senior Defense Intelligence Agency official on June 20 confirming previous reports that rebel fighters under al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra had the ability to acquire and use sarin, thanks to a former Iraqi military chemical weapons expert, Ziyad Tarik Ahmed.