Direct link between Assad and gas attack elusive for U.S.
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With the United States threatening to attack Syria, U.S. and allied intelligence services are still trying to work out who ordered the poison gas attack on rebel-held neighborhoods near Damascus.
No direct link to President Bashar al-Assad or his inner circle has been publicly demonstrated, and some U.S. sources say intelligence experts are not sure whether the Syrian leader knew of the attack before it was launched or was only informed about it afterward.
While U.S. officials say Assad is responsible for the chemical weapons strike even if he did not directly order it, they have not been able to fully describe a chain of command for the August 21 attack in the Ghouta area east of the Syrian capital.
It is one of the biggest gaps in U.S. understanding of the incident, even as Congress debates whether to launch limited strikes on Assad’s forces in retaliation.
After wrongly claiming that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S. invasion, the U.S. intelligence community, along with the Obama administration, are trying to build as solid a case as they can about what it says was a sarin nerve gas attack that killed over 1,400 people.
The Syrian government, backed by Russia, blames Sunni rebels for the gas attack. Russia says Washington has not provided convincing proof that Assad’s troops carried out the attack and called it a “provocation” by rebel forces hoping to encourage a military response by the United States.
Identifying Syrian commanders or leaders as those who gave an order to fire rockets into the Sunni Muslim areas could help Obama convince a war-weary American public and skeptical members of Congress to back limited strikes against Assad.
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