Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A "Confident" Final Failure of the UN-OPCW Joint Mechanism?

October 28, 2017
(rough, incomplete (as usual))
edits 10/29, 11/3

A "Confident" Finale
The UN-OPCW "joint investigative mechanism" into Syria chemical weapons allegations is now at either a turning point or at its end. It may just be the sharpness of the turn that caused it, but the sword they've fallen on here suggests anything they say now will be among their last words. But only time will tell.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism (I've used JIM, they're now calling themselves "the Mechanism") was first formed in August 2015 to re-investigate Syrian CW incidents and this time ascribe blame. I sent them some important information and suggestion at the time (per formal submission guidelines and just ahead of deadline, so it should have been considered - see here). They apparently ignored it all. Through two years and six question-riddled and inconsistent reports, the Western-controlled panel again and again heaped blame on the Syrian government at every chance. They accept some evidence with no skepticism, dismiss some on dubious grounds, and ignore other key pieces of evidence altogether, in whatever combination best makes the case for blaming Syria.  From that, it's only logical to wonder if the blame was decided first and the supposed reasoning constructed later.

The Russians have had enough of their politicized distortions and voted against extending the Mechanism's mandate on October 24 (AP via Business Insider). The idea may not be to end it, but to rein it in an approve a modified and more balanced formula, which the West can then be framed as blocking, which they would.  For the time being, as its mandate expires shortly, the panel won't exist any more. Many in the West lament the loss of an "independent" panel, and the only one investigating chemical weapons allegations in Syria, allowing the Syrian government to get away with more murder. (see UK criticism of Russia's move).(note: of 15 security council members, 11 voted to extend the mandate, and 4 nation refused to vote yes. China and Kazakhstan abstained. Russia and Bolivia voted against.)

But on their way out, someone leaked an unfinished copy of their last report again accusing Syria of the alleged sarin airstrike of April 4 that was blamed for nearly 100 civilian deaths in the Islamist-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. An unofficial copy was made available (primary source and details and possible final version TBA).
<add 11/3>Final version is released. .doc file available for reading and download here. If that doesn't work, or for reference, the document is S/2017/904 Seventh report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism. Distr.: General. 26 October 2017. Original: English. On quick review, the main points at least seem unchanged from draft used for this review.<end 11/3>

The version I'm reviewing is dated October xx, has formatting issues, no formal document ID number (it's #xx in the sequence), but otherwise seems legitimate and in line with their previous poor-quality work. Eliot Higgins at Bellingcat provides this PDF link in his fawning review. As Higgins puts it, the mechanism's report  "shows that, despite Russian and Syrian protests, there’s now clear evidence that Syria was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun Sarin attack, and alternative versions of events presented by Russia and Syria are fabrications." Now clear evidence? There wasn't any before, and there's none added here, so what the hell is he talking about?

As this made the news, I noted a BBC report emphasizing - as most do -the "confidence" expressed by the investigators. This seems to be the main news; they're now extremely confident in their Syria-blame. Citing that BBC report, I tweeted:
"The panel is confident" #Syria dropped #sarin and killed people April 4. That's central for confidence artists. 
I put that out with visual reminder of problems they won't and can't have good answers for, which I'll show again below.

On findings already found ...
The rebuttals here aren't full and complete - the same I've recycled now several times, put best in my September Indicter article. The citations are copied at random, with no paragraph numbers yet to cite. They're from the document (subject to change in final). Most citations are not from the report main body but from the more detailed "Annex II: Khan Shaykhun."

Note 10/29: this was a quick review, looking for their take on my main questions. There are a lot of other issues, strange claims, and revealed clues I didn't cover here. Others bring some up in comments here and in other places.

Victim Questions
All questions about the victims and how and where they really died are as ignored as ever. the wounds to many victims suggesting they were executed, and perhaps hostages, and the lack of evidence for field rescues or in-situ poisoning. These gaps in the evidence leave open the possibility - which has emerged in most other alleged chemical attacks - that the victims were hostages held by local terrorists, and were gassed deliberately in some confined space before being loaded onto truck and finally shown during token visits to a supposed hospital. All we can see is they appear there suddenly, after being loaded in trucks somewhere they don't show us. 

There's no mention in this report or any preceding it of claims that some 250 civilians were kidnapped by Islamist rebels in overrun villages in Hama in late March, taken to Khan Sheikhoun, and killed and shown off as victims of the attack. Their Joint Investigative Mechanism's answer to this possibility doesn't exist. They've accepted the handed-in story with no apparent questions. There might be evidence that puts this and other hostage possibilities to bed, bit simply ignoring the question does nothing to help in that, and in fact underlines how maybe there was no good answer, and these might be those captives, or if not, then perhaps others who were kidnapped under less public circumstances. 

The Jet Attack   
"Forensic analysis of the videos found that, at a certain point in each video, the sound of an aircraft could be heard in the background along with an explosion."
I always thought so. We don't get to see it drop any bombs, and in fact the evidence suggests it didn't. But there may have been a jet or even two flying by at the same time.

The mechanism was shown copies of flight logs from Shayrat airbase, and saw originals when finally visiting there. The log showed no missions at the time specifying Khan Sheikhoun as a target. However:
"Two entries in the log book provide details of the “time of execution” of missions that correspond with the time frame that sarin was released at Khan Shaykhun. The operations relating to those particular flights are logged as aerial attacks using conventional munitions targeting non-State armed groups in the vicinity of Kafr Zita and Tal Hawash, situated approximately 8 km southwest and 18 km west of Khan Shaykhun, respectively."
So Syria's first attack of the day at 11:30 claim meant first attack in the Khan Sheikhoun area. This was a dawn attack flight, not reconnaissance as I had suspected until now. But the records say its attacks were elsewhere. The lead pilot with call sign Quds1 was interviewed and said the same. Exact locations were given for two bomb drops. The mechanism confirmed one site at least was damaged, though they didn't find out if it was damaged on April 4. The other isn't mentioned further. It might be these two attacks would use up all the bombs he had (?), leaving none or too little for Khan Sheikhoun. (Did he ("Quds1") drop the explosive bombs, or the sarin? That's still confused.) Perhaps carefully, the investigators' lack of findings here leaves open the option that he used zero of his weapons before going towards KS.

"The Governments of France and the United States publicly provided information that [two] SAAF Su-22 took off from Al-Shayrat airbase on 4 April 2017, were “over” Khan Shaykhun at 0637 and 0646 hours, and launched up to six attacks “around” Khan Shaykhun."
Note the use of quotes. There are problems with this the Mechanism is trying to dance around.
On 7 April 2017, United States authorities publicly released a statement and a map depicting a flight path of an aircraft originating from Al-Shayrat airbase that “was over Khan Shaykhun” at approximately 0637 and 0646 hours.The flight is depicted as conducting a circular loop in the vicinity of Kafr Zita and the north-east of Khan Shaykhun. The map indicated that the closest point that the aircraft was to Khan Shaykhun was approximately 5 km away.
I think it's closer than that, but still too far away to have dropped any of the alleged gravity bombs on any of the alleged spots. As shown below, the red line I drew is probably fudged a bit north (to be overly fair to the opposition story) By that, it's only about 1 km south of the edge of town, 1.5 from blast plume 3, and about 3km south of even the sarin crater. The true position is surely further out, maybe 3.5km or more, but I doubt it's a full 5 as they say, but maybe. And this is the closest pass that appears, out of two needed for the opposition story line (one jet dropped 3 explosive bombs, the other dropped the sarin bomb - but neither pass was recorded on this radar system.

One of the pilots they interviewed said he "was within 7 to 9 km of Khan Shaykhun at the relevant time." 7-9 km might mean the nearest dropped bomb (said to be ~8km), not the nearest flight pass, and not necessarily at the exact bombing time. But everyone agrees, the jets never flew directly over any of the bomb sites. Well, everyone except maybe the people who swore they witnessed both jets right above...

The flight track is not in error, and has confirmation:
"Additional information provided to the Mechanism referred to two aircraft having taken off from Al-Shayrat airbase at around the same time as indicated above, ten minutes apart, following the same flight path."
I thought so. The confirmed path illustrated, to them, "that air activity had taken place around Khan Shaykhun at about the time of the sarin incident." Put that the other way around and you'll see why that's the whole point - the incident was made to happen as jets were nearby. It's harder to blame your false-flag attack on jets if you don't time it with an overflight, on near-pass. 

To be fair, they usually don't bother. Activists claim jets/helicopter/etc., show no proof, and get no radar tracks shown as support. And still the accusation universally passes. But in this case, the stakes are higher than usual and, as it happens, they took the extra effort to have their events and claims timed with an actual jet pass. Now they can match it to radar records ... which was actually a bad idea, as the tracks were shown, and they prove the jets could not have launched the attack. While bombs fell on those dark blue dots, one jet was perhaps on that red line, or was somewhere else on its path, depending. The other one was even further away at all times. So the jets have an unusually specific alibi here.

Everything about the wording here shows the panel is aware that the jets were never in fact "over" Khan Sheikhoun.

"The Mechanism compared the flight times of SAAF aircraft taking off from Al-Shayrat airbase as provided by the Syrian Government with other flight information received. Both the Syrian and other accounts are consistent that SAAF aircraft were in the air at the relevant time. Where the accounts diverge is with respect to whether or not the aircraft flew over or in the immediate vicinity of Khan Shaykhun."
The original source for the claim it was over the bomb sites is from terrorist groups and their sympathizers. One of the "accounts" diverging from that is a radar track. Compared to witnesses, this is hard to ignore, and in fact the Mechanism cites it as sort-of support for their decision to blame Syria, proving a single Syrian jet did pass kind of nearby.

"To date the Mechanism has not found specific information confirming whether or not an SAAF Su-22 operating from Al-Shayrat airbase launched an aerial attack against Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017."

