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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Syria Chlorine Allegations: The Baytounji Family

Syria Chlorine Allegations: The Baytounji Family
Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
February 19-20, 2017 
additions 2-24, 3-14

A recent HRW report relates a string of eight alleged chlorine attacks last November and December, as the government of Syria re-conquered rebel-held east Aleppo (Monitor analysis,  see also ACLOS page and talk page) An incident in the early hours of November 20 is the deadliest in the set, and worth some scrutiny.

The yellow chlorine cylinder dropped from a helicopter, "witnesses" say, is shown in a damaged home, with some other junk on top of it (right, from a video linked in the HRW report).
Note 2-24: I'll probably be reviewing the videos and doing some scene analysis in time, which might reveal more clues. But so far, no review or notes.

Activists claim a family of six lived here, and all perished here. A mother, a father, and four children, just sat there and died. Having lost consciousness at the outset, they breathed too much of the caustic gas before anyone could carry them out.

But as I'm in the process of explaining in a definitive way (done, link), that makes no actual, scientific sense, no matter how often it's repeated. Chlorine does not really cause unconsciousness, at least not instantly. In fact if one were already passed out, it might wake them up like smelling salts, as the lungs start burning, and then the eyes. Realistically, they might sleep through a bit of it, but then get out the door at least before collapsing, and finally die later on at the hospital.

But here, as in many cases before, we hear that all victims were found inside the home, perhaps still in their beds (there's no video of them in situ, just verbal descriptions, which are vague - a local saw five of them, all inside, "a mother, father and three children. Their faces were blue." (HRW))

Who were they? A Christian Family?
This Reuters report is the only source to offer a partial identification for the slain family. "Two medics said the al-Baytounji family had suffocated to death because the barrel bomb, which fell in the Sakhour district at about midnight, had been laced with chlorine gas." The HRW report passes this on, but they couldn't verify it. The SOHR couldn't verify the name, or the chlorine. 

The opposition VDC is the same, listing them perhaps as unidentified, killed by barrel bomb, not gas. They seem to list no one by this name dying, in the whole conflict - but they may list these anyway:
Sakhour, Aleppo, killed 11-20, all by Syrian air strikes - 10 civilians, all "unidentified."
  • 5 Adult-Male = men or blank
  • 1 Adult-Female
  • 4 Child-Male = perhaps "child, blank," so may include girls
This could be the reported family of six plus four others, men or blank, related or not, unclear. Presumably it's four others killed, in alleged shelling but presumably not by chlorine. All entries seem to blame "Helicopter shelling" with "explosive barrels," but maybe it was those yellow tanks, and the VDC's sources didn't get the memo in the chaos. That they didn't get the names either supports that.

That name - Baytounji - is interesting. It may be a Christian one. I was able to assemble it in Arabic from scratch: بيتونجي. I plugged this into the VDC and found nothing. I tried some internet searches and found it appears occasionally as a word that won't translate, but sounds right: (phonetics given as "bytwnjy") and not usually as a name. I found only one result that made sense and seems to be a name- an old essay in Arabic, maybe from Turkish or verbal records, relating to "construction of St. George's church district Syriacs" (Syrian Christians) in the 1930s. "After the stability of the Syriac community in the city of Aleppo," the auto-translation says, "the Rev. Joseph priest (alqas yusif qsaan) of the Syriac Orthodox Church" is involved. They needed a new church, or at least a new roof, and one guy involved was apparently named (as Google translate gives it), "Mr. Ibrahim Hajjar Betonge" with the last name being the Arabic بيتونجي. He was maybe a donor; in 1933 someone asked him for "share for the construction of the roof..."
Note 3-14: See below, name considered, for more on this name. Also noting St. George's Church in Aleppo is likely the same one currently labeled on Wikimapia, near but not in present Assyrian district. In 1933, it was said to be in the Assyrian (Christian) quarter.

