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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Douma Market Attack: Victims Dead Before the Attack?

Douma Market Attack: Victims Dead Before the Attack?
September 5, 2015
last edits Sept. 27

Note, Sept. 23: The following article relates the findings as they were at writing and for a short time after. I've questioned the findings below on photo time, in a continuing technical discussion here, and we've gone back and forth a bit, with real math entering the picture now. An updates section at the bottom will offer more refined time estimates and implications. Also the comparison time of attack estimate may have updates, which I'll add at bottom as well.

The Telltale Photo
This is a Syrian Civil Defense photo, posted at 2:52 PM here and, perhaps the first posting, the well-connected Douma Revolution channel ran it at 2:23. Corpse collection site 1: Men and boys, dirt floor (mosque?) courtyard, unwrapped then wrapped - canopy cover, west or southwest wall is blue screen or tarp, not a true wall. No gate at the corner. Considering 6 photos of this scene at different times (inset), there are at least 24 (probably 25+) bodies in the nearer row, and eventually at least 17 in the back row. So at least 41 total corpses are gathered here, likely the same 45+ seen wrapped in another similar courtyard (site 2, tile floor) a bit later. Here, five are clearly boys (considered here), and  others might be. 

This seems to be the earliest photo, or among the earliest set of photos, of this corpse array. And this point there are perhaps the full 41 already assembled (not totally clear, but nearly all of them anyway) They're laid on a UNHCR tarp.

My first notes, modified a bit: 
1) The bodies don't seem to display rigor mortis, which means they either died less than 2 hour ago, or about a day ago.  
2) The blood on them all seem fairly dry. No one's pouring blood, and only the worst injuries seem to be smearing at all.
3) There are at least 41 bodies, just of men and boys, who already died from their injuries, stopped bleeding, and got fairly dry by the time of this photo, which we'll come back to as a crucial point.
4) The injuries they supposedly just died from are generally unclear. At least one has a missing leg, one a nasty chest wound, at least two have fatal-seeming head wounds, others are unclear and some are covered up. But dozens of men and boys are seen, appearing totally intact,
5) They're somewhat smoky but not dusty. There was no rubble really to pull them from in this attack, and no indication they were under any. Quick gathering could happen of victims hit by bomb shrapnel in the open. But on this scale? They mostly show some combination of peppered and ripped-up a bit, bleeding from random spots, which is consistent. If as they say 300+ other men were wounded but lived, along with 200+ boys, it just means the areas were super-packed with males. Apparently this many were just hit precisely in some fatal areas (like execution victims are, by the way).
6) Pants are torn a lot with both the men and the boys, with entire legs missing perhaps more commonly than usual. With the men but not the boys, belts get undone and pants get pulled halfway down or go missing more often than not. This can happen by accident, or be a sign of disrespect for the dead. (that is, it might suggest these were people the rebels disliked, government loyalist or non-Sunni families)
7) Again, this is a segregated scene, but in all other scenes and records, there's still no sign of any more than 3 women and about that many girls killed, to what seems about a dozen boys and about a hundred men. Were the females spared the way bomb victims sometimes are, randomly? Or were they "spared" the way Islamist war booty sometimes is?

The main point for the rest of this point is what I think might be a smoking gun as to who's behind this massive crime. The bodies of dozens of male victims were gathered too early to be victims of the market blasts as alleged; they must have been killed before those blasts, and the story connecting them to it was concocted to conceal the truth. To the extent the analysis below pans out, this finding would underline all the more speculative points above, besides the others already noted (the bulk disposal of their bodies in mass graves, the signs that some were face-burned and/or tortured rather than bombed, etc.)  

This bold claim comes from deciding on two times and then comparing them. Neither time is set exactly or with certainty yet. But the ranges are clear enough, I think, that we can safely call a mismatch - and far from the first one - between what "activists say" and what their own visual record proves. I hope to firm this up in time - whether it's in favor of more or less certainty, we shall see,

Attack Time

Media Reports
The opposition story laundered by Western media and "humanitarian" sources is quite clear the attack was by a Syrian fighter jet. But they provided no kind of independent evidence (video, etc.) and couldn't even get a remotely exact attack time.
Human Rights Watch was told by a mix of activists and Douma local authorities, as their appeal for an arms embargo on Syria explained, "the four airstrikes hit the crowded markets ... at about noon." No specific time is cited. Others say vague things like mid-day. A later HRW report gives "the busy midday period," and AP reported "during rush hour." Syria Deeply cites "Hassan Taqi al-Din, a local media activist and Douma resident," who says he witnessed the attack and told them “It started at about noon..." 

All of that is suspiciously vague. We might now have a reason for that.

