Assad: Chemical attacks '100 percent fabrication'

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday insisted his government was not involved in a deadly chemical attack on civilians last week, saying the accusations were completely fabricated.

"Definitely, 100 percent for us, it's fabrication," Assad told Agence France Presse in an interview. "Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack."

The U.S. launched a missile strike last week in response to the chemical attack, which Western powers have attributed to Assad's forces.

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP lawmakers preparing to vote on bill allowing migrant children to be detained longer than 20 days: report Wasserman Schultz: Infants separated from their parents are in Florida immigrant shelters Ex-White House ethics chief: Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws MORE ordered the retaliatory strike on a Syrian military air base on April 6. World leaders widely applauded the response, but Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Syria's biggest supporters, condemned it.

The Syrian and Russian governments both have sought to discredit the U.S. response as an act of aggression and to place blame for the chemical attack, which left more than 80 civilians dead, on terrorist groups operating in the war-torn country.

CNN reported Wednesday, though, that the U.S. intelligence community had intercepted communications in which the Syrian military and chemical weapon experts discussed preparations for a strike.

Some U.S. officials have questioned whether Russia knew about the attack or was complicit in some way, though no agency has revealed any intercepted communications that supported that suspicion.

Also Wednesday, Russia blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the attack, using its veto power as one of the council's five permanent members. It marked the eighth time Russia has vetoed a resolution on Syria since the beginning of the country's civil war in 2011.

If Assad's government did carry out the attack, it would not be the first time it used chemical weapons on Syrian citizens. A similar attack in 2013 killed more than 1,000 people and prompted an agreement in which Assad vowed to dispose of its chemical weapons.

But that effort ultimately fell short, and the U.S. has assessed that the Syrian government has restarted its chemical weapon program.