So it's a very rare name, linked to Syrian Christians around Aleppo. Here, as Islamist rebels are about to flee parts of that same city and can't take hostages with them, a family of this rare name dies, blamed on chlorine... Add 2-21: A CNN report refers to these same victims: a neighbor says "the victims weren't activists or anything ... but they were suffocating so much, they turned blue." In fact, research suggests they might have been the kind that not only doesn't support the Sunni extremist rebellion,but that sometimes get kidnapped by it.

How Did They Die? 
As the group view (again at right) shows, the children at least did get out of bed and get dressed up in daytime clothes, pretty quickly after this "shortly after midnight" attack... strange that. But they have no shoes on their feet. This may be a fist step of basic body processing (before full stripping, washing, wrapping, and then burial). But shoes are often removed before an Islamist executes you. Note: hostages aren't given pajamas to sleep in, and don't even have to die at the stated time. And they don't need shoes if they aren't going anywhere.

But shoes or not, they didn't get out the door in time, and died inside from the chlorine gas. But these don't look like normal chlorine deaths. That causes red, irritated or damaged eyes, skin burns, coughing up blood and mucous, and often cyanosis, a blue color shift in the skin. What we see here is something quite different.

The visuals come from the two known videos:
* Group video on Youtube: +18 The New Holocaust made by Putin & Assad in Aleppo  20-11-2016. The same on Facebook for now, better resolution, stills used below.
* SyrianArchve.org copy of truck video, described "One family (4 children and their parents) have died as a result of suffocation caused by the chlorine barrel bomb attack"

Very troubling, graphic images (mid-size - larger view is optional in new window), ordered youngest to oldest, or left-to-right in the group video, numbered for reference (V=victim): for each composite view, it's seen in pickup (left), and seen in group video (right):
V1 apparent baby girl
V2, boy
V3, girl
V4, boy
V5, the father (off-frame in group view, seen in truck view):
V6, the mother: unseen (women often not shown, maybe just for modesty, or for dying differently, or getting sold off instead?).
Possible V7-10 (per VDC's list of 10 victims of this "barrel bombing") also unseen. 

I don't know immediately what this might be, but it's not standard chlorine poisoning, certainly not any passive falling-asleep-at-home kind. Again, they're all dressed at midnight here, but somewhere they can't get out of. The extermination method is something messed up. But it's partly some kind of chemical, possibly chlorine, in a very high dose, but something else at least in part. Here are some visual notes:
  • The children, especially V3 and V4, look almost baked or dried out, like an old orange, or maybe people hanged up in a smokehouse - dark stains with lighter areas - heavy smoke-staining, largely washed off? (see V1, side of face, and all have wet clothes) Some kind of cap attempted? (lighter patch starting near the hairline, V1 and V2) Made to breathe smoke is a sign of abusive captivity by Islamists. General stained appearance, slightly red-orange, seems odd though, a possible gas clue.
  • Cap or not, some of the victims' hair sticks up, and seems crusted that way (V1, V2, V5) - were they left hanging upside down for a time, in a particulate-dense environment (like a smokehouse)? Perhaps minus hair washing for a while? Falling gas canisters can't do that to their victims.
  • they don't seems visibly starved, but might be badly dehydrated
  • deep, dark rings around the eyes, as if super-tired (unclear what this suggests, likely poison-related, maybe a slow death) Note 2-23/24: Important! Split-off to below: Raccoon Eyes?
  • Cyanosis: not so clear with smoke/whatever, but maybe in all (see lips, purple), and maybe in V2's face (blue-ish)
  • white, vacant, rolled up, rheumy eyes - not bloodshot or seeming damaged like with chlorine (or is that just the white residue? see below)
  • no clear sign of (much) mucous or blood coughed up, as with chlorine, but gasping as if they couldn't breathe (V2 mas some blood smear around his mouth)
  • white residue: on v4's face, around nose, corner of mouth, on V3 (girl) along upper eyelids (as if upside-down), and possibly on her sweater (as if right-side-up?). I guess this is mucous that reacted with the chemical, and fizzed up into this. 
  • I've seen similar before, with many "Caesar photo" victims, who were clearly tied upside down, but that tends to be bright yellow, and more copious. Here, in the nose and eyes, holding the eyelids open. "Prisoner #" j-2218, in the March, 2013 folder.
  • Other "Caesar photos" victims resemble the children here, at least a bit... it's not the usual look there, nor quite the same as here, but for what it's worth: 227-411, 1-11-2012, 227-2182 24-6-2013, a better example I've seen but can't re-locate now... one with extra smoke. But none is quite the same - this is something I've never quite seen before.
  • The father's face seems different, not as dark, no white residue, wetter, smooshed, apparently laid on his face, but probably after death, maybe after being cut down... his hair seems to stick up too. 
  • V4 has an odd dark spot on his belly they don't bother covering up. Is that a bruise? Did someone punch him in the belly a few days before this?  
  • Add, 2-23: V2 is the bluest, but his blue is perhaps not cyanotic - it may be more bruise-colored and mottled like bruises, blending into burns on the left side. Was he beaten about the face shortly before he died? Is a boy hanging upside down an attractive punching bag to salafi terrorists? Perhaps. But unlike the others, this victim doesn't really seem to have any black eyes or possible raccoon eyes, nor sign of a broken nose. So why suspect him of getting punched?
Added 2-24: Raccoon Eyes?
The Reuters report notes the video "showed the corpses of four children stretched out on a floor, their lips blue and dark marks around their open eyes."  These don't seem to be 'marks,' but the color of the skin there. This might be of great interest.

