US officials: Russian drone may have turned camera off, right before Syrian attack

US officials say they suspect Russia may have played a role in the use of chemical weapons that
killed at least 80 people in northwestern Syria earlier this week.
Russia may have been operating an unmanned drone and military aircraft in the region, according to US military officials cited by BuzzFeed News on Friday.

Two officials alleged that someone had turned the unmanned drone’s camera off just before a Syrian hospital was struck, suggesting the Kremlin was turning a blind-eye to the attack. The officials did not disclose how they were able to determine the camera stopped recording.

“This is patterned behaviour,” Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria analyst for the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said to BuzzFeed. “The Russians have consistently conducted precise airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure and hospital in particular, for example in Aleppo.”

The alleged sarin nerve agent attack was reported to have occurred at 6:50 a.m. local time on Tuesday after ordnance hit the road. As the agent began to spread, the nearest hospital began treating victims. However, as that was happening, officials say a Russian-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) began recording the scene of what they say was clearly a hospital.

Five hours after the initial attack, the UAV turned off its camera, and shortly afterwards, a Russian-made aircraft targeted the hospital.

Though the aircraft was Russian, officials say it was unclear whether Russia was wholly responsible, due to the fact that the Syrian Air Force had purchased aircraft from Russia in the past.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence referenced the chemical attack, saying that rather than dropping chemical weapons, the attack had hit “workshops, which produced chemical warfare munitions,” according to BuzzFeed.

A senior military official cited by BuzzFeed said they “have no knowledge” of Russia’s involvement or prior knowledge of the attack, and said they were in the process of “[investigating] any information that could lead in that direction.”

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