The United States on Monday blacklisted 271 employees of an agency linked to the Syrian regime it said was responsible for developing chemical weapons, weeks after a sarin gas attack killed scores of people in a rebel-held province in Syria.
In one of its largest-ever sanctions announcements, the Treasury Department took aim at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which it said was responsible for developing chemical weapons for the Syrian regime.
The sanction orders US banks to freeze the assets of any employees named, and bans American companies from conducting business with them.
Some of the people blacklisted had worked on Syria's chemical weapons programme for more than five years, the Treasury Department said.
Those designated were "highly educated" individuals likely to be able to travel outside of Syria and use the international financial system even if they may not have assets abroad, administration officials said during a conference call with reporters.
TRT World's Tetiana Anderson reports from Washington, DC.
Support from Britain
"These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
US authorities, he said, would "relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities."
The sanctions were welcomed by the British government, saying they were a clear signal "that actions have consequences".
Foreign minister Boris Johnson said Britain would support efforts to hold those responsible for chemical attacks to account and would push for a political settlement to end the conflict in Syria.
"The UK welcomes U. action to sanction individuals connected to the use of chemical weapons in Syria," he said in a statement.
Sanctions send a clear signal that actions have consequences and seek to deter others from a similar acts of barbarism. We welcome the role sanctions play in increasing pressure on the Syrian regime to turn away from its military campaign.
The sanctions listings are the latest action taken by the Trump Administration in response to the April 4 chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun that US authorities say killed nearly 90 people, including children. The US says Assad's forces carried out the attack, while Assad has said the attack is a fabrication.
Earlier this month, the US launched dozens of missiles against a Syrian air base the Pentagon says was used to launch the chemical attack.
The SSRC was the subject of two earlier sanctions declarations, in 2005 and 2007, due to its alleged role in developing weapons of mass destruction.
Although the Syrian regime promotes the SSRC as a civilian research centre, "its activities focus substantively on the development of biological and chemical weapons," US officials said.
During the Obama administration, the US in July 2016 sanctioned people and companies for supporting the SSRC, and on Jan. 12, the US Treasury sanctioned six SSRC officials it said were linked to SSRC branches affiliated with chemical weapons logistics or research.