V1, V4 and V5 at least seem to have these heavy, dark rings. V2 doesn't clearly*, and V3 probably does. This could be a more general kind of "black eyes" or "dark rings" in the extreme, but a source tips me off that these might be "raccoon eyes" (properly: periorbital ecchymosis - Wikipedia). Usually, 85% of the time people say, these are caused by a basal skull fracture, tearing the dura meter, between the brain and the skull. The tissue bleeds, and it pools up inside the skull, visible under the thin skin of the eyes. Such a fracture is most often to the anterior cranial fossa - something has hit a person hard in the back of the head, at the bottom part of the skull just above the neck. Note the backs of heads aren't seen to rule this out. And the toddler's head looks possibly misshapen, with eyes askew.
*V2 may have subgaleal hemorrhage - bleeding between the skull and scalp - if that can happen from the same (externalized to outside the skull somehow), and extend all over the face - maybe the blood from his dura mater is spreading here first, and barely pooling in the eyes. My theory, running it by my source.
Note 3-14: That wasn't a good theory. Rather, my source suggests he might have had his face badly scalded at some point, and this is partly healed, with uneven areas of red and blue discoloration. I can see that. I'm not convinced, but it's a possibility that suggests abusive detention for some time prior to death.). 

Maybe ... I'm checking if this must be periorbital ecchymosis, or possibly some other dark rings/black eye effect. If it is the real deal ... the 85% likelihood of fracture is under normal circumstances. In Syria now, and maybe in an Islamist dungeon, that may not apply. But other causes of this tend to be other damage in the same area of the skull, from surgery or sometimes from cancer there, and (never?) poison-induced, from tiredness, or a simpler injury like a punch in the eyes. So if these are proper raccoon eyes, in several members of one family, it's about 99.5% likely someone hit them all in the back of the head some time prior to the chlorine attack. Maybe the canister managed to whack each of them as it landed? This effect may take a day to form. Maybe they were knocked unconscious by their captors, or simple home invaders, before tying them up for the first part of a slow gassing, and the rings are still forming in these videos from several hours later? 

Add 3-14: to clarify the options:
* Raccoon eyes (caused only by injuries to the skull lining, here almost certain to be violent).
* Bruised or "black" eye, of the punched-in-the-eye sort  ( The difference between this or a skull fracture doesn't matter; there's no place in the rebel story for anyone breaking in to the home and beating the family up before the chlorine attack. I doubt this is: that usually hurts the eye too, disrupting blood vessels, and we already noted they don't seem the have this, nor any other sign of face-punching)
* Regular dark rings (Wikipedia: periorbital dark rings), which are caused by any combination of anemia, low blood oxygen (suffocation included), fatigue/lack of sleep, excess eye-rubbing, or any poison or medication that dilates blood vessels. Many dead people will have these, and that might be what we see here ... or part of it anyway.

