Mohamad Abazeed / AFP / Getty Images
Syria appears to be preparing a new chemical weapons attack against its citizens, the White House said Monday, warning that if the weapons are again used, the US will make the Syrian government "pay a heavy price."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced the news in a statement late Monday."The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.
As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."
Five US defense officials reached by BuzzFeed News said they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from, including one US Central Command official who had "no idea" about its origin. The officials said they were unaware the White House was planning to release its statement; usually such statements are coordinated across the national security agencies and departments before they are released.
A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on the matter and referred questions to the White House statement. A State Department spokesperson also referred BuzzFeed News to the White House statement and said the agency did not have anything to add.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis departed earlier Monday evening for a three-day trip to Germany and Belgium, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Joseph Dunford was in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley tweeted that Russia and Iran would share the blame of any future attack by Assad against the Syrian people.
The White House did not specify what form any US retribution would take, or what intelligence suggested that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was preparing to once again deploy chemical weapons on his own people.
A major chemical attack against civilians in April prompted the US to launch air strikes against Syrian forces. It was the first time the US military had targeted the Syrian government since the country's civil war began six years ago.
Graphic images of the attack's devastation moved Trump to order the strike, he later said.
"Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered at this very barbaric attack," he said from his Florida club Mar-a-Lago. "No child of God should ever suffer such horror."