Lack of confirmation means the pieces of the story didn't come together right. To a reasonable investigator, that would mean the story didn't pan out. Here... they decided there was "sufficient credible and reliable evidence" for findings including:
  • "Aircraft dropped munitions over Khan Shaykhun between 0630 and 0700 hours..."
  • "Aircraft of the Syrian Arab Republic was in the immediate vicinity" at the same time.
Whose jet was actually over the bomb sites at attack time .. is the same. Vicinity = over, or close enough, or at least it might possibly be. They have at least one possible new twist they seem to think might save the claims. Do they now claim missiles fired over a distance were used, as a few sources have claimed? No. They still cite gravity-driven bombs, and just pulled this trick:
The Mechanism consulted with a weapons expert to ascertain the confluence of distance and altitude from which it may be possible to hit Khan Shaykhun with an aerial bomb. The expert concluded that, depending on a number of variables such as altitude, speed and flight path taken, it would be possible for such an aerial bomb to be deployed on the town from the aforementioned distances.
Bombs could be dropped on the town, perhaps, but it would be the south edge - perhaps to blast plume 3, but not to blast plumes 1 and 2 or the pivotal sarin crater in the north of town. For a straight down bomb to do that, the jet would have to be almost in outer space, or lower, depending on winds at the altitudes it would fall through.... and you wouldn't hear its engine then, not to mention targeting problems from so high.

Also, why is this "depending on ... flight path" Why not explain to the expert that this is an east-west flight path and we need a drift about 3-5 km to the north? Probably because that's how you get a "no" answer, and they didn't want that. So they settled for this extremely weak "possibly."

<add 10-29>Explaining: If the target were on the same line as the flight path, and out ahead, the jet's trajectory would add to the bomb's drift towards the target. But in this case the flight path is east-west, and the drift needed to hit the target is north, so this helps none. On that axis, only wind can alter this direction from straight down. By how much? That's debatable and I don't know how to get a best answer. But can anyone really disagree with this?

I'm not a weaponry expert, but this source explains traditional SU-22 maximum bomb drop altitude is 2 km, up to 5km with modernization. It seems likely Syria flies the non-modernized version, but let's consider both. And let's be fair and put the bakery crater 3.5 km, not 5 km, from beneath the jet. From each altitiude, I draw a gray line (arbitrary) to represent what seems like a realistic drop angle, if we had optimal winds (to the north prevailing strongly) Optimal winds could exist; I've established the wind near ground was to the northeast, at a moderate speed. At higher altitude it would be higher speed, and likely the same direction prevailing. If parachutes were used (hasn't been mentioned), this angle might be even shallower with more drift, but otherwise, the real lines might be steeper yet. 

From 5km, we could have bombs landing around the 1km mark by this. What we'd need to fit the crater with a bomb from this closest jet pass is marked in red for each altitude. It's bad enough 5km up, but at the more likely 2km ... this is more how a fluttering phone book would fall than a streamlined 250-500 kg bomb. This is what I mean, and if there is a realistic way for this to line up, it will take some illustration. The Mechanism's simple "it could happen... depending" doesn't suffice. We know what it depends on, so we should have a clear answer based on that.<end 10-29>

Side-note: "The Mechanism did not interview the pilot associated with the second entry" in the Shayrat log book (is this the accompanying jet marked Quds 6?) "The Syrian Arab Republic informed the Mechanism that the pilot was later shot down and is currently missing in action." As the linked source above explains, the point of getting the 5km modernization is it helps you stay above enemy defensive fire while engaging in bombing runs. Sounds like he wasn't.

Sarin Bomb
The alleged sarin bomb is not one of my core issues, but the report manages to say some stupid things about it I had to respond to.
"According to information obtained by the Mechanism, the filler cap, with two closure plugs, is uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs."

This claim isn't explained with reference to any models or images, and seems very dubious. It's inconsistent with the soviet-made WWII-era CW bomb cited by Human Rights Watch, who were looking at the scrap inside-out (as I explained at the Indicter). It seems consistent with several larger bombs using standard explosives - a filler hole cap (or perhaps “charge well plug”?) on something like the Russian-made OFZAB-500. Several similar kinds use these two little holes for the opening tool.

Here, the scrap with this cap that could be from many non-CW weapons happens to be almost the only surviving piece anyone can show. That's the case now in two alleged sarin attacks - this, and one a week earlier, on March 30, near Latamnah to the south. In both cases, this scrap also happens to land right in the crater, and happens to have one opening hole covered with dirt and one visible. (see Bellingcat) These strange coincidences don't seem to raise any red flags for the Mechanism. They think this is some special Syrian design that, along with the special Syrian hexamine method of making sarin, serve as a double-fingerprint ID of the regime culprits. It's preposterous, transparent, and just embarrassing to watch.
"The Mechanism was provided with an assessment of the filler cap and with chemical analysis showing sarin and a reaction product of sarin with hexamine that can only be formed under very high heat."
Very high heat also tends to destroy sarin, so it's not clear what they're getting at here. Perhaps heat = impact, meaning it must be a dropped bomb?
"Information was also received that additional metal fragments collected from the crater may possibly correspond to parts of Syrian aerial chemical munitions."
 But no one sent any proof to help clarify if these extra claims have any validity.

Sarin Spread: SW Wind, not Topography
As my research so far suggests, sarin nerve agent was legitimately in some of the biomedical and environmental samples tested by various parties (including he Syrian government). How exactly it got in each sample and what that says about the overall events is not so clear and really can't be known.

Everyone on and sympathizing with the opposition side, from first reports to this latest, agree sarin was released from one bomb only, dropped in the road near the central bakery. From there, the JIM explain:
Sarin of an undefined purity was disseminated from the crater in a direction that was defined by local air movements. The Mechanism noted that the wind speed in the area that day was <0.5 m/s, which would normally result in a considerable variation in the direction of the air movement. The Mechanism also noted that the location of victims, as described in the report of the Fact-Finding Mission, serves as an indicator of prevailing air movements west to south-west of the location of the crater during the early morning of 4 April 2017. 
Huh. Of course where people were actually poisoned should tell you what the wind was. But here, we don't really know where anyone was poisoned. There are many, and elaborate claims about where, all agreeing on a basic area. But they're just claims.

And the same video record the Mechanism otherwise cites tells a different story. A careful estimation using several videos from different angles is clear that smoke plumes drift to the northeast. The exact direction and speed are debatable, but not the basic northeast direction. Wind speeds at higher altitudes are estimated around 6mph, lower at ground level. There, two fields of fog are also seen (seeming to be man-made and attack related, at least for a visual effect. But neither is from the claimed area). Both  fields of this fog also seem to spread in the same direction - northeast. (see as needed the detailed wind direction explainer)

That's what the video says. Other sources (chattering Islamists) think the released sarin cloud must have drifted - no, pushed, violently - against the wind in this case, just about exactly the opposite of the true direction.

The "mechanism" chose their southwest wind based only where activists said it spread. And they do have it carefully mapped. Different sources have given the same area, in an unusually confident show of specificity. Several alleged survivors take camera crews back to the scene, always in that same area when location can be determined. But that could all be done by an agreed script, with an attached script map, and - if so - it seems like someone did that mapping backwards. This actually can happen quite easily; someone reports the wind properly (direction it blows from) as southwest, even giving a correct compass heading. Without clarifying or double-checking, someone then might decide that meant blowing to the southwest, and would place the alleged victim homes along this flipped path. Everyone else would have to follow that basic error without correcting it along the way. That could happen, and might be just what happened. Even if they caught the mistake early on, it might be too far in to be altered without appearing to change their story, which would also look bad. So, it seems, they stuck to the first version and hoped no one noticed the true wind.

But however it happened, they imply a wind opposite of the real one. The Mechanism chose to accept their implied wind. This then forms an important plank in their "confident" decision that a sarin bomb dropped there did in fact poison and kill people over here. Well, physical reality disagrees. 

How they decided the wind speed was low is unexplained, but they probably are citing the OPCW's earlier report. This did conclude very low wind speeds, explaining that activists told them about it. They did no video analysis either. They decided the supposed lack of wind (not one to the southwest) left local topography as the mover, and there was a down-slope to the southwest that killed everybody. However, they placed the crater wrong in the graphic showing this; the bakery area is indicated instead, helping that explanation look plausible. If it were placed right, we can see the down slope from there is to the northwest - another wrong direction. (See OPCW's No Wind Theory)

The mechanism does not repeat this argument, saying "air movement" (aka wind) was the main driver. They must have some good reason to reject the finding of the OPCW in this regard, when normally their readings on such CW-related things are seen as superior to all else. 

Note: The area in question, where sarin was allegedly released, is not seen on immediate post-attack videos. But as noted, two other areas of fog are seen and appear to spread northeast. By topographic maps, that spread is mainly uphill. By these precedents, any plume of gas or vapor released at this crater should also drift northeast and uphill on the same surface-level wind, but perhaps more slowly, as the grade is steeper in this area.

So, considering both observed wind and topography, the activist-supplied narrative still clashes 180 degrees with reality. If they claimed sarin was released in either of the areas that fog is seen pouring from, they might have a case. But they and all subordinate investigators, like the Mechanism here, continue to ignore all of that and insist on this stupid bakery crater lone-release point story that was ruined from the start.

"The irregularities described in this annex are not of such a nature as to call into question the aforementioned findings" that Syria was probably pretty much to blame for this thing. Well, the best irregularities, of course, aren't presented in "this annex." Based on the crap in there, "the Leadership Panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017." No doubt a lot of people are taken in by and share that confidence, but they really shouldn't be. 

Recall those children seen dying on video inhabited the physical world you and I do, not any made-up place on paper or transmitted digital files or in any propaganda-laced myth narrated by lightly-bearded jihadists. 

