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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Syria: Douma Market Attack, August 2015

Douma Market Attack part 1: Initial Questions
August 18, 2015
last edits November 1

On Sunday, August 16 a reported minimum of 112 civilians were killed in the Damascus suburb of Douma, activists claimed, after Syrian military jets hit a public market at mid-day with two missile strikes, one after rescue workers arrived. It's being described as one of the deadliest single jet attacks of the war. I have some pressing projects and no time to cover this fully, but I threw together some first thoughts here, and will start an ACLOS page on it (done: page and talk page.)

Note November 1: Especially in light of another mass-casualty alleged regime attack on Douma market(s), those seeing this should skip first to one month investigation review for an overview of the best findings. The stuff below is background reading.  

Opposition Claims and Rhetoric (laundered as news by mainstream media)
* An "official massacre" of civilians alleged in Syria AP Via CBS News, August 16, 2015
* Reuters via Huffington Post
* The Guardian
* Others f/c

Alleged Regime Motive/Activists Say, in Douma Context
The militia Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) of Zahran Alloush recently attacked a military installation nearby - the people of Douma supposedly support of that group - so retaliation was to kill as many civilians there as possible, to terrorize them out of support, presumably. But it will never work - no matter how many innocents "the regime" kills, rebel leaders never seem deterred and keep on pushing the fight, largely over the phone from Turkey.

Also, this will be according to local activists aligned with the army of Islam. Why? Becuase anyone who disagrees with the Islamists in Douma is in danger. Consider lawyer and activist Razan Zaitouneh, founder of the VDC whose database I cite so often. Based in Douma, the same area under study, and not in London, she was reporting on the crimes of some local Islamist groups in late 2013, perhaps leading to her December 10 abduction with her husband and two other VDC activists by "unknown armed men." Consider this Syria Direct report from one year after her abduction with no news:
Fellow activist Bassam al-Ahmad, who is now the point of contact for the VDC, posted a call to action on Facebook Tuesday asking people to contact the leader of Jaish al-Islam, the most powerful rebel group in Douma.
 “Please send a tweet… to Zahran Aloush, head of Jaish al-Islam, one of the most influential armed opposition groups in Douma, to ask about the steps that his group has taken to ensure the safe release of Razan and her colleagues,” al-Ahmad wrote.
Aloush has repeatedly denied responsibility for Zaitouneh’s kidnapping on the grounds that Jaish al-Islam (JAI) “fights on the fronts” and does not have a presence in the city of Douma proper.
The East Ghouta suburb, however, is JAI’s stronghold.
Now notice: the activists informing us about this jet strike insist the locals all love Jaish al-Islam, etc.

Consider also an earlier allegation of a regime massacre of 16 men in Douma, back in 2012 before the place was as pro-Islamist as it reportedly is now (Harasta was leading the way at that point, with Douma dragging its feet a bit). 

Direct Supporting evidence proving it was a jet
None I've seen yet. video evidence for a jet: none cited in these reports. Will dig when I have time.Off the bat, I'm skeptical. There's a damaged market, some video evidence I'm sure, that I haven't reviewed yet. The claims are similar to the alleged fighter jet attack on Aleppo University, which did feature jet evidence (a vapor trail, but looking more rocket-oriented) On closer inspection that attack had no jet, just two powerful surface rockets,  like the government said. Perhaps they were fired by terrorists, like the government said. They hit one after another as rescuers arrived, killing a few students and rescuers, but mainly displaced people sheltered in the Universtiy's dormitories.

See:  Douma Market Attack: Precedents

Rebel rockets have hit Damascus and coastal Latakia in recent days, killing civilians in both (SANA reports 6 killed, 14 wounded). One to hit the market to blame the regime - and perhaps to launder an unrelated massacre - is well within the capability and morality of the Islamists torturing Syria. 

Government Claims
The reports I read have everyone but the government leading at the top, middle, and bottom of each article. All blame the government. Any denial will seem to the conditioned reader futile, reflexive, meaningless, and fair to ignore. The Reuters report at least, with (Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Dominic Evans) passes on near the top: 

A Syrian military source said the air force attacks on Sunday on Douma and the nearby area of Harasta targeted an insurgent group, Islam Army, and were a response to recent attacks on nearby government-held areas.
This sounds almost like they acknowledge they attacked the market in revenge, considering the locals to be terrorists. But lower in the report, it's also noted:
The Syrian military source said "any escalation towards Damascus" would be met by a "very strong and decisive response", and denied that civilians were targeted on Sunday.
But didn't they just admit they did, and doesn't everybody just know they did? What liars!

SANA English seems to have no reports yet: a search for Douma so far just turns up older reports of thousands who didn't support the Islamists and were evacuated with army assistance in December, January, and February.

I'm guessing if the Syrian authorities ever give a clear explanation, it'll be that civilian human shields were massacred by the terrorists at the same time as the air strikes so as to blame the strikes. Or possibly they'll find the victims were never at the market but were kidnapped people who were snuck into the basement of the Islamists' headquarters they did deliberately attack.

The Victims: 

See: Douma Market Attack: Victim Analysis

A total of just over 100 reported dead (112 and expected to rise was specified). That's a lot of of people to be fatally wounded in a random open-air missile attack, or even two of them. Now consider, as Reuters reports:
Sixty bodies were buried on Sunday night in two mass graves, said a spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense force in Douma...
This is the "White Helmets," who often help fill mass graves and cover the bodies silently with dirt, besides speaking about the incidents. They have never run across a massacre by rebel forces, and never will. Only the secular regime does this, in their playbook.

