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Sarin - the crude but deadly nerve agent used in Syria

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - 02:25

Sept. 17 - U.N. chemical investigators have confirmed the use of sarin nerve agent in an August 21 poison gas attack outside the Syrian capital, an attack the US says killed more than 1400 people including 400 children. Created by accident in the 1930s by German scientists producing pesticides, the deadly nerve agent has been used as a weapon at least three times in the last 25 years. Jim Drury reports.

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PLEASE NOTE: +++CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES OF DEAD BODIES AND PEOPLE SAID TO BE SUFFERING AFTER A GAS ATTACK+++ *REUTERS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT OF THE VIDEO IN THIS EDIT SAID TO BE SHOT IN SYRIA* Most of those who died in the August 21st attack on Damascus, died through asphyxiation. When ingested, the nerve agent causes the respiratory system to shut down. According to chemical weapons expert Dan Kaszeta, sarin is odourless and colourless but extremely lethal, killing its victims within minutes. SOUNDBITE (English) DAN KASZETA, CHEMICAL WEAPONS EXPERT, SAYING: "Symptoms generally proceed through headache, nausea, vomiting, tearing, lots of secretions - saliva, mucous, loss of your bowel and urinary control, leading eventually to convulsions. Generally the mechanism of death is asphyxiation." Invented accidentally by German scientists in the 1930s, sarin contains hydrogen fluoride and can be produced through various chemical pathways. It's made in liquid form, but the process is dangerous and requires expertise, which is why many believe August's attacks in the Syrian capital must have been state-sponsored. Former US weapons inspector Charles Duelfer says if not destroyed, the agent can be stored indefinitely. SOUNDBITE (English) CHARLES DUELFER, FORMER U.S. WEAPONS INSPECTOR FOR IRAQ, SAYING: "Some sarins are like Wonderbread, you can put it on the shelf and it can last forever. " Yet once released, it evaporates quickly. SOUNDBITE (English) DAN KASZETA, CHEMICAL WEAPONS EXPERT, SAYING: "In a relatively cool room, in a live nerve agent training facility in Alabama I watched, I physically stood there and watched a droplet of sarin evaporate in a matter of minutes. Some of the other nerve agents, things like VX or Soman, can last days or weeks because they are thick and oily substances with very low vapour pressures, whereas sarin was designed to be a non persistent rapid casualty producing agent." Sarin was among nerve agents used in 1988 by Saddam Hussein's forces in an attack on Iraq's Kurdish city of Halabja. 5,000 Kurds died and more than 7,000 were injured. It was also used by Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo in their Tokyo subway attack in 1995, which killed 13. Now, a Russian-brokered deal to destroy Syria's chemical arms is designed to avert a relatiatory attack on the Syrian regime by the United States. But finding, then safely dismantling the chemical stockpile presents its own challenges and offer no guarantees that sarin won't be used again in Syria or elsewhere.

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Sarin - the crude but deadly nerve agent used in Syria

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - 02:25

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