Visual Reading
A clear and reliable visual time would be the one good measure, but that's still a little unclear. This has now been expanded into southwest views analysis

Brief summary: I've got a massive but blurred smoke plume seen probably around 2 PM or later and, at some earlier point it was four smaller plumes, like they say, from 4 blasts, (inset). That's harder to time, but from a similar view, decisive analysis pending. Sunlight is from almost behind the camera in both cases, as they face northeast towards Mount Snir (the sharper peak in both images) A working range for this photo is broadly 1:10-1:45 PM.

Even with a time for either image, I'm not sure yet how to say how long before that the attack happened. How long does it take plumes of this or that size to form? We could estimate, roughly, an attack between 12:50 and 1:30.

So this isn't clarified yet, but seems consistent in pointing to something about an hour off, and likely more, from literal noon. "About noon" would still be accurate, perhaps, but not very precise. It didn't sound precise anyway, did it? But it was an imprecision it seems everyone agreed on. Odd, that.

Social Media
Another way to get an idea is to see when people started talking about it, in a forum with lots of talking that moves quickly. Does it start at more like 12 or 1? I picked a few well-informed Twitter accounts to see when they first alerted their readers to news of the attack. Perhaps the best source would be DoumaRevolution, almost an official source it seems, and based in Douma, presumably. (All other related Douma accounts I checked posted nothing that day, having ceased all posting a while back - this is the active one).

These and the below are mainly auto-translations, times given as local - Twitter's California time plus 10 hours (or shift AM to PM and subtract 2). 

1:27 PM was their first news: 'Urgent ::  #Douma  coordination :: huge explosions rocking the city, together with constant overflights of warplanes in the sky ... ' They had an update at 1:28 and by 1:42 they knew "MiG flight now in Sky of Douma after targeting crowded city markets...' By 1:58 'dozens of martyrs and wounded hundreds in a new massacre committed by gang crime Asadi in the market ...' At 2:04 'more than 200 wounded and 35 martyrs...'  first video shared at 2:19 and at 2:23 they knew of 'more than 55 dead...' Also at 2:23 the dead men and boys photo from above has its first posting here, (maybe anywhere?). At 2:36 they show a photo of market damage after the wounded were removed and the smoke cleared.

They said nothing about this loud and obvious attack before 1:27. But maybe others had their own sources going back earlier? I can't say for sure, but all these I checked only come on board slower than that, not faster. LccSy (Local Coordinating Committees) only broke the news at 1:58 of 'scores between martyrs and injuries...' UK-based syriahr (SOHR) first reported at 2:26 on 'the martyrdom and wounding of dozens more ...' SyriaCivilDef  ("White Helmets") broke the news to their followers only at 2:52, and Shaamnews only reported it at 3:23.

So far I see no sign of the attack in anyone's awareness prior to 1:27. Let's say there may have been a moderate delay, or not, and keep it broad: this suggests an attack anywhere from 1:00-1:25 PM. That lines up fairly well with what the video, so far, seems to say. And in doing so, again, it softly contradicts the vague "around noon" claim from opposition sources.

Bodies Gathered By Then!?!

So again, when was the photo above taken? No later than first posting at 2:23 is pretty vague, when there's sunlight in it showing - to the right reading - exactly what time it was. To start, we don't have a location or wall orientation yet (but this right wall must face roughly south, probably a bit southeast). Compass direction to the sun - solar azimuth - is the best way to get time, but without exact place details it can't be done.

The vertical angle, however, could be measured. Just on the surface we can see it's notably steep; this is mid-day sun, fairly close to solar noon. Vaguely then, it's at the same time as the attack, per rebel sources. And considering the above, this could even be before that later-than-implied attack. 

But that's vague. Let's move forward a bit.

To be clear, I'm not certain I know how to read the three-dimensional angle of sunlight hitting walls seen at this angle to determine the sun's elevation. A straight reading of a line painted on the photo, rotated 5 degrees from the photo's rotation, first seemed to say 67 degrees. That would equate with approximately 1:30 PM. 

I asked Petri Krohn, who's at least more technically adept, if not a true expert either, and he weighed in with better tools reaching a quite similar finding (see here). Measuring from the blue cooler he found an elevation of 68.77 degrees explained it. The correlating time for that is 1:12:30 PM!

We can see how less than 2 degrees difference equals 18 minutes time difference, so it's not good to be too exact with this just yet. But I looked again and decided, depending on the real angular calculations, 67, 70, and a few other angles seem possible, but I agreed 68-69 degrees is the best range. This gives a fairly narrow time range of 1:09-1:20 PM, or more broadly we could say 1:00-1:30.

