The U.S. intelligence community intercepted communications between Syrian military officials and chemical weapons experts discussing preparations for a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria last week, CNN reported Wednesday.
While the intercepted communications took place before an attack blamed on the Syrian regim, a senior U.S. official told CNN that the U.S. did not not about the strike before it happened. The intercepts were part of a review of communications and other intelligence from the hours after the attack.
The U.S. intelligence community typically deals with such a large volume of communications from Syria and Iraq that the information is often not looked at by analysts unless a certain event warrants it.
No communications intercepts have yet been reviewed to confirm accusations that Russia was complicit in the chemical weapons attack, which was allegedly carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad. That attack left more than 80 civilians in the country’s Idlib Province dead.
Both Syria and Russia, a longtime ally of Assad, have denied involvement in the chemical strikes and have sought to place blame for the attack on terrorist groups in the region looking to spur U.S. military action against Assad.
But the attack would not be the first time the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own citizens. And despite a 2013 agreement, in which the Assad regime said it would give up its chemical weapons, U.S. officials now believe that the Syrian government has reestablished its use of the weapons.
What’s more, U.S. officials also believe that the regime may have outside help and have pointed to the fact that Russia has chemical weapons experts in the country.
The chemical attack prompted President Trump to order a missile strike at a Syrian military air base last week. The retaliatory strike was praised by many world leaders, while Russia denounced it as an act of “aggression” and accused the U.S. of violating international law.