The US is to begin its first civil-rights case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which has used chemical weapons in a rebel-held area near the Turkish border.
Lawyers representing the Trump administration said the US is seeking to recover the property that the Assad regime is believed to have amassed in the war-torn country’s Idlib province.
“The United States is seeking the return of property seized by the Syrian government during the chemical weapons attack on April 4, 2017, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 people and the wounding of more 300,000 people,” US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.
“This property, including buildings and equipment, was confiscated from the Syrian regime by the United States, and is believed by the Government to be in the possession of the Syrian Government.”
Mr Rosenstein said the seizure was a clear violation of international law and international human rights law, as well as US national security.
“It is important to note that, under international law, the property seized is property not of the US, but is property belonging to a foreign government,” Mr Rosenstein said.
Mr Assad’s government has long denied responsibility for the attack.
“We deny the accusation that we used chemical agents, and that any chemical weapons were used,” the Syrian leader said in an April 19 televised address.
Mr Trump has repeatedly accused the Assad government of a role in the chemical attack.
The White House said the case will focus on whether the property is legitimate property and that “it is critical to obtain this property”.
The White Helmets, a Syrian group that has been documenting the chemical attacks, said it would also pursue the claim for compensation.
“While we do not yet have a clear indication of the amount of the property, we believe that the Government of Syria is seeking compensation for the loss of property and property rights,” the group said in its statement.
The group said it had “documented evidence” of the use of chemical weapons by the government, including photographs showing soldiers with the chemical agent sarin gas.
It added that the United Nations has said the Syrian forces have used chemical munitions in more than 40 chemical attacks since the uprising against Mr Assad began in March 2011.
Mr Rosenstein, who is leading the investigation, is leading a probe into the attack that took place on April 5.
Mr Tillerson, the US secretary of state, told Congress last week that there was no evidence to support Mr Assad’s allegations that his forces were responsible for the April 4 chemical attack in Idlib province, where the United State says more than 3,000 civilians died.
He also said the investigation would focus on evidence of what happened next.
The United Nations, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a US-led international coalition are also investigating the incident.