Middle East/North Africa

WH disputes report Russia knew of chemical attack in Syria beforehand

The Associated Press reported Monday that the United States determined that Russia knew about last week's chemical attack on a town in Syria beforehand.

But in a Monday evening statement, a senior administration official disputed that report.

"At this time, there is no U.S. Intelligence Community consensus that Russia had foreknowledge of the Syrian chemical attack," the official said.

But the AP said a senior U.S. official told the news outlet that the presence of a drone, controlled by Russia, over the hospital where victims were being treated following the attack was not a coincidence.

The hospital was bombed several hours later. The plane used for the bombing was made by Russia, though it is not clear who was responsible for the strike.

"We don't have positive accountability yet, but the fact that somebody would strike the hospital potentially to hide the evidence of a chemical attack, about five hours after, is a question that we're very interested in," a senior official said during a background briefing on Friday.

The United States has blamed the chemical attack, launched on a town in Syria's Idlib province, on the administration of President Bashar Assad, which has been entangled in a civil war fighting opposition groups ranging from moderate rebels to U.S.-designated terrorist organizations since 2011.

Russia has been providing political and military support to the regime since the beginning of the civil war and in 2015 intervened directly, providing air support and special forces to reverse gains by rebel groups fighting Assad.

President Trump last week ordered the U.S. military to launch a missile strike on the airfield believed to be the launching point of the chemical weapons that killed at least 70 civilians.

The Pentagon on Friday said it would investigate any potential Russian collusion in the chemical attack.

"We have no knowledge of Russian involvement in this attack, but we will investigate any information that might lead us in that direction," the senior official said Friday. "We're not done."

Updated 8:07 p.m.

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