I'm still not 100% certain what this is, but I lean to the first option. Periorbital ecchymosis vs. dark rings seems (by images) to be different in filling the entire eye socket pretty evenly with blood, above and below the eye, swelling both lids (see Wikipedia photo, or an image search with some extreme (graphic) examples). Standard dark rings start at the lower corner and spread mainly over just the area beneath the eye, not usually above, or to a much lesser degree. Check the upper eyelid in the ecchymosis photos where the bottom darkness prevails, and you'll see that part's darker, but it's all darkened and is or will be black, then brown, etc. like a bruise. Also, see the Baytounjis above compared to the eyes of the Caesar photos victim beneath: he's got dark rings and puffiness, and the family has something different.

So, I'm pretty sure someone hit them all in the head a day or more prior to the gassing. The assault may have been 2-3 days before these video were taken.These eye rings look non-swollen, non-red, sliding to brown, and maybe about 1/3 healed (possibly deniable - it looked bad at first, and by this point people might think that's just dark rings, from the chlorine or whatever). I'm no stranger to deciding on things that the rebel story left no room for, and I have adequate reason to do the same here. Sorry to ramble a bit in getting there.   
Name Considered (Added 3-14)
Of course one hit in an internet search isn't much to go on to call this a likely Christian family. But ... I looked into it more, and it still seems a good point to me. An indirect Syrian contact tells me the name بيتونجي means expert in concrete, or concrete mason, from the French béton, for conctete. ("ji" I guess means worker in). I couldn't find easy verification of this, but oddly I think this strengthens the value of the clue. 

In Google Translate, I tried concrete, cement, and béton and none directly translated to the root baytoun ( بيتون ). The current general Arabic for cement is Asmant, apparently from the English. Baytound doesn't even appear as an alternate translation for any of the three. Was it only used up to a point in time? Or maybe it's too limited in space to appear here?

One source I can now make sense of uses the word in a non-name sense: A Facebook post from a construction-oriented account (prefabricatedhousesdgror, fond of adobe and masonry as well) shows a small, heart-shaped cement pool full of water, with shovel laid across it. The text is two words that translate "Baytounji lover." Okay. That's cement/concrete work. (I'm hazy on the difference). The heart-shaped pool is "near Latakia," by post details, and by related links the person who used that phrase may be in or near Tartous province. 

Others sources appearing in a search that use the word:
www.shaamtimes.net (Syria), syria-news.com/ (Syria), www.sauress.com (?), a re-post from Al-Manar, (Lebanon), https://sh22y.com (Syria, I think?). That's almost all of them. It's not used widely by al-Jazeera or anyone else. It's a local term used mainly in Syria. Huh!

And as a name, it still appears only in Aleppo that I've seen. It's seemingly associated with the Christian community there (but not certainly linked, and maybe not exclusively). If that's the real name of this killed family, nothing is proven, but a very troubling possibility would seem pretty likely to be the truth. So why would they go ahead and say the name? Well, it's so rare ... well, someone in Syria should be able to recognize it and match up any missing Christian family of that name. So partly, it's "good question," and partly "they just don't care."

In summary:
A likely Christian family in Aleppo with captivity clues was likely hanged upside down and murdered with some horrible gas and/or smoke. This happened as Islamist rebels liquidated property before fleeing to Idlib in the amnesty deal, and as they sought (always) to blame the government for fresh crimes. The mother might have been killed differently. There's no reason to suspect any aircraft were involved in this tying up and gas-roasting-??, aside from that yellow tank in someone's home and the story behind it.

