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Sunday, November 26, 2017

What Happened the Night of April 13/14 in Sheikh Maqsoud?

The First Bodies Tossed Across Obama's Red Line
Part 5: What Happened the Night of April 13/14 in Sheikh Maqsoud?
November 26, 2017
(rough, incomplete)

Background: A Midnight Attack Amidst Islamist Occupation
Most people refer to this, as the page at A Closer Look on Syria does, as April 13, 2013. However, by the story it was actually about 3 am on April 14, in the sprawling Kurdish-majority Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo. This is the first of two known incidents to employ the magical hand grenades apparently belonging to or used by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and that was otherwise unknown and never-before-seen. In the other attack two weeks later in Saraqeb, they showed this grenade as responsible, but there were later suggestions that was shown as a similar example, not the exact weapon. But in this case, it's the one used, seen laying on the stairs (comparison below). So that story cannot be unwritten, in case anyone was tempted.

Here, as in Saraqeb, they say it was dropped from a helicopter. Well, some said there was one:
M.Sergie tweeted "Some survivors said the canisters were dropped from a helicopter, but others didn't hear rotors." You would hear them. Whatever. The hand grenade fell from the regime helicopter (did you know rebels have no helicopters?) into the open stairwell of an apartment building, tearing though plastic sheeting over the top of it. Upon impact with the upper stairs, it coated them with some white powder that appears sprayed, almost like a small fire extinguisher went off here. Unless this is actually shattered cinderblock, there was apparently no cinderblock involved in this drop, as they would allege in Saraqeb. (there are crumbles, but also what looks like rebar from some serious concrete damage - still needs more review)

Tracy Shelton would report on April 30 about this attack for PRI (then Global Post): The horrific chemical weapons attack that probably wasn’t a chemical weapons attack
“When we arrived on the scene I saw the bomb canister. It was not a heavy explosive,” said Toul Haldun Zagroz, a Kurdish police officer in Sheikh Maqsoud. He said he was part of the second team to arrive at the scene, adding that many of the police and rescuers on the first team ended up in the hospital with similar symptoms as the victims.

“There was a white powder covering the stairs but there was no smell or smoke. It did not even occur to me that it might be a chemical, but when we went inside we saw the children dead and the Kurdish police who had arrived before us were on the ground foaming something white from their mouth. Their eyes were so red.”

We must note this Kurdish-majority district had just been overrun by Turkish-backed Islamists. An AP report from Saturday, March 30 has an "FSA" guy boasting how they and and their "Kurdish brothers liberated Sheikh Maqsoud of Assad's criminal gangs and shabiha," referring to pro-government militias now called National Defense Forces. The attack, dubbed "Kurdish Fraternity," was launched the 28th and largely culminated with partial control on the 30th. On that day,
"The Observatory (SOHR) said rebels captured a pro-government Sunni Muslim cleric in the fighting, killed him and then paraded his body through the neighborhood.

State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV identified the cleric as Hassan Seifeddine. It said he was beheaded and his head was placed on the minaret of Al-Hassan Mosque where he used to lead the prayers.

The SANA state news said Seifeddine's body was "mutilated" after the "assassination."
There was a report that "FSA" denied the murder, and suggested Assad's undercover "Shabiha" had killed Seifeddine to make the liberators looks bad. (ACLOS)

That's March 30. After a month of FSA/Islamist-Kurdish joint management, Tracy Shelton noted on April 30: "The brief alliance was quickly shattered last week after the rebels accused the Kurds of double-crossing them and clashes erupted." That should be around April 25. Sounds like things broke down shortly after this chemical attack, or was maybe building up to that. April 13/14 might already be a time that Jabhat al-Nusra could use their weapons against Kurds, including some police and certain civilians ... 

But the "FSA" and allies say the government is behind it, as Shelton heard. A Dr. Hassan, who treated the victims in Afrin, "said he thought the government was attempting to scare the Kurds in Sheikh Maqsoud — using a small attack with some kind of chemical — to prevent them from working again with the rebels." But not everyone agreed: "Others accuse the Free Syrian Army of trying to rope foreign powers into the conflict by feigning a chemical attack." It's not noted, but their Jabhat Al-Nusra allies might be doing the same. And, as Shelton noted, "The Syrian government has little to gain from speculation that chemical weapons are being used in Syria." 

