by Chas Danner
Earlier this week, Noah Shachtman and Colum Lynch filed a report on the Assad regime’s previous use of chemical weapons. It may shed some light on last night’s attack, which, like earlier Syrian chemical weapons attacks, left victims with a variety of symptoms both consistent and inconsistent with exposure to an deadly agent like Sarin gas:
U.S. analysts speculate that some of these atypical effects may be the result of Assad’s military using an atypical mix of chemical arms, so-called “riot control agents,” and conventional munitions on the battlefield. In December, one former chemist for the Syrian regime told Al Jazeera that this blending of weapons was done, in part, to create a confusing blend of symptoms — and mask their source. …
Contributing to confusion is the long-standing suspicion that Assad’s forces are brewing up their unconventional weapons in unconventional ways. One of sarin’s two main precursors is isopropanol — rubbing alcohol, basically. But the material used for chemical attacks can’t be purchased in any drug store. While the commercial stuff typically is 70 percent water, the weapons-grade isopropanol is highly concentrated, with less than 1 percent water. That makes it extremely hard to obtain. Some outside observers believe the Syrians are using less isopropanol than usual in their sarin in order to preserve their precious stockpile of the precursor. (It would also produce milder-than-normal effects in a victim.) If the dilution theory is true, it could be an indication that Assad intends to hold on to his chemical arsenal for a long, long time — and unleash it only when his rule is once again under threat.
Shachtman also rounded up analysis of last night’s attack.