Totally unseen, a woman just sat there and died Nov. 23 (and she's unidentified by everyone), two people Dec. 8 (both men named, but some disagree on one's gender), perhaps two other on  Nov. 28 (unidentified and no age/gender specified), and perhaps five more on December 9 (unidentified and no age/gender specified). But the precedent set by these barely-named first deaths is not good, as we see people getting more and more vague about who's dying here.

Human Rights Watch refers to this same family death, with less detail, and to the other cases with almost no detail. They fill in the gaps with a nonsense story from Islamist activists, and make moral pronouncements as if they know the truth now. Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, is quoted saying “The United Nations Security Council shouldn’t let Syrian authorities or anyone else who has used chemical weapons get away without consequences.” To back that up, "Human Rights Watch called on the Syrian government to immediately stop using chemicals as weapons," and may have offered complete impunity to the actual killers, as they left east Aleppo Scott-free in a line of green buses.


  1. On 9 December a new emir was named, Abu Ashida'a[3]

    The emir of Aleppo Abu Abed Asheda , Ashida’s Mujahiden Brigade

    أبو العبد أشداء،
    Abu Alabed Emir of Aleppo : flogging people for not attending Friday prayers
    Belonging to his faction : Abu Aliqzan Masri

    Abu Aliqzan Masri
    September 22, 2016 After the fatwa issued by the “Legal Council” movement yesterday September 20, 2016, which answers questions regarding the  fighting with the Turkish army against the  “Daesh.” It has been followed with defections and resignations at the level of individuals and groups in the movement,  and the most prominent of these resignations came from Abu Aliqzan Masri and Abu Shuaib al Masir.



    Abu alabed(former E. #Aleppo leader) and his group joins Hayaa Tahrir Sham. Jan 28 2017


    August 28 ,2015
    Twelve Christians have been brutally executed by the Islamic State, including the 12-year-old son of a Syrian ministry team leader who had planted nine churches, because they refused to renounce the name of Jesus Christ and embrace Islam. The martyrs were faithful to the very end; right before one woman was beheaded by the terror group, she appeared to be smiling slightly as she said, “Jesus!”
    According to Christian Aid Mission, a humanitarian group which assists indigenous Christian workers in their native countries, the horrific murders took place on August 28 in an unnamed village outside Aleppo, Syria.
    “In front of the team leader and relatives in the crowd,
    the Islamic extremists cut off the fingertips of the boy and severely beat him, telling his father they would stop the torture only if he, the father, returned to Islam,”
    Christian Aid revealed, according to a report from Morning Star News. “When the team leader refused, relatives said, the ISIS militants also tortured and beat him and the two other ministry workers. The three men and the boy then met their deaths in crucifixion.”

  2. Adding an important note: I thank an indirect contact in Syria for considering this - he thought the family was not Christian, but it's not clear why. He says the name means concret mason, from the Arabic for conrete Bayton (from the French Beton), and these kind of names are often adopted. And I don't wee what that means against my point. It seems to be a name on a man (Ibrahim Hajjar al-Baytounji) asked for a "share" for a church roof, not the job title (baytounji) of a man asked to pour a concrete roof. A donor would probably be a community member, so a Christian, in the Aleppo area. The only other reference I see to this name is this, a family killed in Aleppo, nearly 100 years later. Maybe here it's Baytpunji, "the unnamed concrete mason's unnamed family." But I don't think so.
    We still don't know if it's a valid name, but it's just rare enough, maybe they thought they could use it unaltered, without anyone noticing it's a likely Christian name. So it's still a good lead, but still a speculative one as well. And I won't even add this (confused?) refutation to the text. May add the name meaning ... I might add more, we'll see.

  3. A couple of points.

    The clothing seems mostly full color. Not bleached in any way. Not definitive, but Chlorine gas in the presence of any moisture will have a strong bleaching effect.

    The second point is that the canonical Great War report on chlorine gassing describes early fatalities as having a pale green-yellow face color. http://www.vlib.us/medical/gaswar/chlorine.htm

    1. Hey!

      Bleaching, likely ... never did get certainty. Makes sense. So another counter-clue here.

