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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Did the Saudis Order a 3-City CW Attack in March, 2013?

November 2, 2017
(rough, incomplete)
edits Nov. 3, 11

March 18's Saudi-Commanded Attacks 
The Intercept recently published a leaked NSA document from March, 2013 showing Saudi royal family orchestration of military events in Syria: NSA Document Says Saudi Prince Directly Ordered Coordinated Attack By Syrian Rebels On Damascus (by Murtaza Hussain, October 24 2017, 7:30 a.m.)

The document in question seems to be a bullet-point slide (presented with the article, shown below) describing a particular opposition military attack of March 18, 2013, with several rockets fired into central Damascus. As Hussain describes it, "The attack was a brazen show of force by rebels under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, targeting the presidential palace, Damascus International Airport, and a government security compound. It sent a chilling message to the regime about its increasingly shaky hold on the country, two years after an uprising against its rule began."

Aaron Lund told Hussain, based on video analysis, several rebel groups were involved in the attack, "all identifying themselves as different factions of the ‘Free Syrian Army,’ and all apparently linking back to the same sponsor.”  That would be Saudi Arabia, specifically now-king (Crown Prince Mohamed Bin) Salman (oops), then running Saudi Arabia's operations in Syria. As the article puts the main point:
Behind the attacks, the influence of a foreign power loomed. According to a top-secret National Security Agency document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the March 2013 rocket attacks were directly ordered by a member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Salman bin Sultan, to help mark the second anniversary of the Syrian revolution. Salman had provided 120 tons of explosives and other weaponry to opposition forces, giving them instructions to “light up Damascus” and “flatten” the airport, the document, produced by U.S. government surveillance on Syrian opposition factions, shows.
Here's the slide in question, as shared in the article. Note: The U.S. was warned three days in advance (that is, on the anniversary on the 15th - the attack didn't mark it exactly.)

It sounded good, but apparently didn't cause much thunder. Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya could only report "A statement posted on an opposition Facebook page said rebels groups had fired “a number of 120 mm heavy caliber mortars... in a joint operation coordinated with battalions operating in Damascus.” To mark two years of "revolution of freedom and dignity against the despotic regime of the criminal Bashar al-Assad." They claimed to hit the airport and the presidential palace, but that wasn't confirmed. State TV and the SOHR agreed at least five shells landed, but no deaths or even injuries were immediately reported. 

The NSA noted "Saudis "very pleased" with outcome" of the attack.  But it seems fairly weak considering the occasion and the large investment. It's worth wondering if there was a second motive involved. 

As for the rest of the article, it's standard fare. Hussain follows the revelation with a lot of ill-informed context about the Syrian government's supposed brutal crackdown on dissent, etc. Unwisely, he chooses to highlight  salafist defector and FSA godfather Hussein Harmoush "who had denounced the Syrian dictator after a wave of massacres in 2011." It seems Harmoush personally led the bloodiest massacre yet, in June, 2011, against more than 100 "refusenik soldiers" in Jisr al-Shughour. Some of the executed soldiers were beheaded. It was done with Turkish assistance and oversight. Harmoush was apparently kidnapped and sent back to Syria, by his own Turkish intelligence case officer who was sickened by the crime. That officer was arrested for treason, but is said to have escaped later. Harmoush was probably executed by firing squad, but it was never announced and rumors of other deaths or still being alive persist. I sense no injustice in this case, except that the guy maybe got off too light. (see on-site profile, for Harmoush).

But the main point is this leaked NSA document that adds some intrigue among those battling the brutal dictator. Qatari former Prime Minister Hamad al-Thani, who oversaw Qatar's Syria operations until 2013, recently revealed in an interview how his nation worked with the Saudis and the US. As Zero Hedge explains it, Al-Thani says Qatar was placed in overall charge of which Islamists to arm, and was later left holding the bag as it were, as Saudi Arabia now blames Qatar alone for supporting terrorists in Syria, and maybe of doing it in collusion with Iran and Al-Shaytan himself. But some things were run by the Saudis themselves, like this March 18 attack.

This detail was a little late coming; Julian Assange notes on Twitter the Intercept have been sitting on this information since late 2013, raising questions about the 4-year delay in publishing it. But now we have one more glimpse at the reality behind the desperate peoples' uprising. And I'd like to add a interesting feature that pops out to me, and would have on first  at any time. So I'm asking this question about 4 years later than I might have.