In the made-up world of neck-tied hand-shakes UN "international community" consensus, it's verging on scientific fact worth shaming anyone who disagrees. It might be worth bombing them to death, if they're Syrian and disagree militarily, or live in the wrong house under the wrong bomb ... never forget the disastrous Iraq and Libya scenarios, and the slim-to-no basis in truth each one's moral pretexts wound up having. Would it really be a shock that Syria could be the same?
But in the reality those children physically passed through... it's where we live too, though far away in space and well-insulated. Are we really that confident these UN and OPCW people have been feeding us the truth? Isn't it at least worth another look from a different viewpoint to see if the picture remains this clear or turns out to be an illusion? We need to be extra careful in issues of war and peace, right and wrong, and on proper ways forward towards a just peace in line with the needs and rights of people inhabiting this physical world? Yes, we do. 

Not such a Great Call-to-Action but hey, here's one
Now this is no complex case - the opposition story is especially shoddy - it's almost as if they wanted a worst case to put their foot down over, to emphasize the effect of their Owellian demands: these lies are truth, the proposed unjust punishments are justice, and all decent people must stand behind this basic truth or become traitors to justice for the innocent people of Syria. Dissenters will be flagged as part of the global bad-guy axis, Russian agents and so on.

The fact is, this case presents a great chance to bring truth to power, to show the extra-important claims are unusually well-illustrated as being false. This would be a big step towards unlocking the mystery of why all our help has only made things worse. It could be this same kind of deception is behind all the other accepted crimes providing the running precedent to keep accepting more. Wrong diagnosis, over and over.
For "the Russians," for everyone, and especially the actual Syrian people, and for the victims of the next planned and ongoing wars based on similar systemic lies ... this idiotic story being on such a grand stage is a golden opportunity. Maybe with the right pressure, placed on the right questions, a new probe capable of reaching the actual truth could be muscled into existence. It may not be at the UN, but it could have a lot of real credibility and influence if it were set up right. It might use lots of volunteers all over the world mainly working "open source intelligence." I'd volunteer to be one of those, of course. Someone, please, get on this task.

Friday, October 27, 2017

2017 Hama Offensive: A Hostage Raid?

October 29, 2017
(rough, incomplete)

This is sort of a side-issue connecting or perhaps feeding into the April chemical massacre in Khan Sheikhoun that I explored a bit, and the bits I found seems worth sharing.

The issue is: the opposition's 2017 Hama offensive, with dramatic and scary advances from March 21-24, followed by days of occupation over several new towns. It was routed and reversed by March 31 by the Syrian Arab Army and allies, who also kicked opposition forces out of Halfaya and Taibet Al-Imam, to lessen the chances of a recurrence. The changes both ways were dramatic and perhaps not well-considered. Here's my crude mapping from what I found so far.

As the Wikipedia article explains the motive: "The rebels aimed to capture Jabal Zayn al-Abidin and attack the Hama Military Airport, and reportedly advanced to within 7 kilometers of Hama city." Video: The first village to fall in the hands of the Mujahideen is the village of Arza in the northern countryside of Hama 3-23. Reports out of Hama on the 30th give Arza, Al-Shikhah to the south, and the Point 50 army base to the north vacated by rebels on the 30th. See map to see how close al-Shikha would out them to Hama and the airport. Somewhere I saw the intent was to send a message to "the regime" that the war was not over.

It was a costly gambit. Might there be more reason to embark on the adventure that lost them Halfaya and Taibet al-Imam? Other possible motives:

-  to provoke the government into some reaction, or to create the conditions where a faked response would seem more believable.

- Just have brief access to things or people they usually wouldn't?

Was this Hama offensive, at least in part, a mutli-front hostage raid? Previously we've seen reports that some 250 civilians kidnapped and shipped north before the Islamists left.  as prev. covered Idlib CW false-flag covers for Islamist massacre - this is a pattern that recurs in previous CW incidents -  the victims are "displaced" or seem to be hostage. This wasn't reported at first, perhaps kept quiet amid negotiations, until a bunch of people died in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.

Only on April 4 did sources inform Al-Masdar News about " 250 people from Majdal and Khattab were kidnapped by Al-Qaeda terrorists last week." What was suddenly new: "Local sources have claimed that many of those dead from the chemical weapons (in Khan Sheikhoun that day) were those from Majdal and Khattab." They also heard from a family member of an abductee that “the jihadists then took them all to Khan Sheikhoun.”  How that could be known, aside from a victim ID from there, is unclear. There's been no further news I'm aware of on these supposed matches. I'm skeptical of the claim, but it's possible. Tactically, out of fear that such could be proven, the jihadists might keep any hostages from this offensive for later swaps - and use other hostages they seized more quietly.

Al-Namechange front and their Islamist allies were likely planning Ghouta II - if possible, they might even want to approximate, but probably not match its death toll - something well into the triple-digits, like 300, might be great. Coincidentally, they tried to take Mahradeh, Ma'an, they took Majdal and Khattab, they took people. Some 250, it's said, just days before about 100 died in Khan Sheikhoun a ways north.

Adding to This...
For what it's worth, here's a little review. This is also in part a big list of videos and some materials for further study. Already interesting little things are turning up buried in this imagery. What I could use more of, from any reader who understands spoke Arabic, is some translation of what people say in these videos (or anything especially interesting, anyway)
Not comprehensive, just mostly from a Youtube search and a few previously-known reports for context ...and a decent Wikipedia article 

The Hama offensive (March–April 2017) was a military offensive launched by Syrian rebel groups led by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) north of the city of Hama, as part of the Syrian Civil War. The offensive began on 21 March 2017, and the rebels aim to recapture areas recaptured by the Syrian Armed Forces in the 2016 Hama offensive, as well as pushing into Hama city.[59][60][61]
Wikipedia: "According an SAA Tiger Force commander, there were about 6,000 HTS and allied militants involved in the offensive."

Also "The offensive was coordinated with rebel forces in Damascus' eastern suburbs, who launched their own operation in March 2017." That will be the Saudi-backed Jaish Al-Islam, most likely.

It started on the eastern front on March 21, when "two Tahrir al-Sham suicide bombers detonated two large car bombs against government positions in the town of Suran." Soon the SOHR was confirming this and parts of Maardis were overrun.

- Souran 3-22 video, Hadi Abdullah: Video from inside the city # liberated photos in the suburb of Hama and explain the latest details of the battles and where the liberation arrived

March 21 video: "Free Army of Idlib Preface to the Assad forces inside the town of Khattab in the northern suburb of Hama."  - firing improvised rockets into Khattab. Some of the effects of this is shown in later videos. (see Tour of the town of Khattab newly liberated 3-23  which just barely avoids showing us at 0:11 a possible weapon that's large, yellow, and cylindrical)

Chemical Warfare?
Perhaps the most interesting thing found so far, panned over in that last video, gets its own explanatory post  here: A 44-liter chlorine tank is seen in Khattab after rebels were done firing things on the town and were in control of it. It's the same kind the Ilslamists usually say falls from regime helicopters, but seems to have deformed differently than usual. Here it landed by the apparent city hall and adjacent army position, and they never mentioned it. Just a couple days later, the same exact tank was reportedly dropped from a regime helicopter on a cave hospital in Al-Latamnah, in the first publicized area chlorine attack of the year. How many non-publicized chlorine uses were there before that? Just this one, or more? And who was behind it?

Surrounding Mahradeh
An important goal of the offsensive, apparently, was encircling Mahradeh, a sizeable Christian-majority city by Sunni Halfaya, long targeted with shelling, siege and raiding when possible. March 23: Al-Azza army frees the shaliot barriers The northern gate of the town of Mahara in the northern suburb of Hama. Shaylut checkpoint (Wikimapia), just across the demarcation line, and just north of Mahradeh. Here we see Jihadis cheering with the smokestacks of Mahradeh power station behind them, a bunch of Christian infidels just to the right of that.

Then they got it largely surrounded, taking Mahradeh's south flank - March 24 Army of Glory "controls the villages of Majdal and Maarazaf in the countryside of Hama following battles with the regime forces. March 25 - signs: the other towns are west and north of Mahradeh, so this must be south of it, so Majdal or Maarzaf. 

On 3-22 (maybe premature) it was announced "The army of pride controls the highway between the towns of Mahreda and Hama and the regime" An Al-Masdar report of March 23 adds "The insurgents expanded their assault and attacked the predominantly-Christian city of Mahardah, shelling it with mortar shells and homegrown rockets and cutting off the road linking it to the provincial capital."

3-24 video: Magdal village in the countryside of Hama after liberation from the grip of the regime.

3-25 Syrian Event Center video: Our correspondent from the heart of the city of Majdal after the control of the Free Army on the outskirts of Hama. A dead soldier is seen, details unclear but he lays awkwardly. His shoes have been removed - customary for Islamist execution. They weren't taken off right here but somewhere prior. There's also lots of wire tangled around his feet, as if crudely bound. His arms aren't visible, perhaps bound behind his back. An unclear large object lays near his head (or ?). This is how the regim's grip was loosened, to "liberate" this town.

3-25 Mahmoud al-Hamwi:  A tour of (Maarzaf) village in the countryside of Hama confirms the control of the army of pride over what the regime claims." That's even further west on Mahradeh's south flank.
Rhabat Khattab army base
A field tour of one of the surrounding barriers in the town of Khattab in the countryside of Hama
Mahmoud al Hamwi March 22 

3-24 SMART news https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIy5GALcZII
Mahmoud Hamwi Smart camera enters the town [sic] of Rahba Khattab in the countryside of Hama after the control of the military factions
Rahbet Khattab army base, just north of town
Hadi Abdullah at Khattab base 3-23 video: From inside the village of Rahabat Khattab after being completely liberated from the Assad forces within the battle to liberate Hama

Another video just after the takeover on 3-22 is mostly filmed at the same army base, but opens with another killed defender on the roadside in another, unclear spot at the edge of town. In camouflage gear, he also seems executed. There's a pool of blood from his head, which seems to be partly missing. Presumably, a gun was used, but that's not clear. His shoes were also removed before they killed him, laid neatly next to him. He wasn't fighting or even running, although he doesn't appear bound.