Growing Death Toll, Victim ID Problems, 
Tracy Shelton's article published the story via a survivor's tale - apparently taken second-hand from the medics she spoke with
Yasser Younes went to bed around midnight on April 13. When he woke up two days later, he was in a hospital, and his wife and two young children were dead.

Younes, who lives in the Kurdish-controlled neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud, said he doesn't remember much from that night. He recalled waking up to a loud noise at 3 a.m. Opening the door, he said he saw smoke. And that was it.

A bit more of the story as told by Shelton on Democracy Now
...I spoke with the neighbors who had come in to help, and they’d found the two young boys were dead. The mother later died in hospital. So that was the whole family that was inside the house. The neighbors that came in to help them, they also fell ill. Most of them were in a coma also for a day or two.

And then the next party to arrive were the Kurdish police and members of the YPG forces, the Kurdish militia forces that control the area, and many of them also fell ill, up ’til the next people arriving on the scene like three hours later. 
Most initial sources have 3 killed - two young boys and their mother, who would be Yasser's wife and kids. Some reports mentioned another woman had died, for 4 total. The December, 2013 UN final report heard "the alleged incident affected 21 persons and caused one death." That's clearly incomplete and apparently means one death in hospital (the mother: the boys were allegedly dead from the start).

Most sources agree 20, 21, or 22 total patients were brought to the hospital in Afrin, including the 3-4 dead and thus 16-19 who survived the poison. 

Interestingly, the opposition VDC has 14 people listed as killed, for almost everyone reported as affected (VDC query: all chemical deaths April 13, and ACLOS). Beyond the first 2 women and 2 children, this adds another woman and 9 men, for 14 martyrs total. This division of death reports would be strange, if it weren't so common. Included in this list is our star witness: Yaser Younes Adult - Male, from Sheikh Maksoud, died 2013-04-13. Cause of Death: Chemical and toxic gases.

Syrian opposition site Aksalser.com reported on the attack, giving the names of 3 killed and just 10 others of those affected (should be 17-19). The VDC lists all but 2 of these as killed, and also lists 3 others the original list didn't name as affected, but who wound up dead. The remaining 7-9 patients aren't named anywhere, and by this anyway, virtually everyone who named died. But their names changed in many cases...

One possible argument is the VDC just goofed up and listed all the effected and dead as dead - and missed a couple, and got some names different, added a couple, etc. ... That sounds reasonable, and who would report these strangely-delayed deaths anyway? Best if they just vanish.

I'll come back to the victims names and related patterns... there are some definite oddities here, which is not unusual. <space for that>

Fake Star Witness?
Yasser: Shelton heard, second-hand it seems, that he saw smoke outside the apartment and then passed out. Democracy Now interview: "Yes, well, he—it was actually dropped into their home. It fell onto their courtyard stairs just outside. So, when he woke up, he had opened the door. His only recollection was just seeing some smoke. And then he was in a coma for the next few days." To akselser.com, the man himself said "a small explosion occurred in our house ... I rushed to the children's room to find them unconscious and there was smoke in the room," said Yasser Yunis" who then called up his brother Abdullah to come help (hence brother in the table above). I guess we prefer the version from the horse's mouth and can't call much of a contradiction here. There's less reason for his brother to show up and be effected if Yasser just passed out instead of placing a call. But then did he? He winds up not listed as dead...

consider: article on Tracy Shelton's work here "The most notable survivor was Yasser Younes, who remembered nothing but an explosion at 3 a.m. It was his wife and two children who had died. But Shelton could not interview him; Younes had returned to his home village. “He’d left to another village… and I was trying to get there, but I couldn’t get anyone to take me out there. I didn’t know the exact location” she recalls. Shelton had learned to be careful about accepting rides." That's smart, of course. Is "he went back to his home home town" here code for "he died, and the guy playing him retired the role to live his own life?" 

As far as I've seen, there are no images of Yasser specified. He might be one of the people in the video (none of whom seems to be in a coma, however), but no one says so. So far, I don't even know what he was supposed to look like. That could matter if there were ever some other image said to be of him to compare it to.

And what about the seen victims? 
Ronahi TV exclusive video: Akselser.com posting - Human Rights Investigation posting

They have a couple types of victims in the small group shown, in some dim basement clinic (and seen later in a better-lit hospital) ... obvious staging of "foaming at the mouth and nose" scenes - not just us but several experts saw this and explained in detail why it's probably just as fake as it seems. "I'm wholly unconvinced," as one put it softly. This plus very bland and fake-seeming "convulsions," are seen with the adult male victims (2 of them?), who look like clean-shaven camera-friendly Islamists (ACLOS)

The two baby boys are here, getting a bed each but no treatment - they're already dead. That's another group that's pretty clearly not faking. (at right and above, from some images provided to the SOHR at the time)

Two women are also shown, seeming at least to not be faking for the fun of it. One has apparent mucous bubbles from her nose, and seems paralyzed or dead at first, but later speaks to the camera.

