U.S. takes harsh action against Syrian company linked to chemical weapons attack

The U.S. Treasury Department has applied sanctions against 271 employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) because it says they developed chemical weapons that were used in the recent gas attack in Syria.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explained the actions in a statement at a White House press briefing Monday.

“These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children,” he said.

The United States says SSRC is responsible for developing chemical weapons for the government of Bashar al-Assad.  As a result, 271 SSRC employees have been blacklisted by the U.S, some of whom had worked on Syria’s chemical weapons program for more than five years, according to the Treasury Department.

The sanctions require U.S. banks to freeze the assets of the “highly educated” SSRC employees named.  It also bans American companies from doing business with the individuals.

The SSRC employees named in the sanctions could travel outside of Syria.  The U.S. hopes to prevent their ability to use the international financial system with the sanctions.

Mnuchin says that the U.S. authorities will “relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities.”

The sanctions and comments come weeks after the April 4 poison gas attack unleashed on a rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun of Syria.  The attack killed nearly 90 people, tragically including children.

The sanctions by the Trump Administration come after the United States’ initial reaction to the gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

At the beginning of April, the U.S. launched dozens of missiles in to Syria, targeting an air base implicated in the gas attack.  The Pentagon says Syrian President Assad’s forces there were responsible for the attack. Assad has denied the allegations.

The Syrian government says the SSRC is a civilian research center that focuses “substantively on the development of biological and chemical weapons,” according to U.S. officials.

This isn’t the first time the U.S has been in conflict with the SSRC.  Back in 2005, then President George W. Bush also placed sanctions against the SSRC.  His administration accused SSRC of producing weapons of mass destruction.

In 2016, the Obama administration sanctioned people and companies who supported the SSRC in July.

In January 2017, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned six SSRC officials, linking them to SSRC branches affiliated with chemical weapons.

Mnuchin says the sanctions announced today are the “largest ever executed” by the department and that the “sweeping sanctions” are intended to hold the Assad regime and it’s supporters accountable for violations of UN resolutions.

H/T: Reuters

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