Again, it's alleged missiles hit "around noon," caused damage to the bodies of these and other civilians, and then these died, some instantly, some of them after struggling for some moments. We can presume they were pronounced dead, their bodies gathered from however many locations, and brought here (location still unknown), and we can see they stopped bleeding much and became fairly dry. All of that allegedly happened after the first missile impact, but before the time of this photo.

The best attack time estimate of 1:00-1:25, plus this best-yet photo reading means the photo was taken anywhere from 25 minutes before the rockets hit to 30 minutes after. I think we can rule out anytime before - what would the photographer be thinking with no news to explain such a spread?  It should look troubling enough just with such quick gathering from the attack minutes ago. There's clearly no way these can be victims of those blasts with anything like the above process unfolding, in 30 minutes or less. They must have died earlier, from something else, which their rebel handlers don't want to tell us the truth about.

But here they would have bodies and cover story lined up perfectly ... if nearly simultaneous were perfect. But it's not. Is this a lack of "local coordination" or too much of it?

Considering points 1 and 2 above about the lack of bleeding, moist blood, or rigor mortis, the victims might well have been murdered not just earlier in the day but sometime the day before. Even more clearly, that could hardly be an honest mix-up.

This time reading also suggests the photo was held back before publication, it seems, for just about one hour (earliest found posting is 2:23). That might show worry about the image, and it might be the same worry shown by the man in the crop of it at right. Considering the situation, he could well be thinking "Oh crap, they're taking pictures already? Our rockets just hit and we haven't even announced the jet attack yet. This could go poorly." Much to their surprise, perhaps, the captured sunlight still looks the same even after a delay in releasing it.

Post-Writing Updates
September 9:   (see technical discussion). I think due consideration of shadow angles puts the photo time range about 20-25 minutes later than I thought. I may have overdone the correction, but I think considering all the details, still a photo no later than 2:00 and maybe earlier than 1:30 is still far too soon after a 1:10-1:25 attack for this photo to make the kind of sense alleged.

September 15: I overdid the correction. The best answer, now at the same link and noted below, close to my first guess and keeps the point strong. As explained here, the best method was this: both outer walls cut apart and skewed to equal proportions - a square of width of one panel and one pilaster was marked, with relevant ground lines (edges of cooler and of shadow) drawn across from the right spots along each side of the grid - the rectangle of shadow angle was then measured at its true (app.) proportions, and the slant across it couple with clloer height was found to yield an elevation of 66.25 degrees, and a time of 1:36:30 PM. There's little room for exactitude here, so a fair range might be 1:30-1:45. That's between 5 and maybe 45 minutes after the attack.

September 23/24: Petri Krohn offers a placement for the body collection point - for both this dirt floor scene and the later tile-floor scene. This is as I map it below, and helps consider transport time., It's not a major factor (a few hundred meters to one km, up major streets). Dying and drying time is what seems to be lacking.
 Although these images aren't clear on the point, there's also an east gate in this area, but I suspect IF bodies were brought in and not killed on-site ... it could easily be by either gate. The van shown above either came from the east, or backed into this spot. It doesn't matter except to suggest where they came from - in this case, likely not from the direction of the rocket attacks.

A location allows an azimuth reading (compass direction to the sun). Using my ground grid for the above reading, the angle of shadow gives an azimuth 201.5 and so an earlier time of just about 1:10 PM. It's not exact either and seems early, but done right azimuth is far better than an altitude reading. Then I noticed the shadow I've been measuring going back a bit further, which points later (than 1:10). At the moment I say best guess is azimuth 207 = about 1:18-1:19 (or range 1:12-1:25). And I still suppose the photo is taken after the blasts and news of attack, but ... it can't be very much after. By the unrevised broad estimate range 1:00-1:25, this is anywhere from 13 minutes before the attack to maybe, in a stretch, 25 minutes after.

September 27: However, ACLOS member Pmr9 offers a start at proper algebraic calculations between camera plane and horizon and the scene, but using different shadows, that may point earlier yet. His latest revision puts the time of the photo at about 12:55-1:00. I can't (easily) vouch for that - it seems reasonable, but... 

1 comment:

  1. Adding via comment - all the yellow line and mountain shadow nonsense should be ignored. I looked at the gaps between the orange buildings, drawing some lines that could fit between with space. The earlier photo being the better measure, a nice range of azimuths comes out:
    - broad range: 195-220 = 1:00-1:43 pm
    - narrow 202-212 = 1:11-1:27 pm
    That when plumes are big and a couple of (?) minutes old. Again, first news on Twitter: 1:27 pm. Dead bodies photo: 1:00-1:25, range weighted earlier than center. It's a real neck-and-neck race which came first, and it shouldn't be.


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