From airstrike to US intervention: How a chemical attack in Syria unfolded
Updated 4:58 AM ET, Fri April 7, 2017
Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.
Editor's Note: This article contains extremely graphic images of dead children. All times are local.
Nightmarish accounts continue to filter out of Khan Sheikhoun, the northern Syrian town still reeling from what is feared to be the deadliest chemical attack in the country in years.
Investigations are underway to determine who was responsible for the Tuesday morning attack that left at least 70 dead, according to activists.
This is how it unfolded, based on eyewitness accounts provided to CNN.
TUESDAY, 6:30 a.m.: Airstrike hits town center, chemical agent suspected
An airstrike hit the town center of Khan Sheikhoun, emitting a "poisonous gas," Anas al-Diab, an activist with the Aleppo Media Center (AMC) says.
Casualties are reported to have died from asphyxiation caused by exposure to an unknown gas or chemical agent. The injured are initially treated at a makeshift clinic near the scene and Al-Rahma hospital, among others.
Doctors Without Borders medics who visit the area's hospitals later say some victims appear to have symptoms consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent "such as Sarin gas or similar compounds."
Three more strikes reported
Five minutes later, three additional strikes reportedly hit the town center, al-Diab says. This time there are no descriptions of gas.
At this point it is unclear if the planes involved are Syrian, but the rebel-held city is regularly targeted from the air by the Syrian military and its ally, Russia.
Russia later denies having warplanes in the vicinity.
Casualties arrive at hospital
Warning: This section contains extremely graphic images of dead children.
Fares al-Jundi, a doctor who lives in a nearby village, hurries to the Maarat al-Numan hospital immediately after the airstrikes. "I've never seen anything like it, beyond description," he tells CNN as he describes the horrifying scenes.
Al-Jundi estimates up to 500 people have been brought in; the wounded cover entire floors, from the patients' rooms and operating theaters and any remaining space in the corridors.
"I believe this horrible memory will stay with me for the rest of my life," he continues.
Chaos on the ground
Hadi al Abdullah, an activist journalist, arrives on scene two hours after the initial attack.
Abdullah, who is suffering from blurred vision, a splitting headache and lethargy -- common side-effects of exposure to nerve gas -- says the scene is chaotic.
He tells CNN that that people were not initially aware of the presence of a toxic agent. Some who rushed to help are overwhelmed by the gas, including several members of the Syrian Civil Defense (SCD), or White Helmets, who have to be rescued by others from the group.
Abdullah says around 30 wounded people have gone to Turkey for treatment.
Hospitals targeted in follow-up airstrikes, activists say
The makeshift clinic and Al-Rahma hospital, where the injured are being triaged, are targeted in new airstrikes four hours after the chemical attack, Idlib's health directorate and the SCD say in a joint press release.
Videos emerge on social media
Videos, which appear to be from the scene, are posted quickly to social media platforms.
Mohammed Hardan, who works for AMC, says he was at al-Rahma hospital when it was targeted by aerial bombardment, posting footage of the incident hours later.
White Helmets: Residents targeted by poison gas
Warning: This section contains graphic images of dead children.
The White Helmets say at least 50 people, including women and children, have been killed by "poisonous gases."
70 dead, activists say
AMC activists say the Syrian regime is behind the attack and says at least 70 people are dead. It adds that 45 bodies have been identified so far.
Syrian army denies chemical attack
On Tuesday evening, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military "categorically denies" using chemical weapons and blames "terrorist" groups for the carnage.
But many in the international community blame the Assad regime for the outrage.
WEDNESDAY: Turkey says it has evidence of chemical attack
Recep Akdag, Turkey's Health Minister, tells Turkish media: ''We have findings that suggest there was a chemical attack. We are sending these findings to World Health Organization as well after documenting them. Humanity should not remain insensitive to this issue."
Turkey's Health Ministry later says 29 victims are being treated at six hospitals, and that three victims have died after their arrival.
Survivors recall the horror
Survivors who made it to the Reyhanli Hospital on the Turkey-Syria border say they saw a plane drop chemical bombs.
Mazin Yusif, 13, tells CNN that he found his grandfather slumped over in front of his house shortly after the strike and ran for help. "I got dizzy and then fainted in front of my grandfathers garage. I next found myself here in this hospital, naked in a bed," he adds.
31-year-old Ahmed Abdel Rahim was also caught up in the strike. "I was in my house," he tells CNN. "I had difficulty breathing, but I feel better now. But I did throw up after getting to the hospital. I don't know if my family is dead or alive. I don't know anything."
Syrians bury their dead on Wednesday. A father tells CNN he lost 25 members of his family, including his wife and 9-month-old twins. "My brothers, their children, and their cousins. Around 25 members of my family, all martyred," Abdul Hamid Youssef says, sobbing.
THURSDAY: Russia's explanation is 'highly implausible', says chemical weapons expert
Dan Kaszeta, a chemical weapons specialist, tells CNN the Russian version of events are "highly implausible," adding "it's much more plausible that Assad, who has used nerve agents in the past, is using them again."
The Russian Defense Ministry had earlier said on its Facebook page that the strike hit "workshops, which produced chemical warfare munitions."
Trump: Attack is an 'affront to humanity'
US President Donald Trump says the airstrike has changed his views on Syria and Assad, calling it an "affront to humanity."
"It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies ... with a chemical gas that is so lethal that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines -- beyond a red line," he says.
FRIDAY: US launches military strike
On Trump's orders, the US military launches a strike on the airbase in Syria from where, the President says, the chemical attack was launched.
US warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Al Shayrat airfield, targeting aircraft, shelters and storage facilities. Six people were killed, according to a televised statement by the Syrian's Armed Forces General Command.
The strike is the first direct military action the US has taken against Assad's regime since the country's six-year civil war began, and could be interpreted by the Syrian government as an act of war.