The Following Day's CW Plot and Attacks

On seeing Saudi-directed actions on 3-18-13, it clicks that on the following morning there was an unusually bold chemical attack - no, there were two - no, there were apparently three attacks planned, for one in each of Syria's three main cities: Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs. Wouldn't that sound like some epic, out-sized revenge for an attack on the president's Palace and his possible escape route at the airport? It would cross Obama's red line in a big way, and might require a "no fly zone" over all three cities and everything between.

The three locales are mapped at right. The middle one in Homs apparently didn't come together right and was barely even reported, but the other two seemingly-synchronized attacks  are known and studied, and each claimed Syrian lives (~20 in Aleppo, 7 in Ateibah). Was this Assad's revenge? Done by Scud missile perhaps, from Damascus, risking bad aim as far out as Aleppo? (Syria was daily accused of random scud attacks in these days).

Or was it something else? Of the deadly two attacks, one was small-scale and dubious, and the deadliest one looked kind of like an obvious attack by anti-government forces.

This is explained in fuller detail in this post, but here in some review to re-consider what I've learned in light of this new information and the possibility the Saudis may have ordered this next-day "revenge" campaign as well.

Aleppo Attack in Review
The Aleppo attack is somewhat well-known. The Syrian government announced it first, claiming outrage that terrorists had launched toxic gas into a government-held area near an Army checkpoint, sickening and killing soldiers and civilians alike. This was in Khan Al-Assal, as Alex Thomson of UK Channel 4 News reported, a Shia-majority district rebels had overrun and been pushed back out. Thomson reported Khan al-Assal was “in government hands since 17 March.” They were gassed there around 7:00 or more likely 7:30 am on the 19th. Civilians were just starting to return.

Bashair 3 rocket (non-CW, pres.), fired in Feb. 2013
According to Syrian officials, the attackers – reportedly with Jabhat al-Nusra, although no one claimed responsibility - were about 5km to the north, in Kafr Dael. They used a certain rocket, locally made and dubbed Bashair-3, loaded with chemicals. It landed about 300 meters from an SAA checkpoint, with a deadly plume drifting on the wind into nearby homes to the south, as UN investigators found.
The death toll has been reported differently, but it seems only one soldier died along with a total of 19 civilians, as a UN report issued in December found, with another 124 people seriously effected. (see UN report and ACLOS page for more details and sources)
Syria demanded a UN investigation, but this was complicated and stalled by Western powers (see here) so the work was only done by the December report. In the interim, Rebels overran Khan al-Assal all over again in June and committed a massacre of soldiers and civilians, perhaps emphasizing witnesses to the CW attack, and complicating any visit by UN-OPCW inspectors. Khan al-Assal remains rebel-held into 2017. Also in the meantime, Russian scientific tests showed sarin was used in the Khan al-Assal attack, a "cottage industry" kind, in line with the delivery method. 

Rebels still held somewhat-nearby positions, like the police academy, and the US and allies are clear Syrian military hit themselves on accident while aiming for those fighters. Rebel activists said this at the time, with some claiming to witness a scud missile attack, and others seeing a fighter jet fire a missile or drop a bomb. Do we really buy this?

Noting the issues with blaming Syria for this incident, I earlier wrote "most importantly, Khan al-Assal was not the only alleged attack of the day. It was, and was perhaps meant as, just one part of a bigger picture. And in that bigger picture we might see a more workable logic to the the allegation." In fact, it seems the original plan was three attacks.

Damascus area, Ateibah
fighters recover from and describe the Ateibah attack
One other CW incident on the morning of March 19 is known: Al-Ateibah (alt. Otaybah, etc. - Arabic: العتيبة ) is a ways east of the capitol, at the southeast corner of East Ghouta. It's quite near the airport stricken on the 18th, for what that's worth. It was then occupied by opposition forces, some of whom were affected, they say, when a government rocket or missile landed near their position. It emitted “something like water, but it was dark. It emitted a very foul smell,” and caused serious medical problems. One "martyr" is seen in this clinic, apparently a fighter. (see new ACLOS page).

US-based "Syrian Support Group" claimed early on this and the Aleppo attack both were by the regime, using  pesticide-related Echothiophate, in scud missiles fired from Damascus (one with not very far to fly and the other missing its target). (statement via Twitter) But the US quickly clarified they saw no signs of scuds being fired at the time. (CNN). I forget if I've ever seen a revised version of what happened here. As for Khan Al-Assal, opposition claims shifted onto a regime fighter jet dropping a sarin bomb.