      The green face seems to be a WWI thing. Battle of Ypres, everything was turned green by the massive cloud. It was for demonstration (IIRC) - could it have some green dye added? ANyway, it seems related to mass-scale release, WWI style, open fields and trenches w/no escape, etc. doesn't come up anywhere else as a thing you should expect to see. Maybe in very heavy doses, left in it for some time, some gas staining (and that would apply to some other things I'm studying, so I should clarify). Otherwise, I don't see why you'd turn green. The problem is when it turns to acids (which are clear?) and these burn. A penny will turn green, from the copper in it rusting.

  4. The surnames ending in -ji are mostly christian,greek orthodox.but the young girl is wearing a head scarf.

    Very sad images.

    Assad is a war criminal and should face charges in the Hague.

    1. Really? I'll check on that. So far it's just the scant family history that suggests that.

      It's a big piece, maybe you missed it, but ... the alleged chlorine almost surely didn't kill them, or hit them in the heads a day or two earlier (would probably be in the back, unseen here - see above, "Racoon eyes?"). Their captors here, about to lose and take the bus to Idlib, will have done all that. Christians in Aleppo. Didn't they all flee as soon as rebels took over? Apparently not these six.

  5. '12 killed in Syrian protests; lawmakers, cleric resign'
    By REUTERS 04/23/2011 18:32
    Rights activists said a 3,000-strong military force swarmed into Daraa in the early hours of Monday, with tanks taking up positions in the town centre and snipers deploying on rooftops.
    "Snipers have taken up positions on the roofs and tanks are in the centre of the town... Bodies are lying in the streets and we can't recover them," one activist said, asking not to be named for security reasons.

    Activist Abdullah Al-Harriri told AFP earlier on Monday: "The men are firing in all directions and advancing behind the armour which is protecting them.

    Lawmaker Khalil al-Rifaei joined his colleague Hariri, both representatives of the troubled city of Deraa, and announced his resignation on air, saying it was because of the killings of pro-democracy protesters.

    "Security solutions do not work," Rifaei said.

    Hours later, Deraa's government-appointed mufti, or Muslim preacher, joined the lawmakers in announcing his resignation.
    Being assigned to give fatwas (religious edicts), I submit my resignation as a result of the fall of victims and martyrs by police fire," Rezq Abdulrahman Abazeid told al-Jazeera television. "When they announce at high levels that (protesters) will not be shot at, we see that the truth on the ground is not like that," he said.

    Abazeid is the first Syrian religious leader to resign in connection with the current violent suppression of protest.
    A lot of our problems arise from sheikhs or clerics who condone many outrageous behaviors and encourage their followers to commit them. Many of Daraa's sheikhs issued fatwas and made speeches in which they attacked the other sects. One of these fatwas condones the rape of women who belong to other religions or sects, because they consider these women as infidels, so no sin will be committed if they rape them according to their twisted thinking. One of their jihad's target was the women who live in the military personnel residential area..

  6. The “Intellectuals” of Duma authorise the taking of possessions and property of Alawites, Christians and Druze
    11/8/2013  Arabi Press
    34 of Duma’s religious Ulama have issued a fatwa permitting the residents of Duma and Rural Damascus in Syria to take the property and possessions of the region’s Alawite, Christian and Druze communities and other minorities, in addition to boycotting the residents of Damascus for- according to the Ulama- letting down the revolutionaries and forsaking them.
    The Website of Ajel News Network stipulated that the properties will be confiscated in Duma and rural Damascus , and utilised to ” buy weapons and help the poor, widowed and orphaned”, according to the wording of the Fatwa.
    The Fatwa stipulates:Our people in Duma and rural Damascus…in light of the teachings of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah of our prophet we make the following declarations:
    The confiscation of what remains of the possessions of Christians and the taking of what remains of the properties of Alawites, Druze and others who do not follow the Sunnah of our dear prophet, and the use of part of it to buy arms and the other part is to be distributed to the poor, orphaned and the families and widows of martyrs.


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