The other woman seems to have suffered a bad foot beating, and shows no obvious chemical signs other than laying still and not looking at the camera ... Did the new Islamist authorities have a go at her for some Sharia law crime like dressing wrong, or being married to a Kurd who crossed them?

Sarin Confirmation 
In retrospect, it shouldn;t be surorising if sarin somehow turned up in this incident, using the same weapon used later in an attack later confirmed to involve sarin. But at the time, it wasn't clear at all, and still, just how it was involved (if it was - likely) remains an open question.

The Times of London report about a sarin attack in Aleppo (see Narwani): apparently people with the Syrian American Medical Society ("a team from “an American medical agency”) came to the Afrin hospital and took hair samples to have tested in US labs. (it seems SAMS also helped take stolen samples from the Khan al-Assal attack, after Islamists again overran the town, and sent hem to the US to confirm sarin in that case - ACLOS). The US was suddenly confident by late April to declare sarin was probably used (doubts aired by April 25 - McClatchy) A 14  June  2013 letter from the US government to the UN investigation alleged Syria's government used sarin "against  the  opposition  in  an  attack  on  the  Aleppo neighborhood of Sheik Maqsood on 13 April 2013," the UN report says. They were unable to verify.

"The United Nations Mission sought to conduct fact-finding activities pertaining to this incident from the territory of a bordering country (in Turkey), having determined that such an investigation held the prospect of producing additional information. The United Nations Mission was ultimately unable to obtain any such information." (Turkey refused?) "In the absence of any further information, the United Nations Mission was unable to draw any conclusions pertaining to this alleged incident." (UN final report). No interviews, blood samples verified, nothing further.

If they had looked, maybe they'd find sarin, plus all the witnesses dead, other strange things even they couldn't ignore ...  

Symptoms and treatment:
As noted, the seen victims have strange or fake symptoms, but it's not totally clear who's who, and some victims were described differently:  
Textbook sarin: "they displayed symptoms of chemical exposure including foaming at the mouth, constricted pupils and difficulty breathing. They were treated using chemical weapons antidote Atropine, Dr Habash claims." (Daily Mail) It's almost like he read that right from a textbook, instead of actual events... except the foaming part. That can happen, but is not as standard or textbook as these guys think, and the shaving creak tricks really push it too far.

Not textbook: "those injured suffered hallucinations, severe vomiting, nose bleeding and eye burning, one of which lost eye sight." (SOHR Facebook) Policeman Zargos: "when we went inside we saw the children dead and the Kurdish police who had arrived before us were on the ground foaming something white from their mouth. Their eyes were so red.”

None of the people seen as victims on video seem to have red eyes or bleeding noses, and they aren't vomiting. Are they stand-ins?

Secondary contamination:
Policeman Zagroz "himself would later suffer similar symptoms. About 30 minutes after entering Younes' home, he was taken to the hospital to be treated for dizziness, severe headache, blurred vision and stomach pain." Dr. Hassan: “My effects were mild, but one doctor had to be admitted to be ICU.” (Shelton, PRI)

The VDC heard: "at the beginning news were reporting that shelling was using white phosphoric material and then other sources said it is (Sarin Gas), news to be validated."  This confusion is also seen with Adra, 3-24-13 (a few weeks earlier). There it seems bad translation was to blame - organophosphate (including sarin) comes out as (organic) phosphorous, taken as perhaps WP incendiary weapons. That's probably two early sarin reports.


  1. Effects of White Phosphorus and WP smoke https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224560/

    1. When people die from this, they die from bad burns, pretty much. No one here looks burned to death, nor dead from a massive infection secondary to "phossy jaw." So it's not WP at least that killed anyone...

  2. Effect of CS on humans https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224932/

    1. tear gas is unpleasant, but there's not even anything there to change my impression it's just not fatal. That's what would normally be in such a grenade? So what? So it wasn't tear gas...

  3. Effects of Phosgene on humans https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207602/

    1. irritant too mild to explain the severe eye damage or swift deaths - something prolonged like with chlorine would be expected.


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