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Monday, November 20, 2017

Daraya Sarin Attack, Feb. 15, 2015

November 20, 2017

Toxic chemicals were launched in Syria near the Damascus front-lines on Feb 15, 2015, leading to suffocation cases. No one died in the incident, but it seems one victim came perilously close - sarin was later confirmed as the poison, supposedly given up by the regime, and not publicly used since August, 2013's Ghouta massacre.

But the opposition never announced it. The victims were Syrian soldiers, apparently attacked by Islamist fighters they were closing in on. It's not a unique case - Soldiers have been killed by terrorists' chemicals from December 22, 2012 (also in Daraya) to at least August, 2016.

A December, 2015 OPCW report relates allegations brought to their attention by the Syrian government, and the OPCW's own findings upon review. (PDF via Jean Pascal Zanders' blog The Trench, and now via ACLOS, since the UN and OPCW don't make it available, for some reason...) Some attacks also targeted or affected civilians, but the incidents lodged and assessed (12 in total, between April 2014 and February, 2015) primarily used caustic choking agents on soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army, in 4 locations around Damascus, with some seriously affected and a few deaths.

But this unusual incident of February 15, at least, involved sarin, of a kind that local terrorists had. 

It was in Daraya, southwestern Damascus suburbs, near the Sayida Soukayna Shrine. A group of soldiers was spread out near the front-line here, with some inside a certain blasted building around noon. A mysterious munition landed inside one of the rooms and caused noxious smoke with a smell "like burning nylon." Rats died, "shivering and screaming" as the soldiers succumbed to varying degrees and retreated to a medical center some distance away.

As the report says:
"The  affected  soldiers  assisted  one  another  in  retreating  from  the  impact  area  and  received  general  supportive  care  at  a  forward  medical  point  before  being  evacuated  by  ambulance  to  a  military  hospital some distance away (Hospital 601)." 
The path as reported to them is shown on a map in the report (cropped here). They took that red path north, probably on foot, for a total distance of about 880 meters before reaching any help. Considering the extreme exposure (see below), it's likely some couldn't walk, at least needed assistance. In fact, the most heavily-exposed soldier was unconscious and had to be carried. Perhaps they did have a vehicle and drove.  

At least 4 soldiers suffered notable exposure, with symptoms including,  as the OPCW report lists: "blurred  vision, teary   eyes,   runny   nose,   dizziness, headache, breathing difficulties, mild fatigue, and nausea." One badly Original Syrian blood tests at Military Hospital 601 suggested sarin exposure or similar, and the OPCW was later called to have a look.

The OPCW reviewed documents, interviewed the affected soldiers, and obtained DNA samples from each. The DNA analysis "established a link between the blood samples collected and casualties for this incident." Then they sent that preserved blood to a single laboratory on November 9 (transferred  to  a  designated  laboratory (as selected by the Director-General) for analysis), with results back on Nov. 27 "The results of the biomedical testing indicate evidence of sarin (or sarin-like agent, for example, chlorosarin) intoxication." 

So they were exposed, and have this consistent story of how, But the OPCW stops short of confirming that's actually how; they were unable to verify the chain of custody for samples at every step, and were "unable to link the analysis results to the incident described" and note a lack of "immediate notification to the OPCW," hampering their ability to get fuller detail. The pieces are all there, but who knows? It's left open for someone to suggest, and others to blandly accept, that the results were engineered, just to smear the opposition and try to blame them for other uses of sarin.

There's no mention of the delivery device - it's as if they never found it, which is possible for a few legitimate reasons.

The report also spends some time relating discrepancies in hospital admittance records, and questioning the value of some treatments given. The point of this hardly seems worth the space taken up.

Daraya Sarin Results, in (Partial) Detail

The UN-OPCW investigating team (FFM) selected 18 samples from 4 patients (labeled A-D) plus one control sample (E, an unaffected lab worker). Apparently blood samples (frozen or somehow preserved, to be sure) are able to yield results of use at least this span (about 9 months) months after the event.  "The laboratory analysed the blood samples (using) two different liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry techniques ... Then) fluoride regeneration, followed by gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry." That's a lot of testing.

The samples "displayed inhibition of AChE activity." A more-detailed Annex 8 of the report the table says this is normally in the range of 5.17-9.15 U/ml blood.* Control person E showed 6.54 (normal), while patients A-D all had lower levels.

*(it actually says U/min/ml, causing some confusion, As Pmr9 helped me understand, U (unit) is already a per-minute measure. (Wikipedia: enzyme unit) This one instance of U/min seems like a mistake - it makes as much sense as mph/hour. So until I learn otherwise, I'll ignore /min and consider this U/ml.

