President Bashar al-Assad's regime will pay a "heavy price" if it carries out another chemical weapons attack in Syria, the White House said in an unusual warning Monday night. The White House statement said the US has "identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack" that would "likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children," CNN reports. The statement said the preparations resemble those before April's attack and although the US is in Syria to fight ISIS, Assad and his military will pay the price if they conduct "another mass murder attack using chemical weapons." The US fired dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase after the April attack. The White House warning is "unprecedented over the course of the conflict," Valerie Szybala of the Syria Institute research group tells the BBC.
"We've never had this sort of pre-warning from US intelligence about a potential attack," she says, adding that the warning is "quite plausible" because US intelligence apparently saw early signs of previous attacks. After the warning, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted that any more attacks on the people of Syria will be blamed not just on Assad, but on Russia and Iran, "who support him killing his own people." But the AP frames other officials as being "caught completely off guard" by the warning. The AP reports the State Department, Pentagon, and US intelligence agencies would typically all be informed and have a say before a move like this, and that may not have been the case here. (Last month, a US official warned of an ISIS "chemical weapons cell" in Syria.)