Opposition records eventually reflected seven people killed: the man who looks like a fighter, five civilian men, and an infant boy. Records suggest two of the civilian men men were teenage brothers, and the other three men were also brothers or relatives, with a rare, Aramaic name, suggesting they were from a Christian family. The baby, listed late, seems unrelated, but is said to be from an internally displaced (IDP) family from Harasta.

Saudi Backed Liwa al-Islam, based in the Damascus suburb of Douma but expanding its power over all of East Ghouta, would likely be behind it. They're suspects in two earlier low-key CW attacks in November 2012. These were reportedly in JaI turf and each killed one person, a displaced child from Douma in both cases. 3-19's displaced baby was from Harasta, next to Douma. The dark possibility is these families fled Islamist control in Douma/Harasta, only to have it expand and catch up with them in other areas. Along with the Aramaic name, these odd details support the possibility all these people were  hostages of the Islamists.

Liwa Al-Islam would wind up well-implicated in the August 2013 Ghouta massacre, where there's evidence they fired the associated rockets, and where the victims appear to be several hundred hostages gassed in confined spaces, at several locations across the area dominated by the group. (best sources...) Under their new name Jaish al-Islam, the same group is known to have been behind the genocidal December, 2013 Adra Massacre and mass abduction (ACLOS). They later opened branches outside Damascus, one of which in Aleppo in 2016 admitted some of its weaponized chlorine gas was used (without authorization, charges pending) against Kurdish fighters, killing several. (ACLOS)

Note: Liwa/Jaish Al-Islam (banner, then army of Islam) was founded by Zahran Alloush, who openly espoused stern Saudi-style Islamism, and genocidal rhetoric against Syrians of the Shia and Alawi faith. He was the son of an exiled Salafi preacher living in Saudi Arabia, and enjoyed support from the kingdom. They of all groups would be the ones to approach for any secret plans like this. (Zahran Alloush was later killed in a later Syrian airstrike, but his brother Mohamed Alloush remains the group's political leader and was even chosen to run the Saudi-backed opposition side for "peace talks" in Geneva.)

Homs, Baba Amr
So we have two likely coordinated chemical attacks in one day. The missing link that makes it both bigger and clearer, unfortunately, is not very clear. At an unknown time on the 19th, a third CW allegation was lodged, this time in in the central city of Homs. This has subsequently been missed or ignored by everyone, but was caught and noted here at ACLOS at the time.

The opposition Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) reported for March 19: “Homs: Several cases of asphyxia were reported in Baba Amr due to releasing toxic gases by the regime’s forces on the neighborhood." No further details were given. This could be the same poison as in one or both of the other cases, or not, by the vague description. No one else ever reported any more that I know of.  

The Baba Amr district, at the southwest corner of the city, was the prime rebel hotbed in Homs, but under heavy attack and about to fall. Reports were already calling it a ghost town by March 11. By the 19th, soldiers would have been holding some areas, and rebels others, so both sides were present and either side could have been the targets here. This is somewhat similar to the Khan al-Assal situation.
A same-day Debkafile report cited "extensive preparations" for more chemical use by the Syrian army in Homs city. They cited "Western intelligence agencies" for telling them about a boosted military presence, with forces "issued in the last few hours with chemical warfare gear." These “preparations” quite likely came after the incident reported by the LCC. There's no mention of that from Debka, but this “gear” is quite likely gas masks. The SAA might have just been taking precautions against more terrorist incidents like the one in Aleppo, or that plus an actual gas release in Homs. There were no further toxic gas releases reported, once these "extensive preparations" were in place. There's still only the one faint report from just before...
Otherwise that I've seen, there's no report mentioning such an incident in Homs on this day, either in the following weeks or in the intervening years. It's not clear why it was briefly reported and then never repeated. Quite possibly, something went wrong with this false-flag plan, or with some other plan it was a part of.
Side-stuff to cover elsewhere: fleeing rebels and CW allegations in Baba Amr, rebel retreat and discovery of massacres around Abel to the south ... raising questions if those people had been meant to die in the CW attacks back in Baba Amr, but they couldn't swing that... this exact pattern plays out twice, in the Feb. 2012 and March 2013 government offensives to re-take Baba Amr. The CW link is new to me (2012 claims I didn't know brings this together and raises the possibility of a cennection in 2013 as well). The similarities even carry over to that, with extremely unclear or failed CW allegations in both cases.