Samples from different "AntiC" (H and E), and different tests on Feb. 15, 18, and 24, showed the following lowest vs. highest levels of AchE activity for each casualty (The lower this number for AchE activity, generally, the higher the sarin exposure was.):
  • patient A 0.83-1.61
  • patient B 1.19-1.66
  • patient C 4.34-5.29
  • patient D 0.48-1.19
The differences over time for the 4 are also graphed at right (from the report). To me, this is surprising: nine days later, all the badly effected soldiers are still recovering and far below normal levels. Patient C with secondary exposure has the effects worsen after three days. That could be less-than-ideal treatment at work.

According to the report, most samples were tested with 3 methods: "MPA adduct (2 techniques), and Fl regen." That's the fluoride ion regeneration test, which now seems standard. The low-exposure patient C had this skipped in most tests, but all other tests (13 of the 18) give this method in addition to the 2 MPA adduct tests.With that, they found as clearly as anywhere "evidence of sarin (or sarin-like agent, for example, chlorosarin) intoxication in all tested samples collected from casualties."

In an interesting Annex 9 of the report, this is correlated to reported locations at the time of the incident. Patient D said he was "in  the  same  room  as  the  impact of the chemical device," while  A  "located himself  on  the  same  floor  as  person  D," while "B was in the same building but on a different floor to the impact zone." "Interviewee A [meaning patent C -ed] testified that he  was  in  another  building  away  from  the  rest  of  the  group  and  helped  affected  persons  to  evacuate." He suffered secondary exposure, as sarin is known to cause. His AchE is the highest among them, close to normal at its lowest. "Moreover,  some  of  the  interviewees  mentioned  that  persons  D  and A were the most affected within the group." (D alone lost consciousness)

Pmr9 tells me "The enzyme activity would be a better measurement to report if you are trying to quantify whether the inhibition is complete, or whether 10% of activity (perhaps enough to keep you alive) remains." That level - an informed guess - is in fact higher than one case here: soldier D, who was closest to the impact,  the level of activity in the first blood sample was only about 7.5% of the normal level (0.48 compared to 6.54 for the lab worker). By this anyway, he seems like a good candidate for dying, but with the help of comrades, he managed to live and recover, as graphed above.

Why This Glimpse?

Why is this freely published while some other cases are not? For one,  as noted, its availability has been quite limited. But to the extent they did this qualitative analysis, which they normally seem to skip ... why? Well, for one difference there's no rebel false-flag with token doses to cover up. Rebels apparently have no story at all about the incident and weren't asked. If there's an issue with high or low or weird sarin levels, for example, it's on the government, who maintained access to its own soldiers and who might stand to benefit from blaming their opponents. There is some room left to wonder that in all the qualifiers the OPCW include and the minor discrepancies they point out.

But if we suppose the government side might fake a sarin attack, then couldn't the same work in reverse in all the other cases? Depending... and don't they hide the details like AchE activity, in  all those cases? Indeed. Hm.

But in the meantime, there's an implied opposition use of sarin nerve agent. There's no good reason a pro-rebel OPCW like this to want to cover this case, but professionally they're supposed to, and did, and they let Zanders at least have a view that perhaps accidentally lets us get a view. But no governments, human rights groups, or corporate-controlled news outlets heralded this report full of other well-illustrated rebel CW attacks. Unlike reports blaming the Syrian "regime," these findings remain buried and barely-known. So in the end, there was little harm to the prevailing narrative in the OPCW simply doing its job here. It doesn't reflect much on the overarching pattern of silence under consideration.

<add 11/29>Daraya...  possible use of sarin or something quite deadly against Syrian soldiers, back on December 22, 2012. A reported seven of them died within minutes. The same district saw the first tentative allegations of CW use BY the Syrian army, two weeks earlier, Dec, 6. As the dominant neighbor of Moadamiya, Daraya would feature in the West Ghouta half of the 2013 Ghouta massacre on August 21. If volunteers were spiked with token doses of sarin there, as it kind of seems, it was by someone there with sarin at the time. 4 days later, August 25, 2013, Syrian soldier on the edge of Daraya (sewage treatment plant north end, 1.8 km SE of the attack spot discussed here) were attacked with what the OPCW later confirmed to be sarin (see entry here under verified sarin attacks). These prior incidents and possibilities add to the 2015 incident to suggest Daraya was one of the hotbeds for terrorist nerve agent use in the Syrian war. Thankfully, that's past tense - the area has been under government control with general security, as far as I hear, for some time now. <end 11/29>

1 comment:

  1. There is a note on ACLOS about the original S/1318/2015 - linked here? https://www.opcw.org/special-sections/syria/fact-finding-mission-reports/


    Revision 1 not on the list for some reason and showing double standards on the sudden importance of the chain of custody there. Perhaps evidence of sarin use by the opposition is like staging at KS - by not looking for it they can honestly say they didn't find any evidence of it (and avoid implications that might have)


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