"Regime thug," Alawite, or otherwise, executing captives is a war crime. Here, the foreign-supported Islamists openly show us two examples, but Human Rights Watch et al. don't seem to have even noticed.
People seen under occupation:
Mujahideen liberators liberate many villages in the northern Hama countryside, 3-23, location unclear (hand-painted sign is hard to read - could almost be al-Shikha or al-Sheer, but seems more like al-Shalq, which doesn't seem to exist...) empty streets, some (homes?) have had fires inside.

"Believe it or not the system of (rural) Hama depends on the dogs guarding its leading officers." 3-23. At an apparent base or home of an officer, perusing files. A civilian dog is seen, likely crippled (hasn't left, doesn't move), is tossed a pack of cigarettes. No one hurts the dog on camera - the cameraman seems slightly amused, except the dog is boring, so he become just indifferent.

3-22 Khatab, Assi Press in the newly liberated town of Khattab - one man interviewed expresses joy at being liberated. 3-23 Al-Jazeera, Khatab - desolate. 3-22 Khatab - Mahmoud Hamwi talks to some fighters. No civilians around. - Khattab 3-24 SMART News - a few adult male civilians walk about. 

The village of Khattab in the countryside of Hama after its full liberation, March 26:
As a Jihadist fighter explains the situation (no translation of content), one old man comes out and watches the presenter from behind, apparently unnoticed. Shortly, a jihadist truck arrives and nudges him out of frame by driving right at him at low-mid speed. When the man sees its speed, he's startled, and quickly moves out of harm's way as seen here. Then the presenter notices him, and the video cuts.

People seen leaving/moving around:
3-22 Khatab, Assi Press A woman rides in truck loaded with bedding, and it seems nothing else but a generator (has a blue tank and a machine half)? They seem to be leaving, but could be arriving, or just going to another part of town. 

The amount of bedding is noteworthy: it seems far more than one home's worth Is there a group including women these folks are helping arrange collective housing and bedding for? Some shaken-loose "displaced" people who've decided to all shack up in one convenient and hard-to-escape locale? (the woman could be a liaison to "deal with the women" among the hostages, who would likely be kept somewhere nearby for the moment.)

In a video given as March 22, in Khatab, and overcast (Qassioun News), it's explained opposition forces "ensure the exit of civilians from the town of Khattab north of Hama after the opposition control." People ride a horse, some tractors, several motorcycles and even a few cars along a nondescript country road, with lots of bedding, rugs, pots and pans, a couple of portable generators perhaps, and so on.The location and direction are unclear, but it seems they're headed left down a slope into a misty area - likely then east towards the river

Who this is leaving and why is not explained. Generally the opposition likes people to stay put, as human shields, or to be arrested, if heretics/enemies. They often don't like and even shoot people who try to flee upon liberation (or so it seems to me - the fleeing regime forces are usually blamed, sometimes it's said to steal peoples' cars to flee in, though the cars are often left right there.).

Perhaps these are minorities, allowed safe exit - at least as long as this video is rolling, and so displaced Sunni families get their homes (if they get to stay that long). Or they're letting people of all stripes who fear the next round of fighting to seek safer places. Either way it seems more of a PR move than their norm. But if this were about snatching the maximum number of people, would they just let all these folks drive off?  Well, it's not clear where they're headed, and how freely. But they aren't tied up, anyway. There's no one on foot, and no gaps in the traffic. This movement feels organized, as in "here's your time to leave, single-file, move in the approved direction and don't stop."

A blue truck alone comes the other way along the shoulder, getting just close enough at video's end to make out a white patch at the back end for W77 or 77W. The white floral design on the front and apparently windows on a blue Super-Porter truck marks it as part of that system considered here.

These trucks are a bit of a mystery, but apparently linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, but no longer for openly military activities. They sometime haul materials, and a few of them were seen hauling victims of the April 4 sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun, and then in the days after moving belongings of people who no longer lived there. Famously a W77 truck was seen ramming itself into a crowd of Shia civilians in Aleppo, largely children, before the driver blew himself up with a powerful car bomb that killed or wounded several hundred in the infamous April 15 Rashidin Massacre.

Was this W77 truck in occupied Khattab on its way to pick up some other civilians with special relocation arrangements?

Counter-Offensive and Return to Normal Life
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) counter-offensive took days to start or take off, but areas were being abandoned by the 30th at least, and then it went quickly - before the 31st was out, virtually all gains of the previous days were reversed and, as noted above, the army later pushed rebels out of two cities they had held, to push them further back from Hama to decrease the chances of that kind of offensive ever happening again.

3-31 Ruptly videos after SAA in Khattab - no civilians seen
SAA re-took Khatab, Al-Majdal, Soubein (Khirbat as Sabila?), and Al-Shayr (al-Sheer - next to the former).

SANA March 31, Khattab - empty but for army, clearing mines, booby traps, and roadblocks (some of each are shown), explanations given in Arabic.

Northern Hama: The people of the towns of Khattab and Arza return to it after the Syrian Arab army returned security - April 1 video - many happy civilians seen - praising Jaish Arabi Souriya (SAA), waving to and talking to pro-government SAMA TV's reporters. Many of them drive the same kind of loaded odd tractors seen leaving on the 22nd.

Sputnik in Khattab April 3 as life returns to normal

Back to the Alleged Kindappings
As noted above, reportsI'd heard before were of 250 civilians kidnapped - though not mentioned until April 4, and in context of being the real victims of the Khan Sheikhoun attack. From what I've found in this further search, I can add a few points of detail to this, but not much. considered town-by-town, where specifically people might have been abducted from:

Some from Majdal?
Wikipedia: "On 23 March,... Pro-government al-Masdar News reported that the rebels carried out a massacre of Alawites in the village of al-Majdal, killing up to 30 of them.[57] According to an opposition source, Sham FM radio reported that this was denied by Mohaled Hazzouri, the governor of Hama.[67]"
massacre denied probably means the hostages had not been killed, but were held alive. 30 of them.
Alawites lived there.
cited: https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/map-update-syrian-rebels-massacre-civilians-press-major-offensive-syrias-hama/
Reports came in that jihadi rebels massacred up to 30 civilians – mostly women and children – in the Alawite-populated village of Majdal.
Hama governor (Mohamed) Hazzouri told Sham FM radio the reports were untrue. (Mohaled in origina, but this is an error. There's no such name.) Report also notes:"Opposition activists said the governor may face regime reprisals over his statement" (ooh!) and Hama "is critically important to Bashar Assad and his fellow Alawite-sect supporters."

Wikipedia: Rebel forces led by Tahrir al-Sham then proceeded to attack Suran and the nearby villages of Maardis and Ma'an. The rebels captured the three villages by 22 March,[63] but this was denied by Hezbollah.[59]" (Hezbollah frequently man the defenses of Shi and Alawi villages especially, to protect from raids and massacres.
Ma'an is an Alawi village long sitting at the front-line - I noted the moves against it here on March 23 because it was already the site of two Islamist victory massacres so far - In late December, 2012 Islamist rebels were unclear if they did or didn't overrun the town as intended, at the time they claim a regime massacre happened there, leaving 23 civilians beheaded and then burned...). Again they raided Ma'an in February 2014, killing several and abducting around 80 civilians, mostly women and children.  - the latter was followed some weeks later by alleged chlorine helicopter attacks in the area, said to kill a handful of civilians between them - nearly all listed as "displaced," from a variety of places that are never admitted to be Ma'an. (see here)
- March, 2016 offensive: The Islamists claim they took it, Hezbollah defenders deny it. Probably it was never overrun, but it possibly was. If  so, it was likely evacuated first, but it's possible people were killed or seized here. And they tried to get in, either way. Was some of what they were looking for perhaps still in Ma'an?

Gareth Porter has reported:
"The list of victims appended to that NGO report shows (#72-80) that Amer Nayf al Nayef from Hama province and eight members of his family—the only victims on the list not from Khan Sheikhoun itself – had all died that day. Last September Syrian Voice, a news website with contacts in the opposition, identified Amer Nayef as the head of the Hama Province Council’s relief office. "
This was after a Nusra-led offensive in September 2016 that displaced "thousands," who were being re-settled further north. He spoke about helping with that, but hasn't been heard from in connection to the more recent offensive and possible mass displacement that came just before he died along with some of those people, and probably all the family members living with him. The victims listed, from SNHR report:
    54- Amer al Nayef, lawyer, from Ma’rzaf, Hama
    55- Alaa al Nayef, from Ma’rzaf, Hama
    56- Mohammad al Nayef, from Ma’rzaf, Hama
    57- Alaa Mohammad al Nayef, from Ma’rzaf, Hama
    58- Alaa Mohammad al Nayef’s wife, from Ma’rzaf, Hama
    59- Sister of Alaa Mohammad al Nayef’s wife, from Ma’rzaf, Hama

As I mused here at ACLOS:
So the relief director (for the rebel side presumably?) and his whole family moved voluntarily to help the others who moved voluntarily, and then they all died from the sarin? It sounds like he was either helping, or voluntarily claiming that, in public statements. So he wasn't likely a prisoner. He could be a facilitator of the mass-abduction. Could he and his family have been sacrificed afterwards to help seal this especially important secret? Hm, possible. Otherwise, this could complicate the overall picture emerging here.

