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Treasury Targets Assad Regime Scientists With New Sanctions

The Treasury announced new sanctions against Bashar al-Assad regime chemical weapons scientists — a response to April's attack on Syrian civilians.
Image: At least 58 killed in suspected gas attack in northern Syria, NGO
A Syrian child is treated after an alleged chemical attack at a field hospital in Saraqib in Idlib province in northern Syria on April 4.EPA

The Treasury Department announced new sanctions aimed at the Bashar al-Assad regime on Monday — a response to April's chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians.

The sanctions, one of largest ever leveled by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, targets 271 employees of Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Center, which senior Trump administration officials said is responsible for the production and development of non-conventional weapons for the Syrian government.

A Syrian child receives treatment after an alleged chemical attack.EPA

"As a result of today's action any property or interest in property of these individuals, subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be blocked and U.S. persons will be generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them," a senior administration official said Monday during a briefing call with reporters.

"We’re putting pressure on the very people who are behind the development of Syria's chemical weapons regime."

The move, an economic complement to a missile strike ordered by President Donald Trump less than three weeks earlier, seeks to further show that those responsible or affiliated with chemical weapons attacks will be held responsible, another administration official told reporters during the call.

The sanctions target highly educated individuals currently employed by Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Center with expertise in chemistry.

"Part of this is also a strong deterrent as well to those who might consider, at any level, being involved with chemical weapons use or production, and that they know that they too could be designated and face ramifications," the official said.

The same official said that the April attack, among others, "suggest that Syria has an ongoing chemical weapons program" despite Syria's prior agreements with the international community and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile and cease production and development of any more weapons.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called the sanctions "enormously important" in a guest appearance at Monday's White House press briefing.

In a statement released earlier Monday, Mnuchin said "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."

"The United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will hold the entire Assad regime accountable for these blatant human rights violations in order to deter the spread of these types of barbaric chemical weapons," the statement continued.

The Monday action is just the latest in sanctions against Syria.

In January of this year the Treasury announced sanctions against 18 senior regime officials after findings by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that showed the Assad regime was responsible for chlorine gas attacks against its own people in 2014 and 2015.