ON APRIL 4th a chemical attack struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province in northern Syria currently controlled by an alliance of rebel groups, including a powerful faction linked to al-Qaeda. At least 85 people, including 20 children, died, according to doctors and a Syrian monitoring group. The World Health Organisation said victims appeared to display symptoms that tally with the use of a deadly nerve agent such as sarin (as opposed to, say, a less powerful one such as chlorine).
One young boy was filmed slowly suffocating on the ground, his chest heaving and his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. Photographs show dead children lined up in rows on the floor or piled in heaps in the back of a vehicle, their clothes ripped from them by rescuers who used hoses to try to wash the chemicals from their bodies. Other images show victims foaming from their mouths or writhing on the ground as they struggle for air. Hours after the attack began, witnesses say regime warplanes circled back over the area and dropped bombs on a clinic treating survivors.