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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Douma Market Attack: Mapping the Arc of Attack

Douma Market Attack:  Mapping the Arc of Attack
October12/13, 2015
update Jan. 10, 2016

Mapping the Significance of this Mapping (intro)
In the days following the August 16 attack on markets in Douma, Damascus, I set to investigating the details behind the strikes, which allegedly killed over 112 local civilians. One question was where the attacks(s) occurred, which I explained - at first - in a cursory way, not thinking it would matter much.

But since then, the apparent arc of attack emerged from that mapping and became, to me, the central point to start debunking this rebel lie (see one-month investigation review). An arc of attack probably means fixed-location, surface-fired projectiles, radiating out a set distance from the firing spot. In this case, it maps out to about 800 meters south of the impact areas (see below). And further, as far as I can tell, the projectiles were all actually fired from the south.

Rebels, of course, claimed it was a swooping fighter jet that hit these four spots in a rebel-held area. But that would almost surely look different. Its target might happen to lie in an arc pointing south, and it might happen to fire each missile in that pattern while swooping in from the south and no other direction. But the odds are fairly slim when the straight reading points to local rebels shelling their own areas, and when the motive for them to do that is so evident.

Since it matters so much, and no one else has openly mapped the attack, a clear explanation also matters enough to re-trace the process more explicitly. This lets the reader verify as we go, or alternately to get a head start on spotting what - if anything - I did wrong.

For reference, here's my current mapping of the four impacts, with the arc between them - partially wrapping around a firing spot some distance south - is quite clear by now. Area details for each give a preview with more detail below. 

Next I'll explain how these were placed and why it must be right in each case, along with some notes on exact impact point, apparent direction of fire, or other relevant details. That will be in order of discovery, which is also left-to-right as seen from above (as shown above).

Anyone wanting to check the videos I cited, pull up the early video catalog I refer to here.

1) Impact 1: Park Market
This seemed quite locateable - the market scene shown in videos MD1, MD2, MD3, etc. The first two videos start coming from the north, by sunlight (mid-day, coming from roughly south). The effected area is ahead and to the right, and has a red-roofed covered walkway evident at the near corner, with a complex shape from there, a fenced-in park area it wraps around, a divided street to the north, and certain buildings in proportion around it. Here's a still of the northeast corner from MD1, park area to the right at and after the tall palm tree.

First, I tried the Wikipedia shortcut, finding they have only two market areas labeled (in Arabic: سوق, Souq). One - commercial market - has a similar red roof, but not the right shape, lacking a park or right north-side street, and surrounding buildings did not match. Commercial market is irrelevant. The other market (el-Hal) was a clear mismatch for this strike, but is a match for impact 3 - see below.

Scanning different satellite maps, I found only one other likely match in Douma, not labeled but here on Wikimapia. Here everything lined up. This was probably impact 1, strengthened to total certainty by the details of impact 2 (see below). One photo to help, at right (source), facing west down the divider in the street. Impact will be in the left-hand mid-distance.

Direction of fire: The signs say, clearly in this case, that this rocket/missile came from the south. Here's another photo, usefully looking down on the site.
Activists claimed these were fuel-air explosive ("vacuum") missiles, and that seems correct. Center crater can be seen (red circle), with the worst ground damage just behind it (seen from above, oriented north, as in bottom view). The fence ahead is obliterated (or may include existing entry). Wall behind damaged, mainly low. Red roof tiles blown or burned away. The tall palm tree's trunk is smoldering high up, ahead and to the right (green box).

Considering blast damage slopes upward along direction of travel (partly explained below), these signs all say southern origin. Also, the damage area extending into the street seems to be elongated on the north-south axis, meaning that's its direction of travel. A rough measured line (bottom view) seems very close to me, and reads 181.5 degrees, or coming in from just west of due south. This is just about what to expect for an impact in the arc of attack that emerges.

2) Impact 2: Intersection
The videos MD1 and MD2 show both Park Market and the second impact in uncut footage, establishing their relation to each other in space. To the east one block from park market (see MD2, turns left = east) is the next strike at a traffic intersection. The cameraman walks past two minor allies but no streets between sites, so it's just one block. Several vehicles, including a Red Crescent ambulance, were flipped over here, and a smaller building or two were flattened. Videos MD4, MD7, MD10, etc. also show intersection footage. Still from MD10 below, facing west from the middle of the intersection.