The 3-19 Incidents In Review
Where: in or near each of Syria's 3 main cities, as each entry is listed below for simplicity: Aleppo, Damascus, Homs (in order of incident clarity)

Aleppo: ~7-7:30 am (UN report  0700, Syrian government says 0730 in same report. Both sound rounded-off. 7:30 is preferable).
Damascus: ~7:30-8:00 am? (first videos appear at 8:11 am).
Homs: unclear.

So note Damascus was likely after Aleppo incident, but not by much, or better yet - they came at about the same time. The vague range so far allows they could be up to an hour apart, but even then "within minutes" is accurate enough, and they might have been coordinated to the minute, say 7:35. Is this a Coincidence? No. Both events will require some planning. The planners will be on the same side, whichever that is.

what (the poison):
Aleppo: impure sarin. Damascus: unclear, likely the same. Homs: unclear, possibly the same. In more detail:

Aleppo: "The  munition  released gas on its impact. The air stood still and witnesses described a yellowish-green mist in the air and a pungent and strong sulfur-like smell." (see UN report) By reports, some people dropped dead or paralyzed instantly, while other suffered difficult breathing, heart problems, foaming at the mouth, confusion, pupil constriction and vision problems, and loss of consciousness, besides a strange itching.
Damascus: “something like water, but it was dark. It emitted a very foul smell,” and caused serious breathing problems, and others listed by James Miller as "bradycardia, vasodilation, nausea and vomiting, and bronchoconstriction." It seems likely the civilian fatalities were not killed by the rocket that affected those fighters, but instead gassed separately at the same time with  an unclear poison. One man has yellow fluid from the mouth, and possible cyanosis. The fighter seems to have yellow fluid as well. It's been reported or implied that biomedical or environmental samples from the Ateibah incident tested positive for sarin, but the details remain a little unclear, and any number of shell games are possible.

Homs: it caused suffocation is the only related detail we've found so far (could stand more digging, especially in Arabic-language reports, from years ago now...)

The UN "independent commission of inquiry" lists the Aleppo incident as entry #1 here, where the chemical agent "bore same unique hallmarks as in AlGhouta" - which they acknowledge was sarin (so they confirm the Russians in that regard), but from the Syrian military CW stockpile. By extension, the same was perhaps used in Ateibah (same source has no info, but lists it as incident #2 blamed on the government). Ghouta sarin is also linked to Khan Sheikhoun's sarin, and that to Saraqeb's sarin. It all seems the same: nasty, impure (60% purity, France says), with a foul organic decay-like odor, that burns the lungs and eyes ... it tends to be a dark or even black fluid (seen in Ateibah, in later attacks in Adra, and at least the 3-30 and 4-4 attacks this year), but the gas it puts off tends to be pale yellow or yellow-green, maybe appearing white, or usually not noticed (this part seems less clear). It also tends to have hexamine as some fixate on. 

Western experts first verified this sarin as killing someone in Saraqeb, weeks later on April 29. In that case it was neither a scud nor a jet, but some Jabhat al-Namechange hand grenades full of this stuff ... dropped from a regime helicopter, in glowing cinderblocks - or so the videos and reports claimed. This is what was in the Bashair 3 rocket fired on likely Shia civilians and SAA soldiers on March 19. This is what they mean by the stuff used in 2017 matching with the kind Syria has used before, and not with the kind actually known to be made by the government.  

How (delivery): 
Aleppo: locally made Bashair 3 rocket (vs. scud missile, jet bombing). Damascus: rocket/missile (not scud or anything that shows on radar). Homs: unclear.

Who (if not the regime side as alleged in each case):
Aleppo: Jabhat al-Nusra (Syria blames them)
Damascus: Jaish Al-Islam (educated guess)
Homs: unclear, perhaps Jabhat AL-Nusra, unless the Saudis have a special contact in Homs akin to Alloush on the Damascus front.

This all seems like a unified plan, with different sub-contracted actors using varied means based on their local situation.

Could That Be More Saudi Orders?
Chemical rockets on Damascus and Aleppo, and maybe Homs, just to to blame the regime for crossing the red line on a  nationwide scale - it's got some appeal as a plan. If this was all one plan, it wasn't a very good one, on the implementation end. In fact, it wound up a twisted flop. Opposition supporters has managed to use this, but barely. The US and others claim Syria deployed Sarin on two fronts this day, but it's not their proudest or clearest claim.

