The U.S. said Thursday it has "credible information and intelligence" that shows Russian and Syrian regime officials are sanitizing the site of the alleged chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma, The Associated Press reported.
A team of chemical experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), based in The Hague, arrived in Damascus on Saturday, tasked with investigating the site of the April 7 attack which Western powers said involved chlorine and sarin and killed dozens.
The investigators have not yet reached Douma, 12 days since the chemical weapons were reportedly used.
Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari assured the Security Council earlier this week that the experts would begin their investigation once they received the all-clear from the UN team.
"We have credible information that indicates that Russian officials are working with the Syrian regime to deny and delay these inspectors from gaining access to Douma," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday, according to AP.
"We believe it is an effort to conduct their own staged investigations. Russian officials have worked with the Syrian regime, we believe, to sanitize the locations of those suspected attacks and remove incriminating evidence of chemical weapons use," she added.
In addition to destroying evidence, said Nauert, Russia and Syria are pressuring witnesses to change their stories.
"We have also watched as some people have seemingly been pressured by the government to change their stories about what actually occurred that night," she was quoted as having said. "We have reports from credible people on the ground who have indicated that they have been pressured by both Russia and Syria to change their stories."
She couldn't say whether Russia and Syria had been "successful" in eliminating any trace of sarin or chlorine at the sites, but said it may mean that the OPCW investigation – if its team does get access – will not find any traces of the reported attack.
Russian and Syrian responses to the U.S. accusation weren't immediately available.