Video MD4 (Jabhat al-Nusra stamp) shows a view to the north at 0:14 (still below). Here, the north-running street seems to end, a low building cutting it off about one block north. The map shows just that; the street wiggles around the building. (see graphic below). Other surrounding buildings match up. And as noted videos show this consistent area is consistently one block from another consistent area. The two bolster each other as 99.9% certain, and a core geolocation upon which to base the next two placements.

Exact center of impact: Satellite views suggest taller building (4 stories +) dominate except right at the southwest corner, where lower buildings seem to have existed. Now that corner is rubble, with the tall building all still intact. This gives a narrow area for the impact (blue box in graphic below), but exact spot within it is harder to say. Left-hand view below suggests it was south of that wall damage (orange line), so a bit south of center within that area (green circle).

Purple lines here mark app. real footprints for the taller buildings (roofs are skewed relative to the ground) Orange lines left and right are explained next.

That was one estimate, and bound to be close. Then I saw video MD4 actually shows a likely crater, almost the size of this green circle, but centered just a bit northwest of this, closer to the tall building. At right, a clear still with the apparent crater edges outlined in green. It may be even bigger, continuing to the left, or that may be the edge of it there.

Direction of fire: not clear, but perhaps also from the south. Surrounding building damage: to the left side (left, below) is severe and probably fresh - a line of damage (orange) sloping up to the north. On the right side, the same basic lines, but further out, and only marked by small shrapnel - more likely to be preexisting damage. But either would suggest, like the park market impact, a southern origin. 

Here, see the red line, approximate incoming angle - the blast effect radiates perpendicular from the explosives packed tightly around and moving on that red line. That's why low damage behind sloping up to higher damage ahead is the rule.2:38 in MD1 shows damage ahead, to buildings north of the intersection, with distinct shrapnel-type marks arcing across the third and fourth floors.
Vehicle flipping happened to the north and east of impact, but then, that's where the streets are.  Rubble spread may be mainly to the north. These details could all use more study. 

3) El-Hal Market
(or al-Hal - a general type of (Hallal?) market) El-Hal market on Wikimapiua is a long open area running a bit clockwise from east-west, enclosed on both sides by buildings with awnings. This is consistent with videos - the buildings aren't homes, except maybe at night - they're open-faced, like giant vendor's stalls. Heavy duty carts, scales, trucks are here - unlike park market, this place deals in serious volume of food, most of it seeming to be tomatoes.

Confirming view: (SMART news, video MD13) has this view to the northwest shows an apparent minaret at that corner of the market area (orange box). No minaret is clear in satellite views, but Wikimapia labels a small mosque right there at the corner, next to an extra large tree (green arc). Also note the unique tree "growing through" the awning midway along the north side (green circle). All unique features match.

Impact location: so far I don't see any crater or certain way to get an exact center. However the damage - which appears very minor - seems to start around the center of the south side awning, around the corner marked in red - likely on the smaller section of awning that may now be gone (not clear). A truck near there almost seems to have taken the worst of the damage, being sort of crushed in from all direction ("vacuum missile" pressure wave? Is that what bent the awning so uniformly at the tree?).

Direction of impact: not clear from imagery alone, but perhaps also from the south or south-southwest.  Note the tree trunk on the north side, just along the likely trajectory, is only damaged a bit on the top, trunk and canopy both apparently unburnt. Again, blast damage - or the radial part of a FAE detonation - will angle up based on incoming angle, enough apparently to pass mainly over the tree. Only minor damage can be seen to the buildings behind the treetop, so maybe they too were short enough to escape the worst of it?

Damage to the ground should be expected mainly behind impact, closer to the south side if fired from the south. But nothing is really evident. Perhaps one now-destroyed patch of canopy detonated the blast high up before the spent rocket hit the top of that truck? It would detonate over a short span of travel, between the canopy and the ground. That plus the rising forward angle could explain the lack of damage on the other side even high up.

4) Impact 4: Warehouse (Market?)
Original sources had 3 markets hit and the above list only has two. Quite likely the last will be another market. None labeled, at first no site visuals. Southwest views analysis showed the four plumes lined up so the three on the left correspond to the three above, and strike 4 must be to the east of the others.

The already-evident arc pattern and even spacing suggested the large building just southeast pf El-Hal - massive warehouse, with enclosed lot similar to el-Hal... best guess, pink dot placed, imprecisely, in this version of the evolving map (right). It's not labelled, but would make a good farmer's market, if El-Hal weren't big enough to meet local demand.