But it seems pretty likely, if not proven, this was all one plan. At least the core of incidents that did happen already strain the possibility of a coincidence. That unusual report that bubbled out of Homs just adds to it. It was som eone's badly executed plan. Not-so-good plans are the kinds the Saudis hatch up. "remember that "red line" thing? Yeah. Use the chemicals Turkey will be forwarding..." 

There's no direct and conclusive evidence I know of that this plan came from the House of Saud, but I deem them capable, and it seems possible. If so, it was apparently done by a different and non-monitored channels. Either no such orders were intercepted by the NSA - there are still ways to do that - or the intercept wasn't shared at the same level as this one. It's interesting in fact how the were seen conspicuously ordering the 3-18 attacks that might provoke part 2, but not the other part. It could suggest they didn't order the other part, as no orders were intercepted. 

If this were a unified package with each parts ordered separately, we would see the provocation, and that could be seen as reckless, questionable, but not seeing the other part, the main issue would be the escalation by the regime - gassing a few fighters and hundreds of innocents in every major city in response, especially in Homs, where entire families suffocated in their basement shelters?  Well, that part I imagined, but it might have been planned. But the Christian brothers, displaced babies, Syrian soldiers and likely Shia citizens were all killed, some on accident, with various improvised weapons and impure kitchen-grade sarin, all according to somebody's unified plan.

Motive re-considered: As noted, these events came a few days after the 2 year anniversary of the conflict. That was marked in the US, UK, and France by easing restrictions on financing rebels by individuals and nations. An American from Texas (Ghassan Hitto) was on the 18th elected the head of the Syrian National Coalition (Syria's legitimate government, according to the US). As CNN reported the council "said the decision should assuage the Obama administration's concerns about who would lead Syria should President Bashar al-Assad be deposed." Further, the top U.S. military commander in Europe - Adm. James Stavridis - said that NATO was laying out plans for possible military attacks on Syria, if an adequate reason should surface. Of course, president Obama had already offered one clear-sounding path to make this happen. As I noted in the earlier post:
Considering confluence of other people's decisions, it's clear that the morning of March 19 was an especially poor time for Damascus to cross Obama's red line of its own accord. Conversely, it would be a very opportune moment for any rebel provocateurs to do it for them.
I wasn't aware before that the day before had seen such provocative strikes in Damascus that could help explain the planned "revenge," charging across Obama's Red Line into a trap. That this materialized only makes sense, and that Saudi Arabia made it happen is no surprise. So it's worth wondering if they ordered up the fake revenge as well. I can't prove and don't even believe  that all this and the CW incidents are part of one unified package. But suddenly I can see that possibility, it seems plausible and logical, and it seemed worth sharing at least.


  1. Not intercepted? NATO has its ways, Turkey has active part in chemical attacks. Turkey is (was?)an essential partner of NATO and can coordinate with SA, so impossible to get to the bottom of it. Will not come out one can guess, as there is enough material in NATO to use chantage on one another. Why do you think EU is still so soft on Turkey, said lately again that Turkey still should be able to join EU and NATO keeps Turkey on the boat.

    1. Also moves afoot viz. EU Military Union. Twit @STRATEGICDEFENC and #Pesco (Permanent Structured Cooperation) What capitalist doesn't want a finger in that EU/NATO pie?

  2. Hi! I meant "apparently not intercepted," playing nice, like it "appears" the NSA wouldn't hide this from us if they know. But I suspect this was a big plan, if so, like Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, no order transmitted makes sense - nothing to intercept. Even Saud might be afraid the US wouldn't approve of this, and would likely not test that by letting them hear. So it would be sent verbally by trusted courier is my hunch.

    chantage: had to look it up. Seems like the given "blackmail" is a good translation. :)

    What the Erdogan gang has been doing in Syria - and in Turkey, and aroun - is sort of villain material, as people are realizing more and more. But it's still by and large useful villainy. Much like KSA. They get to keep trying to improve their image, unlike some countries who get no slack as every lie against them is bought wholesale to justify regime change. KSA, Turkey, they lick the boot, I guess you could say. They try to synchronize with "us" on who's the bad guy at the moment, do all their banking and investing through our channels, benefit from the same wars Wall Street does, etc.


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