Not Zawr al-Ballah? 
Zawr al-Ballah ("Sunni village") is suggested by Wikimapia as the best area fit for Al-Zuwar ( الزوار - visitors). There are at least 4 others in the same area with Zuwar in the name, all along the river, but there's no place named "Al-Zuwar," where people were said to be exposed by a likely Russian sarin gas attack on March 30, in a Masar Press news story, while Latamnah was only hit with chlorine gas dropped by the Syrians. (ACLOS) It anything happened in Zawr al-whatever, it would be a fake airstrike, and the victims would be captives relocated from other towns to a small, 100% Sunni place, probably because they weren't actually Sunni. But any such story failed to stick, and instead, some civilians and a lot of fighters were said exposed by Syrian sarin attack a ways north near Latamnah, with 169 affected, one boy comatose but no one dead (ACLOS). Sarin was later confirmed as in something related to this incident. There's talk of a second sarin attack at the same time in a different, closer Al-Zuwar town, but still no further details about it. It's not clear if this other attack claim is being buried poorly or being kept alive poorly.

Out-of-Towners, as Listed
Rebels records for Khan Sheikhoun CW massacre - 6 from overrun Maarzaf (all in the Nayef group, as addressed). The VDC lists "Samer", age 18, as the only victim from Khattab. Another report lists a woman from Khatab killed, 89 of 91 listed in this SNHR report is Mrs. Hend Nabhan Duhna, from Khattab. Samer is listed the same, no family name (so 2 Khattab people in that report). That SNHR report claims 31 fatalities were of people hailing from other areas - that's one in three of 91 total. No one from Majdal is listed (that way) by any of these.

VDC lists 88 victims (all but the 4-07 entry on this list of 89 with one very delayed death and the rest on 4-4) Out-of-towners include: the 6 Nayef folks from Maarzaf and "Samer" from Khattab, 2 Rahal men from Kafraltoun (in that area, SE of Majdal, just off the controlled highway), men named Reslan and Rahmoun from Tamanaah (near Souran) ... and a bunch of others given as from Latamnah and many from Morek, both rebel-held the whole time. The majority are listed as from Khan Sheikhoun itself, any or all of these given details could well be falsified, although some of them seem to be anchored by genuine-seeming social media accounts, etc. The true mix of fact and fiction in who was killed and why remains impossible to settle. It remains possible people snatched in this offensive and mega-raid were used or, given the overly-obvious nature of doing that, perhaps they used other hostages nabbed more quietly.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Chlorine Tank Used on Khattab in March, 2017

Rebel CW Use in their Hama Offensive?
October 25, 2017
(rough, incomplete) 
edits 10/26

I've been reviewing videos of the March, 2017 Islamist rebel offensive in Hama province. Between March 21 and 24, jihadists led by HTS (Al-Namechange Front) overran government defenses north of Hama city and took control over over a dozen towns and surrounding areas and roads, circling Christian-majority Mahradeh, re-capturing Souran, invading Qomhana, and threatening the Hama military airport as they exapnded almost to Hama city limits. I didn't follow closely at the time, but it comes up as interesting in how it preceded by mere days a string of murky chemical attacks not far away.

They also reportedly took hundreds of civilians hostage, but this is ignored as Western media as HRW cheered the successful offensive that might have provoked the coming chemical attacks. All this was routed with a Syrian counter-offensive, re-taking all gains by the end of the March, and then taking towns rebels held before, to push their front-lines further back and help avoid a recurrence. Above is my mapping of the conquest (incomplete, from middling research - blog post on this forthcoming)

One of the more sizeable gains  was the town of Khattab, from which people were said to be abducted. It fell on March 22. Al-Jazeera obtained this video in Khattab on March 23. Note: Michael Kobs has geolocated it to be sure. At the beginning of the video is a much-seen walled area and a water tower, which he located so, in the southwest yet central part of Khatab (Bing maps).  In views that turn to the right, A mountain is seen in the distance. Kobs finds this is to to the east - Mt. Zayn al-Abdeen (see map), an important target of the rebel offensive they apparently failed to ever take. The black sign here seems to say مجـلس جلحقخطـاب  which translates board of directors or, like, city council? This sign looks aged and perhaps damaged in the takeover. Other black signs they show look to me like something Jihadists would put up, and mostly look new, but maybe this is just the style...

At 0:53 we see this scene - an apparent town-center army post heavily damaged, some power poles knocked over, rubble, etc. The walled board of director's compound also is immediately off-frame to the right. In fact the gate seen on the right seems to lead into the buildings walled in here.

And on the right side of this view right next to that gate into the "board of directors" compound, is an odd gold-yellow cylinder of some size, kind of rolled off to the side. The color, shape, and size of this object are quite noteworthy, although no one here notes it.

<Add 10-26>As Andrew notes in comments, this April 24 SMART news video shows the same tank a bit closer, as a few civilians start walking in the open again (0:08). This view is closer and clearer and is so far the best view. Another video from AFP Arabic shows it from a greater distance at 0:25 and 0:38.Both views are shown below <end 10/26>

It looks very much like the chlorine gas cylinders allegedly dropped from government helicopters onto innocent civilians, especially in this area (Hama-Idlib province border). There hadn't been any such allegations very recently, but the first of the year was about to come, just two days after this video was filmed.

Such a tank reportedly fell and punched through the rock-dirt-concrete roof over their bunker cave hospital, just a bit north, in al-Latamnah, on March 25. It's said the gas killed three, including a surgeon. At right, the deformed impacting end of this. That would be the top end, standing upright. There's a fill valve, and closer up engraved markings for chlorine (CL), and the maker, Norinco of China. The size of this is, I think, 44-liter, a standard size for light industrial use.

Another of the same apparent style (but seen in less detail - right) would be seen after a reported March 30 attack in Latamnah, as other attacks were reported in the area on the 26th, April 3, and April 6. This campaign would segue - from the start in some ways - into sarin's deadly return, shocking the world anew with the April 4 Khan Sheikhoun attack that killed nearly a hundred, including dozens of children. (all attacks and strange patterns explored here at ACLOS)

In the view above, we see the bottom end of this tank style, as normally stood. This has a curved end to the actual tank, but ringed with a deep rim that lets it stand upright. That rim also has small holes drilled in it, maybe just two, so they can be fastened with cables, etc. This is all factory normal design, as far as I know. Now, let's compare the Khattab cylinder compare to the Latamnah cave hospital one seen from a similar angle (once-flipped).
That's a pretty uncanny similarity. The shape may appear a bit too short or fat, but there's foreshortening in the angle we see it at, and an apparent bend, distorting its shape a bit. It will be longer than it appears, probably to the degree that it matches up fine.  Size: No way I'm adept at to get an exact measure. Visually, it's about the same, most of the size of an adult male. Different models have been used, but these two are the same style, or darn close.

If this is the same thing rebels usually have coming out of helicopters, laying around after on of their military assaults, there are a few possible interpretations:
1) The regime had it laying around, planning to load it into a helicopter somewhere else, to drop on innocents, and rebels found it. That's pretty dumb. 
2) The regime dropped it on rebels here after they took over but prior to this video. (con: using the first drop in their planned campaign to help counter the surprise offensive would be odd, and rebels never reported such an event as a chlorine attack on them in Khattab on 3-23.)
3) The rebels launched it against government forces to facilitate their takeover - and that's why they didn't report it. (con: Syria never reported it - but there's a lot of complaining they don't bother with. It suggests rebels are lying about these chlorine tanks and who's using them to win the war on various fronts. To me that's no con. Notice this is the option I bolded.)

Petri Krohn suggests here at ACLOS a little-known follow-up to the Hell Cannon that launches much larger projectiles this size or bigger. (needs more study, some proof, images, etc. - seems scarce by my first look) If they had such a thing, and it launches straight up, the projectile would come down almost like from a low-flying helicopter. There's no reason to use that trick here with the Khattab canister - this would be normal weapon usage at whatever angle makes sense to get it to the target. It could be what knocked in one of those walls on this possible army position, filling the room with choking gas. But then why would it be way over here later on? It may have hit in the street and filled the intersection with gas, or it might have failed to break open at all. More than likely, no one died from this, but it might have choked a few, military and civilian, and contributed to panic and a sense of needing to flee the town as rebels closed in.

In a little more detail now ...
The same kind of cylinder, apparently, was also used, with apparent additions welded on, in Aleppo last year. Here are 3 cases compared - March 25, March 30 (or maybe 26) in al-Latamnah, and Aleppo on November 20 of last year. There are likely more examples, but this is good for now (from various images from "Syrian Civil Defense" "White Helmets," SMART News, Al-Jazeera, etc. 

In all three cases, we see one end of the tank is intact - the rimmed bottom. In each case, it's this end that's intact and the top/nozzle end that impacts. I'm not sure if that provesd anything, but it might matter in considering if these were fired from a device this way or dropped this way, and managed to land this way, despite having no attached fins, etc.  The valve end might be heavier, of course...

So... this is most likely the same kind of gas cylinder. But this is seen two and probably used three days earlier than the yellow tank's first public appearance of the year. Is the Khattab cylinder an unreported early deployment, a prelude to the planned chemical campaign? It doesn't seem clearly sinister enough for that, does it? Targeting rebel fighters who just overran a town?

Reviewing the image from Khattab, we see the bottom end, not the usually-distorted top. Seen the other way, it could well match to the kind of rupturing seen on 3-25, if not the more massive tearing with the other two examples. It could be as ripped as the 3-30 example, which we can see appears just as intact as this, when seen from a similar angle. There does seem to be a mild distortion here, a sort of an overall bend nearer the top end, however. In an opposite situation, researchers at Human Rights Watch, for example, would take this alone as proof it fell from a government helicopter. 

It could be more intact than usual, and not look not quite so dropped-from-a-helicopter as the other cases. Maybe that's because in this case it wasn't, and it also wasn't being used in order to look that way (fired nearly straight up to fall as far down as possible). Here, maybe it was just fired like regular artillery in the offensive, at a moderate angle and mid-distance to hit this army position and/or the "board of directors" compound.