Then Petri noticed a matching snippet at 0:30 in this video (MD10 on my list), suggesting this site (see still below) - a massive steel framed building with light roofing torn away, corrugated metal siding and damaged frame members, fire inside being extinguished, one mangled body being recovered at the moment.

The near face, apparently the southeast one by sunlight angle, has giant green doors. Historical images in Google Earth might show these just left of center in the center part of the building, but it's unclear. Note the roof peak here - that would mark a peaked line running northwest, as the satellite views show running across the middle of the building (it's a mild peak, sloping less than the separate roof segments over the north and south ends of the warehouse - see shadows below, clearer in some historical views).

So this rocket hit the building's expansive roof - just where unclear, close to "the middle," perhaps a bit southeast of center. The damage seen above is hard to call - we can see the center peak, but not whether the damage is worse on this side or on the far (north) side of that line. An even 155 meter spread would put it about south of the line, so that's where I put it in the graphic above, but really that point is uncertain.

Reading the Arc
As the final placement story shows, the arc has predictive power, suggesting it's a real pattern that's relevant to this attack, and not some fluke. These are some of the key features of the arc:

- There's an even spread; each impact is approximately 155 meters from the last. These are the measures I got (measuring along each white line, not along the top), again each placement is not exact but accurate to probably a few meters.

- It so happens three different markets (each one being a large target) plus an intersection had enough points that an even arc like that could easily hit all three markets with no fancy variation needed.
- Tracing out the arc into a full circle (below - should maybe be a bit bigger) puts the center of the circle - the implied firing location - approximately 820 meters from each impact (or somewhere inside green circle, probably its southern half, or maybe just outside it, so in the fields most likely)
- Once mapped out like this, I can measure a full 33 degree spread between impacts 1 and 4, or 11 degree turns between each firing. That's not any fancy variation.

- Considering motive and local control, this simple firing was almost surely by someone on the anti-government side. They fired four times in a row on civilian markets in their own area, apparently to cover for the massacre that had just been carried out there (established as happening before the attack) and - pretending this was a Mig fighter jet attack - to launder it as a regime crime. And the pattern makes it clear this was no accident - those were civilian targets, 4 in a row, and that "fighter jet" was quite deliberate in its intent to ... explain a bunch of dead civilians.

Do Rebels Actually Agree With this Mapping?
The usual anti-government activists and local "authorities" told Human Rights Watch (Aug. 20 article) that "the four airstrikes hit the crowded markets, known locally as the al-Hal, al-Houboub, and al-Ghanam markets, at about noon. All three markets are within 500 meters of one another."

That's almost exactly the span of this area of 3 markets and a fourth impact. They trace about 600 meters of their arc, but a straight line east-west from park market to north of impact 4 is just over 500 meters. We're all talking about the same area here. They say a Mig jet hit these four spots, but they didn't map it out (nor did HRW, publicly). But I did, and it virtually proves they lied.

Update, Jan. 10, 2016: I just stumbled upon the SNHR report "Douma Massacre August 2015: Shelling Crowded Markets at Rush Hour" (PDF direct link, download page). This is an opposition propaganda group far less trustworthy even than the SOHR, seeming in fact to be one of the original two competing SOHRs from the early days. But in this case, I could almost have skipped al that work, just cited their map, and be correct. Here's the segment:

Other than the last one, they map it about the same as I did, and just don't care about or realize the implications. The second impact is also a bit different here - rounded off to at the intersection, but on the right corner anyway. My placement a bit south of there is more accurate and clarifies the arc. The last hit they're clearly wrong about - it smashed through the roof of that building, just like the arc predicts. "Park market" here is sheep market. I don't see where the sheep were supposed to be, nor any sheep. The one they got wrong, #4, seems a best fit for selling livestock, right?    

Human Rights Watch (Human Wrongs Whitewash?), hearing about the clustered impact areas but not having mapped them (or did they?) - called for an arms embargo on Syria, along with dropping hints that a Bosnia-or-Libya-style air war might help stop the suffering.  I've alerted HRW's Nadim Houry at least: "would HRW endorse arms embargo on Syria over a rebel false-flag rocket attack from 800 m? Why should words trump science?" (tweet 1 tweet 2) And also the SOHR who reported this "official massacre" by jet, only to be proven wrong: "Alert: as you may know, your remaining activists in are no longer credible." (tweet). No response from either. No retractions and no counter-arguments are expected.

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