Sixty people out of the 100+ were buried in a mass grave - this is the way you bury people you don't want to identify, people with no family you want to contact. Every "Shabiha" massacre ends with rebel-held bodies interred in mass graves. Presumably the rest were legit local victims, were claimed by family and given proper at-home burials, right? No, sadly, the same spokesman says
"Another 35 were buried on Monday, and the death toll was over 100, he said."
So at least 95 of the 100+ went unclaimed - not a good sign. Nadim Houry (HRW) tweets an Arabic list of 95 named victims, noting 9 more aren't identified (104 total). Is that coincidence that 95 were buried in two batches and 95 victims were named? Or were these unclaimed people all named as they were dumped? If so, does that lend credibility to the universally obtained names?

The first AP report includes a photo of at least 30-35 bodies wrapped, all seemingly male (by custom, usually segregated) and almost entirely adult sized - and said:
An amateur video posted online by activists showed some 40 bodies of men and boys lined up on the side of a street as more bodies were being brought in.
Let's say this is minimum 42 male victims, almost totally men - that's fairly out of whack, demographically. Is it enough to suggest the victims were sex-segregated captives? At this point, no. Maybe just more men than usual were doing the shopping because of the war, some Islamist ban, etc. Their families were back at home, awaiting their return - but in at least 95 cases they did not claim his body when he didn't come back? Is it just because they had no one left able to go outside?

VDC lists 105 total Damascus suburbs residents killed 8-16 by "warplane shelling." (sub-searches to see if all count, if some displaced from other areas are included, etc. - forthcoming). But I suspect this is roughly it: of the 105, 100 of them are listed as adult males. There are 3 boys, 2 women, and no girls filling in the other slots. Adult - Male there sometimes means unsure, goofed-up, or left blank, but the names seem to be male ... that must be the ban on women, slightly broken?

From other areas, martyered in Douma = 0 that's unusual these days for such a large pool of people
- displaced people are not only common, they often take the brunt of attacks in the VDC records. But all these were locals?And it's not only provinces - no one from the rest of Damascus, and all 105 entries are from Douma. Not a single Zamalka person, Jobar, Harasta, etc. And this is supposedly post-identification. The simplicity of these entries suggests made-up identities.

But then, Reuters' White Helmets spokesman gave a bit more detail on why some aren't identified: 
"It was really difficult to identify the bodies of the martyrs. Some of them were burned to the bone, so we couldn't add them to the documented list," said the 28-year-old (Civil Defense) spokesman, who declined to give his real name for security reasons. His house was destroyed in the bombing, he added.
Is it just unrealistic to come up with names here? Or does this support the rest of the names being real?

I'll bet many of these Douma market bombing attack victims also had torture marks and fatal wounds to the head or throat hiding under those shrouds. This is how "regime" artillery, missiles, Shabiha, even sarin, tend to operate inside rebel-held areas. From at least February 2012 and the Khalidiya Massacre it's been clear: regime shelling on a rebel-held area destroys 20+ homes, killing whole families in a main, first-reported batch of 138 people, being 130 men and 8 boys, many with throat injuries. A smaller number of more mixed victims were counted later.

That may happen here too, but this story has already fallen apart, in my opinion. However, a little more work will be needed before it's convincing to many others. 

Updates August 19:
Ziad Fadel at Syrian Perspective has a similar finding from a LCC list of just names:

I appreciate that he didn't leap to call them killed rebel fighters. When you don't know for sure, it's a potential massive insult. But that is one distinct possibility, depending. If a bunch of rebels died, would they just say so, or launder them as civilian victims like they did exclusively in the old days? More research will help decide which is more prevalent in a likely mix - fighters, captive civilians, shopping civilians.  I'm sure at least 2 events, and maybe 3, are being mixed together here.



  1. Since when did White Helmets get into Douma? They have always been Idlib as Jabhat al-Nusra auxiliaries.

    1. Since when, dunno. Ostensibly they work in any rebel-liberated area. Al-Nusra, Army of Islam as here, presumably FSA areas if those exist, but not Daesh nor "regime" areas. They may have been in other areas for a while, as far as I know (haven't followed everything close enough to say otherwise)

    2. Has anyone ever seen the White Helmets on video or photos other than the ones they produce themselves? They were quick on the spot of the al-Nusra execution, but has anyone else actually filmed them? Are there any independent sources for their existence?

      Here is one video of civilian buildings destroyed by US bombing somewhere near Idlib. Do we see any White Helmets here?
      Did U.S. Just Bomb Civilians In Syria?

      P.S. - Looked again. There are in fact White Helmets. One must however ask if this footage is really from the US bombing, or just reused WH / al-Nusra footage.

    3. I'm not sure if I have or haven't. I've presumed they exist and everything, but they probably won't show up everywhere they should. Not the best answer. :)

  2. The Guardian [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/20/syrian-town-douma-declares-un-disaster-area-regime-airstrike reports] that "The town’s governing council said that out of the 550 injured in Sunday’s air strikes 40% were children", apparently based on a statement circulated online by the Douma governing council. I can't find this statement online - can someone search in Arabic?

    1. Damn, not easily found that way either. It sounds pretty off-kilter of course. 550 people were once wounded in that market? No one filmed it then? 220 children, all but a couple lived, 100+ men died. I bet there were 230 women shopping and all but a couple lived.


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