<Add 10/26>The evidence is it did rupture, but differently than in the other cases. Note that wherever it tears open and chlorine gas is released, the metal becomes rusted. This is known to happen as the gas contacts ambient moisture and turns to hydrochloric acid. The top and bottom end of the Khattab cylinder appear rust-free, while the bent middle, and the lower side up to the top end, appear to be marked by rust. <end 10/26>

If so, wouldn't they hide it? Maybe. Maybe four others they used were hidden, or just happened to go unseen. Or 10 or 30 others, or none. But of course the foreign-sponsored Islamist rebels don't even have to bother covering up their crimes; simply rolling the large yellow tank off to the side seemed sufficient, from their past experience with accountability. This chemical stuff might be a mundane part of their warfare by now, just like deceiving their infidel sponsors across the globe, pursuing Wahabbi Islamism and genocide in Syria, and raiding cities for hostages just before each of their most serious CW allegations.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Who is in real power in Libya?

Guest post by Adel Karim
October 20, 2017 

Note from the editor: I haven't written or posted on Libya in years, and have fallen totally behind on the situation. I was contacted just now by investigative reporter Adel Karim suggesting I publish this piece (already run at Eurasia Review at least). Taking at as sort of an honor, I copy and paste this useful analysis. - Adam Larson
Who is in real power in Libya?

After the U.S. and its NATO-partners invaded Libya in 2011 and killed its leader Muammar Gaddafi, the country is being into chaos and suffering from political instability and violence by different terrorist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and AQIM.

Two opposing forces are currently competing for political power in Libya. The first one is the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli. Another is the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk supported by the Libyan National Army (LNA) Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and elected by popular vote.

It is noteworthy that Khalifa Haftar has managed to succeed in fighting extremists and jihadists in six years. Besides, thanks to Haftar, a tribal unification process has been going on in Libya. His combat-capable army currently has 60,000 soldiers.

The LNA controls the most important coastal oil terminals located in Libya's ‘oil crescent’ that includes Ras Lanuf, Es Sider, Marsa al-Brega, and Zuwetina oil-exporting ports. These towns export about a half of all the Libyan oil.

At the end of May, 2017, Khalifa Haftar established control over the strategically important Ufra Airbase located 500 km south-west of Tripoli. At the beginning of July, 2017, Field Marshal announced total liberation of Benghazi, the second important city in Libya, from terrorists. Despite the risk of being arrested by the detachments controlling Tripoli, that victory was also celebrated by the inhabitants of the capital, not only by the residents of the east of Libya.

The LNA currently controls more than 80 per cent of the country. Actually, the real political power in Libya is concentrated in the hands of Khalifa Haftar.

In his turn, Prime Minister of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj only formally controls the western part of the country and has more symbolic than actual influence on the current situation in Libya. He has never managed to expand his power out of Tripoli in 18 months.

Fayez al-Sarraj doesn't have any armed forces. Several armed groups in and around Tripoli only support the Prime Minister but are not subject to his authority. He can give orders only to the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade (TRB) in Tripolitania headed by Haithem Al-Tajouri.

Besides, the Libyan Prime Minister has failed to solve problems including outrageous crimes of numerous armed groups, restoration of justice and health care, and electric energy supplying.

Obviously, due to unsolved internal problems Fayez al-Sarraj and his government lost popular support and confidence of ordinary Libyans.

Meanwhile, supporters of Khalifa Haftar have already begun collecting signatures in support of his authority throughout the country. The Libyan Youth Movement (LYM) wants Haftar to control Tripoli. According to the activists, they have already collected 700,000 signatures in order to receive popular support before the end of Fayez al-Sarraj's term of office in December, 2017.

Undoubtedly, it will take years to completely restore statehood in Libya and the power institutions. However, Khalifa Haftar is currently the only real force that is able to stabilize the situation in the foreseeable future in the country.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sarin-Faking in Syria

Token-Dose Storytellers Running the Show?
October 16, 2017
(rough, incomplete)
edits October 17, 21

tokens, wishes... (photo cropped from this source)
I recently got caught in an had to untangle some confusion passed on in Gareth Porter's September analysis at AlterNet: Have We Been Deceived Over Syrian Sarin Attack? I focused on the claims of sarin-faking there, citing clues that it wasn't sarin at all that caused those test results. Phosphine was postulated as a poison that might explain it. I drafted this article initially to explain these valid-seeming claims, and to add a wrinkle about a test they may have side-stepped in their effort to not find out if it was sarin.

But - as the October 7 note atop that article now explains - it turns out that test probably wasn't side-stepped, Porter's sources didn't even know about it, and it essentially proves sarin really was involved (or rather, the list of "sarin-like" substances seems to be too narrow to allow for any proposed alternate poisons). It seems most likely the more recent and specific tests were used, so when they say "sarin or a sarin-like substance," they almost surely do mean sarin.

The standing issue is the quantities involved. Some sarin incidents have this information publicized, but most others - including pivotal Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun (Ghouta II) incidents, no such details are available now and quite likely none will ever will be published. The reason can't be known for sure, but Gareth Porter and I and others have some thoughts and insights.

How it Might Really Work (Speculative, but...)
In the scenario I've proposed for both Ghouta and Ghouta II and for most other alleged CW incidents, based on research into many of those cases, the victims are people already held hostage by the Islamist forces opposing the Syrian government. Religious decrees allow execution for captive enemy men (aged 13 and up - Alawites, government supporters or soldiers, etc.). Women and children can also be taken, but can't openly be killed - that has to be blamed on Assad, and the same clerics pass on that blame with no questions or even with a wink. They probably keep a few, to sell off and help raise funds.

But when the time is right, those selected are gassed with whatever is handy in some basement, or maybe just suffocated, then dragged in front of cameras with their impressive "lack of physical injuries" and blamed on something only "the Assad regime" could have done (usually involving an aircraft). If testing their tissues helps the case being made, that might happen. Otherwise, it certainly won't be done, and the bodies will just be dumped in mass graves as soon as the cameras are gone.

Those alleged CW attack victims who come in alive will give passionate testimony to how the regime dropped the gas, and how all these people they know died from that. They'll tell you there were no militant targets, that Assad is just gassing civilians for no rational reason, and they'll often plead for help in overthrowing the government (usually in veiled terms, for subtlety). Their sarin levels will be there, but no higher than needed.

Sarin faking here means using the real nerve agent, but using voluntary or involuntary token doses to trick the test. It seems that incredibly low levels will register as a positive result, so the trick is easy to pull off - if the system allows it. Coincidentally, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) apparently pursues only yes-no answers, pointedly not looking for or sharing quantitative details. All they care about is if sarin turned up, in any amount. There's an openness to fraud in this, and there are signs of active fraud along that opened avenue. Is that coincidental? Or it this evidence of a running system used to pin blame for made-up sarin attacks on the Syrian government? This important question is not yet answered but seriously raised here.

If this were the system, here's what you'd see: some fatalities who can't tell their own story, and are free to give high, realistically fatal sarin readings. Some alleged neighbors or family of the fatalities will give the back story and test usually quite low, if at all, even if they describe symptoms consistent with extreme sarin exposure. Prior to testing, picture them sipping a weak dilution in water, slowly, to let it metabolize between sips. Religious music plays softly in a place with a Jabhat al-Nusra flag on the wall. That might be what crossing the red line looks like, aside from the hostage-gassing.

What you would probably not see in such a scenario is a seriously affected person who nearly died from a real sarin dose, but survived to talk about it. That should be a prime subject, but the signs are such people aren't sought or perhaps don't exist, and we see only mute corpses and token-dose storytellers speaking for them.

That may sound extreme or fanciful, but do consider how it stacks up against the available evidence. This is partly related below. 

Defining Fatal vs. Not Fatal Levels of Sarin
I credit ACLOS member and fellow researcher Pmr9 for a lot of tips here. 

There are two complementary factes of sarin poisoning measured, some in one case, with the other given in other cases. Some give sarin levels (usually in nanograms per milileter, ng/ml). More sources I've seen report the blood's cholinesterase activity (sub-totals: AchE and BChE levels), as observed compared to normal levels. Some give AchE levels, some the BChE levels, and some give the total activity. I don't think any sources give two of those at once to help compare. It may matter a bit which enzyme they cite, but we'll presume the operative thing here is the percentage the normal, healthy range, which also has to be given. And that range is broad and inexact - natural levels vary from person to person.

We can define severe poisoning as marked, roughly, by cholinesterase activity < 10% of normal.  This NIH report states:
"Patients with red-cell acetylcholinesterase activity of at least 30% had normal muscle function and no need for atropine. By contrast, patients with less than 10% of normal red-cell acetylcholinesterase activity had grossly deranged muscle function and needed high doses of atropine".
At such a point, things like breathing will not work right, and there's an increasing danger of brain damage or death if the victim lingers in that state.
From all the reported Syria incidents, there's been little seen of such details, which is our main point here. But one early sarin attack (Saraqeb, April 29, 2013) has details shared about the one fatality, and some details came through from a case of 4 Syrian soldiers attacked with sarin in 2015. Between these two incidents, the 1995 Tokyo subway attack, and one preceding attack by the same terrorists in Japan, I could assemble this abbreviated table. pink = fatality, gray = likely confused details. And note IU is not the same as U. Not sure what it is (International Unit - a special time-unit-based proprietary measure for each enzyme), but either that 100 IU/L norm or that 13.3 IU/ml norm has to be wrong.. 
Unfortunately, there are some confusing discrepancies in the chart of 21 Japanese victims studied (in this 1997 report) very small samples, less than a quarter of a milileter each, to deduce what might be in a full ml, and dated, somewhat degraded - perhaps not so much of it was found. Those entries are shaded gray here - some cases show high impairment of BChE activity suggesting the sarin levels should be higher than given). 

