In a new interview with AFP, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the US, "hand-in-glove with the terrorists," "fabricated" the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed at least 87, including many children, in a rebel-held town. The reason for the "fabrication"? The US wanted "a pretext" for its airstrike on Syrian forces, Assad says. He insists the Syrian government had already given up all its chemical weapons in 2013, and says it's "not clear" an attack even happened on April 4. "You have a lot of fake videos now," he says. "We don't know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all?" CNN notes that Assad's assertion is contradicted by not just eyewitnesses, but independent analysts. Reuters reports that the British delegation at the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW said Thursday samples from Khan Sheikhun tested positive for sarin gas.
As for the US airstrike in response, Assad insists his forces are still as strong as ever: "Our firepower, our ability to attack the terrorists hasn't been affected by this strike." CNN notes the restrictions placed on the AFP interview, most notably that it was filmed by the Syrian government, not AFP, and footage of only the first five questions was handed over to AFP. Meanwhile, Russia says the US broke international law with the strike, but President Trump reaffirmed Wednesday that he has "absolutely no doubt we did the right thing." During an appearance in Washington with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump also said that he hopes Russia didn't know about the alleged chemical weapons attack in advance, "but certainly they could have. They were there. So we'll find out." (Click for more on US-Russia relations, which are at a "low point.")