German spy agency sees al-Assad behind chemical attack, cites phone call

German spy agency sees al-Assad behind chemical attack, cites phone call

BERLIN - Reuters
A Hezbollah official has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered a poison gas attack last month and that it considered the move a mistake which showed he was losing his grip, according to German intelligence.

Participants at a confidential meeting of German lawmakers on Sept. 2 said the head of the BND foreign intelligence agency told them it had intercepted a phone call believed to be between a high-ranking member of the Lebanese Shi'ite militant group and the Iranian Embassy in Damascus.

"The BND referred to a phone call they had heard between a Hezbollah official and the Iranian embassy in which he spoke about al-Assad having ordered the attack," one of the participants told Reuters. 

In the phone call, the Hezbollah official says al-Assad's order for the attack was a mistake and that he was losing his nerve, the participants reported the BND briefing as saying. Both Iran and Hezbollah support al-Assad.

A BND spokesman declined to comment on the Sept. 2 briefing, saying German intelligence speaks only to the government and to parliamentary committees on highly sensitive matters.

A Hizbollah spokesman was not available for comment.

The U.S. goverment says about 1,400 people, hundreds of them children, died near Damascus on Aug. 21 in what it says was a sarin gas attack by the Syrian government.

Some German lawmakers expressed concern that German intelligence on Syria could be used by the United States to justify military intervention without a U.N. mandate.

Berlin has ruled out participation in a military intervention in Syria, which would be deeply unpopular at home.

Last month a German naval reconnaissance vessel, the Oker, sailed from Sardinia to the eastern Mediterranean. German media reported that the boat is fitted with technology to eavesdrop on activities in Syria.