People can die, it seems, at 13% of normal activity, and at lower levels like 6%, while others can pull through from as low as 7.5% and with increasing ease from levels like 10, 12, 17, 19%. Tokyo victim #10, at 12% activity and probably well over 4.1 ng/ml of regenerated sarin, seems the best candidate for death of their 14 subway attack victims. But it seems this is a sampling of people who survived (I am or have been confused about this - but at 14 entries (not 11!), it's not quite the same-size-as-the-death-toll that it first seemed. Confusingly, their sampling for the earlier incident is still almost the same as the death toll there).

That's the body's cholinesterase activity, which is ... a complex biological enzyme thing ... that's lessened under attack by sarin. How this correlates to detected sarin levels - given in nanograms per milileter (ng/ml) - is less clear. 

In general, of course, as sarin goes up, the other number goes down. The Mariam Al-Khatib case (MAK) suggests 9.5 ng is fatal, but her cholinesterase activity seems higher than you'd expect for a fatality. But she was 52, with unspecified prior medical conditions. And maybe one or both of these figures is incorrect, from a different point, etc. 

<Add 10-17> In fact, the cholinesterase activity given is probably wrong, as Pmr9 helps me realize. A report on her biomedical samples testing (John et. al, PDF) points out that her sarin level was high enough that she had past 100% receptor saturation (or so we both read this):
"Binding sites additional to hBChE indicate that the level of sarin exposure had been quite high, inducing saturation of binding sites in cholinesterases and making excess agent available for binding to other proteins."
I'm not certain that really means 100% blockage and thus 0% cholinesterase activity (I mean, to bind to other proteins, does the sarin have to check if every BChE spot, even clear across the body, is taken? I imagine this other binding increases as the 100% saturation point is reached in that area, while a few receptors might be functioing somewhere else. Either way, it seems 9.5 ng/ml should mean close to or exactly 0% ch. activity, not 13%. <end 10-17>

This given number (9.5 for MAK, and that's from Le Monde, 6-4-13) is receptor-bound and fluoride-ion regenerated sarin, and only represents a portion of the actual dose. The majority of agent that enters the body (I hear 70-90% usually, per this source) is attacked in the blood and converted into IMPA (the less toxic breakdown product of sarin) before it ever causes harm. Japanese victims in 1995 had levels of IMPA up to 135 ng/ml (1998 report). I think this means that person (presumably the deadest among the 12 or so fatalities) had at least that much sarin at one point. But that person's fluoride regeneration test, in these terms, would only show the fatal part that bound to receptors and disrupted the nerve signaling balance. If it's 10-30% of the total, then that person's samples might read ~15 to maybe 50 ng/ml upon similar testing, depending on how extreme doses skew the proportions. And some extremely high doses are expected in that case, given the crude dispersal method. (add Oct. 17: that is, if other-protein-bound overflow sarin also turns up ... if it stops at what the ch. receptors can hold, it should show maxed-out at aroun 9-10 ng/ml ... we think. But that would be less metabolized, so the percentages change... close enough. It's a side issue.)

Maybe 10 ng/ml is a fair upper level some could survive 9 ng/ml is a fair point to call certainly fatal. 7 or 8 would probably do it for most people. For a low end, Tokyo #10 suggests 4.1 ng might push one into about the fatal zone (12% enzyme activity), but again this is likely a low finding of a higher amount. Being fair and broad, let's say 5-10 5-9 ng/ml of sarin is a range of very dangerous to solidly fatal doses. Unfortunately, it's this less clear value we'll have to consider below

OPCW's Yes-or-No Approach

As we consider the possibility of voluntary exposure to sarin, just to trip the sensors, it should be noted low levels aren't even necessary. A dedicated jihadi might take a near-fatal or fatal dose, if that were important enough. But probably no more than that guy would... Well-spaced mild doses could leave fairly high cumulative levels, and still be done with fairly little discomfort or danger. But especially for women or children to be tested, lower levels are much more likely, so long as the plotters didn't worry much about this pattern being exposed. 

And luckily they didn't have to do any better than make sarin appear, in no particular amount. What helps is that from the OPCW's point of view, a positive result suffices, as if it's nothing more than a simple yes or no question.

In a February 15, 2015 incident, four Syrian soldiers were exposed to sarin while fighting rebels in the Damascus area. The OPCW analyzed their preserved blood samples (after DNA matching them to in-person interviews), turning up unambiguous signs of sarin. Their report (PDF via Jean Pascal Zanders' blog The Trench) says "The OPCW designated laboratory was tasked as follows: “Scope of Analysis: Please analyze these samples for the presence or absence of nerve agent adducts.”" That sounds like the whole thing. There's nothing about amounts mentioned - presence or absence is all they ask for.

In the end, for this case, information about amounts (AchE activity) was provided in the OPCW report. But that was apparently from the Syrian blood tests, not from the OPCW lab work resulting from this request. 

The 2017 report by John et. al. on Mariam Al-Khatib's test results (PDF link) agrees "According to the requirements given by the OPCW, qualitative analysis was sufficient for verification of exposure." (h/t Orbi) Quantitative measures don't matter much to them, for some reason. (this report doesn't help much, only specifying her exposre uwas "quite high," and suggesting her receptors were nearing total saturation.)

In that case, it doesn't seem there was a quantity issue - her dose was probably genuinely fatal. And in her case, the OPCW leaked her sarin concentrations, and a UN report in December published her corresponding cholinesterase activity. But there were another five people admitted to the Reyhanli hospital in Turkey, as patients in the same case (it's reported as up to 13, but by the UN report, one was Maraim, 5 others were living patients, and 7 were "relatives" or perhaps minders tagging along). Of the five patients, at least four of them ostensibly being Mariam's family members, we hear one tested for sarin, no details on amount, and that one patient had IMPA in their urine. Two others apparently tested negative. Negative here should mean ... very, very low, as we'll see. It really means no exposure. Yet they were admitted for symptoms ... of something, and were all (except perhaps one) supposedly from the same stricken home.

Detection levels vary by test and improve over time. In 1997, the new fluoride reactivation test could only pick up 0.2ng/ml or higher. Some samples came up no sarin detected, when there clearly was some. Small and aged samples left the results inconsistent anyway. If 5-9 ng/ml is dangerous to fatal - and heck, let's be extra fair and just leave it at 5 ... at worst 4% of a reckless dose would have been enough to barely register in those days. Still, not many volunteers would sign up for that.

Pmr9 directs me to this paper (2004) where it's explained how the threshold of detection was whittled down to about half that size -  0.09% saturation of the receptors is sufficient to say "yes, there's sarin here." That 1.8% of the way to maybe fatal. In 2012, scientists in Beijing developed a way to detect sarin at levels as low as 0.01 ng/mL, or 0.2% of the way to 5 ng/ml. At this point, the exposed person would probably feel no symptoms at all, but could still spark a "global outcry" and a disastrous regime-change war, in the wrong circumstances.

Finally, Pmr9 cites Van der Schans et al 2004 as saying they had already developed, back in 2001, a way to detect sarin down to 5 pg/ml. 1 pg/mL = 0.001 ng/ml, one thousandth of the units we've been using (a trillionth of a gram?). So by this, it's down to 0.005 ng/mL. With this method, 0.002% of the way to possibly dead (or about 0.001% of the way to surely dead) would be enough to probably show up. That's 2/1000ths of one percent. That's a ridiculously small amount. But it would show up as Asad crossing a red line, more or less.

There may be even more sensitive methods developed since, but 0.005 ng/ml is probably the roughest we can expect at the cutting edge. OPCW-certified labs would be encouraged to use the more sensitive test to maintain their accreditation; it stands to reason they would use the most sensitive test, so the smallest does possible would trigger a positive finding. If there's a reason to cast blame on Syria's government, the OPCW will be digging for it with a fine-toothed comb.

As Pmr9 puts it: "There was no need for the planners to fake positive tests for sarin in Ghouta or (Khan Sheikhoun) volunteers, when tiny doses of sarin can safely be used to get a  true positive - as long as they could rely on OPCW  to withhold the quantitative results." In the end they could rely on that, but it's not clear if the terrorists had assurances to that effect as they set up the evidence.

And perhaps just as luckily for them, some important segments of the evidence were simply left out of the testing loop entirely.

What About the Ghouta Attack? Too Little Sarin?
We've seen quantitative results for the Saraqeb attack that killed one, although it took four years. Far more importance is attached to the sarin findings in the Ghouta attack on August 21 of the same year, which allegedly killed 1,429 people and supposedly came close to triggering U.S. military strikes.  - but still nothing of such detail has been published. Why?

NO Ghouta victims tested for sarin, presence or amount
A number of problems - The Ghouta Massacre's Sarin Myth, Brightly Lit - sarin did turn up, accurately identified with the fluoride reactivation method. But this was only in pre-screened alleged attack survivors. Investigators failed to collect a single sample from any of the x-hundred (probably over 500) who actually died. With no tests, we have only the visual evidence shared for a good portion of them, but this shows no consistent indication of sarin exposure. Some have signs of a rubigenic poison (eg carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide), and others for a caustic agent like chlorine or phosphine. Many others are just unclear, possible sarin victims, or just suffocated, but never proven. They were just put in the dirt.

This dismissal of the dead was a conscious choice, as UN disarmament chief Angela Kane explained in an interview on RT. Kane, who accompanied the “inspectors” to Damascus, said “there were so many victims who are still alive that there was really no need to exhume bodies.” If exhumation was the alternative, that would mean none were kept on ice for study. Islamic custom is to bury people within a day when possible, but this is special case. Implicitly, no exception was made.

And it didn't even seem worth a bit of digging. This suggests that the investigators somehow knew they wouldn't like the answers, or their opposition contacts in the area knew that and ruled it out for them.

Kane gives a bizarre and completely incorrect reason why this doesn't matter, or might even help clarify the picture: “a dead body can’t tell how the person dies … a living person can tell you that.” (video: time-stamp: 12:29) The host rebutted this immediately and to good effect, pointing out that what a dead body says is so valuable autopsies are routinely performed just to understand the message. CRBN expert Dan Kaszeta agreed in e-mail to me: “you can tell a lot from a dead body. Principally the same protein adducts that would be analyzed by fluoride regeneration as from a live body. It would have been great to get some bodies and do some testing.” (or, maybe not...)

My friend Denis O’Brien paraphrased Mickey Spillane: “dead men don't tell lies.” In contrast, the people Angela Kane was happy to rely on might have told lies.

Gareth Porter: Signs of Low-Level Exposure Among the Stand-Ins
Back in 2014, investigative reporter Gareth Porter analyzed the U.N. report and decided the subjects probably had “extremely low” exposure to the agent, which would be important if true.  New Data Raise Further Doubt on Official View of August 21 Gas Attack in Syria By Gareth Porter, Truthout, April 29, 2014. (Cited: The UN team overall report, and their more detailed report for the Ghouta incident.) Porter explains the sample selection:
"...the investigating team had asked an opposition leader to help identify a total of 80 people "who had been badly hurt but had survived." The opposition leader chose the doctors who in turn identified the patients to be interviewed. The 36 individuals ultimately selected for detailed profiles of symptoms described themselves as among the most seriously exposed to sarin. Thirty of those 36 reported rocket strikes either on or near their homes. The remaining six said they had gone to a point of impact to help those suffering from the attack."
Smell and caustic notes: "something like
vinegar and rotten eggs" or "like cooking gas," 
along with "redness and itching of the eyes."
(Guardian) UN report shows two sample eyes:
one with dilated pupils but no irritation,
one with miosis and also severe irritation.

So Islamist-selected selectors gathered the requested 80 people, from which 36 worst cases were chosen for clinical assessments. 16 of these were from Moadamiyah (West Ghouta, where perhaps 100 were said to be killed), and just 20 from Zamalka (East Ghouta, where many hundreds to 1,500+ were said to be killed). 34 blood samples were drawn (2 subjects refused). "Fifteen of the survivors who had more severe symptoms or signs during the clinical assessment also had urine samples taken, with three of these also having hair samples taken," the UN report notes. "Of the 34 blood samples tested, 91% tested positive for Sarin exposure in Laboratory 4 and 85% tested positive in Laboratory 3." Moadamiya's part was at about 100%, Zamalka's a bit lower than that average.

"The UN report states that the data on symptoms collected on the 36 individuals are "consistent with organophosphate intoxication." But both (CRBN expert Dan) Kaszeta and Dr. Abbas Faroutan, who treated Iranian victims of Iraqi nerve gas attacks, have pointed to serious irregularities in the symptoms reported by these people."
We must note this is based partly on symptoms reported, which may not be complete, as well as what was observed at the time of assessment. But of those 36, "only five reported miosis, or constricted pupils, one of the most basic signs of sarin exposure," Porter notes. The report also states 15% of those studied had miosis at the time of assessment about a week later. That's the same 5. It's hard to say how many might have had it right after the attack. Moving on...
The UN team found that six people [out of 36] who claimed high levels of exposure had no trace of sarin in their blood, but the rest all showed evidence of exposure to sarin. The fact that all but seven of them failed to exhibit the most basic sign of such exposure suggests that the amount of sarin to which they were exposed was extremely low. After comparing the data on the 36 survivors with comparable data on survivors of the Tokyo sarin attack, [Dan] Kaszeta told Truthout that the people interviewed and evaluated by the UN "didn't have serious exposure" to nerve gas.
Recall these were the 36 best cases out of the 80 cases selected to show sarin traces most clearly, out a reported several thousand people affected. If this is the best they could find, the rest will be lower yet, or all at zero. One in six couldn't even muster the micro-dose needed to test positive. The other 5 in 6 probably did take their token dose.

Collectively, the people of East and West Ghouta were apparently exposed to barely any sarin, and that little bit was probably by choice.

And consider these other findings:
"Even stranger, seven of the 36 victims told investigators they had lost a combined total of 39 members of their immediate families killed in buildings they said were either points of impact of the rockets or only 20 meters (64 feet) away from one. Yet only one of the seven exhibited the most common symptom of exposure to sarin - the constriction of pupils - and only one reported nausea and vomiting." 
This is evidence - not proof - that 7 fakers were able to explain  39 deaths between them. These are the pivotal story-tellers that appear with every serious allegation of a regime massacre. But all these low-dose survivors claiming families that died all around them present a strange, unexplained gap running down the middle of each story. That is, they probably were not survivors of these families, and were just falsely claiming them after the fact.

"Twenty-eight of the 36 victims - nearly four-fifths of the sample - said they had experienced loss of consciousness, according to the UN report." That seems higher than one would expect considering the otherwise low exposure suggested. But just passing out does allow for shorter stories with less details to get wrong.

Porter's findings there are not conclusive, but impressive considering the lack of provided specifics. It does strongly suggest exposure was usually below the threshold  to trigger the symptoms. Yet as we know, it's high enough exposure to test as sarin. These apparent low doses make voluntary exposure by Jihadi fakers more plausible than one might think. Some victims would have, or seem to have, low exposure. But what if everyone tested looked ike they were all invited to a party where someone barely spiked the punch with sarin (or chlorosarin, etc.) and hardly anyone even noticed it. The signs are these fakers just met expectations, and weren't even willing to get a good pupil-squeeze in to back their stories

Early on, some analysts noted the roughly 100% sarin-positive human samples in the East Ghouta (Moadamiya) portion, compared to almost completely negative results in the environment (See "Sasa Wawa" analysis). That alone has always suggested manipulation, and people exposed from something other than the widespread sarin release they allege. Perhaps these suspiciously low token traces are another part of the picture that they hide from us.

I also find this noteworthy, perhaps out of ignorance - this might prove the dosing was done later than the attack:
Physical examination demonstrated that 39% of  survivors were confused or disoriented at the time of the assessment and that 14% had miosis (constriction of pupils). In spite of the fact that the clinical assessments in Moadamiyah occurred five days following the alleged incident and the assessments in Zamalka occurred seven days following the alleged incident, these signs were persistent. 
Did they get the wrong amounts at the wrong time too? And is the confusion from the same small doses of sarin they were given, from something else they were given, or just deduced from their narratives falling apart?

What About the Khan Sheikhoun Attack? 

At just six months in, we can't complain as much that lab-based reports haven't been published about the April incident in Khan Sheikhoun. Here, fatalities were said to be sampled and tested, and it sounds like these tested for sarin AND for serious caustic exposure, with most suffering pulmonary edema (lung damage). People describe white or pale yellow-ish fog or "dust", with a disgusting and strange stench, burning eyes and lungs (chest tightness, etc.). (see The Sarin Evidence

This is apparently in the impurities evident to similar effect in every other supposed sarin attack. France claims to have logged impurities at 40% of the agents volume, at least in the 2013 Saraqeb incident. It's not at all colorless and odorless. It's yellowish, nasty-smelling, like some hard-to-define rotten smell. It burns the eyes, besides causing sarin-style vision problems (things go dim, or even black, and vision is said to be lost). Lungs burn, suffer damage, and fill with fluid as in a chlorine attack. But it's also sarin, or at least sarin residues always turn up in conjunction.

Others were based on supplied samples (all from survivors?) with the odd timeline issues, lots of IMPA still present, yet other signs for sarin seeming to lack (this is all pending review...) http://www.alternet.org/grayzone-project/what-really-happened-khan-sheikhoun
(I'll be adding more detail here, citing porter at least - I rushed ahead of filling it in yet)

Talkers blaming regime methods might be sampled more professionally, might show sarin, probably token doses. But by now that subject has been raised - primarily by Porter, and echoed by myself and others - there's an increasing chance that event plotters have moved to address the problem. Here I'm leaving open that they even got one case, at least, of several token's worth in one guy.

Which guy? He's seen weak and sweaty, pouring tears, saliva and mucous in the days after the attack, as he visited Turkey and slobbered on Erdogan's head. It seems possibly he was in a days-long, low-to-mid-level sarin crisis, seen repeatedly getting IV drips and sipping water that, for all we know, contained his latest mini-dose.

On the day of the attack, he swears he stashed his wife and kids in a basement as he ran through three different sarin plumes in different parts of town. He says he tried rescue people at several family members' homes, grabbing and carrying the recently dead and dying with no protection, before he passed out from all the sarin rubbing off on him. Sadly, he only helped one person survive in his story, but confirmed the death of dozens before it finally went dark for him. Huh. He says he passed out, later awoke, and learned his own wife and children were also dead in that basement.

When he finally went to retrieve them it was 4 hours since they parted. But solar-timed imagery (with agreeing publish times) seems to show he was down maybe 15 minutes, if at all, and got back up after a light hosing. Yet he inexplicably goes to rescue his own wife and children only some 3-3.5 hours later. Here, maybe 20-30 minutes after all that exposure, a slash of water and now this self-described sarin sponge is okay? He's okay to touch with unprotected hands? The sarin rinse is ok in sandals?  This all makes no sense, until we consider that maybe his story just isn't true.

So let's see Abdelhamid Al-Yousef's higher-than-token sarin results, if they exist.

I predict we'll never see the tests done on his alleged wife and infant twins because no such thing was ever done. With people like that, you bury them and don't ask questions, like with the many hundreds of people whose bodies were dragged across Obama's red line in Ghouta. It's people like Abdelhamid here who speak for them, in words of defiance against "Assad," and sometime in the biomedical sampling area as well.