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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Douma CW Massacre: The Witnesses Who Don't Blame Assad

Douma CW Massacre:
The Witnesses Who Don't Blame Assad
April 22, 2018
(rough, incomplete)

A New Trend in Witnesses to Regime Crimes?
Many times over the years we've heard opposition supporters almost exclusively interviewed to support claims of a Syrian government atrocity. Rarely do we hear from people denying these stories, or lodging counter-claims against the opposition's Islamist forces (unless it's Islamic State/Daesh). But in the weeks after the April 7 alleged chemical attack in Douma, we've heard now from three kinds of people to the usual one kind.

Type 1: Assad CW Attack: first came the usual, White Helmets types, activists, alleged survivors, other locals clearly blaming the government for a chemical attack. Some even saw the "barrel bombs" falling from helicopters, already pouring green smoke into the dark night sky as they fell. No one on the rebel side has helicopters, so the blame is just as easy as usual here. They know where people died (basements, hiding), what it smelled like, why you couldn't save people, and should expect a high death toll, etc. and they're clear it's part of Assad's obvious and continuing CW genocide.

Type 2: No CW Attack: In this case, unlike most, the ruling Islamists surrendered and left, for the most part, within a couple days of the incident. Investigators and media thus had unusual access, and soon we heard from others claiming there was no CW attack. One is the soon-to-be famous boy Hassan Diab, shown in clinic videos used to claim a government CW attack, but later interviewed on RT with his father about how he was pressed into the performance. (The Russians promise to show this at the UN, and some will surely just walk out.) We've also heard from the medical staff, many residents (for example Robert Fisk's helpful report from Douma in the Independent, April 17), all swearing they saw no signs of toxic gas released in the open. They couldn't be certain none was released in some basement somewhere, but no open release of anything they saw or smelled, or heard anything credible about from anyone else.

There are varied inclusions of something that might cause confusion - the bombing may have cause cases of smoke inhalation and suffocation. But either way, many people rushed the clinic, and then as they recount someone shouted chlorine, sparking a panic about the chemicals was staged around them. But they say, or think, there was nothing real to panic about, and it was a fake scene staged by White Helmets types.

But I don't mean to dwell on the details of the cases for or against. Instead let's look at an unexpected third kind of witnesses, arriving on the scene in the last few days, at about the same time Fisk and others were breaking the type 2 version. These may be coming out in reaction to that, but the order isn't entirely clear. These people claim there was in fact a chemical attack, but they re-phrase it. Now it's not a clear regime crime. Helicopters are not mentioned. Some issues with the evidence are acknowledged. In fact, the (now-defunct?) Army of Islam group (Jaish Al-Silam, JaI) is tentatively blamed for the real CW attack - by some people, whose opinion on that point may not matter in the end.

But they maintain that toxic chemicals were released, and some of these people also have stories claiming some of those killed as family, which in context is always dubious. Aside from the witnesses, the best evidence so far suggests the blamed gas canister(s) were plated, not dropped or launched - accounts of no open chemical release - signs of staging, and the past precedent with some signs here; the victims were likely people held hostage by the Islamists, property they'd rather cash in for propaganda points then set free as they agreed to close shop and take the bus to Idlib. Everyone can see which side motive favors.

And we have two classes of witness not blaming Assad but still basically calling each other liars. One of them fits with the best evidence, and one contradicts a lot of it.

Is this a different take on activist claims? For once don't blame Assad, acknowledge a problem with the presented evidence, etc. Find ways to appeal to "the other side." But then use that to maintain, to a wider audience, the key elements of what will still go down as a regime crime in the end. Here, that gas was released, from a canister that was dropped or fired, by just who is clearly debatable (but we know who would lose the blame game at the OPCW and UN, etc.).

And most importantly, they remind us that people died, they know details, and those prove that this gas some people deny killed innocents ... who were not hostages of the ruling terrorists, just random victims of their weapons. Or, as it will turn out later, of Assad's weapons after all. If so, it's clearly that second half about who the victims are they're most afraid of having stick. Gas bombs: in. Gas chambers: out. 

Anyone following the information war could have advised this subtler approach - if governments and agencies like the OPCW are bound to blame the government in the end, you don't need every witness affirming it from the start. In fact by placing some more flexible points as coming from what seems to be "the other side" could make it seem like "people from both sides" agree on X and Y facts at least, helping to steer the eventual "balanced" decision the agencies and the mainstream are to arrive at. They might blame the rebels, make some dig at the White Helmets, something to score points with those doubting the Islamist narrative - maybe just as bait to get them believing their account, and accepting that there really was a chemical *attack* someone needs to investigate and punish, and it used those stupid yellow tanks...

Khaled Nuseir and Company
First the chlorine, then chaos and death in Syria attack - Sarah el Deeb, Associated Press, April 18, 2018 - http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/chlorine-chaos-death-syria-attack-54550403

This hears from Khaled Nuseir, 25, vegetable vendor, in Douma. He says he saw the leaking gas cylinder and "said it didn't appear that it was dropped from the air because it still looked intact. "There was no sound of explosion," he said... "If we are standing here and something falls from an aircraft, doesn't it explode? The cylinder was intact when we found it and it was leaking." So he claims he was exposed to, close to, or witnessed the same gas twice. He does have some odd appearance, tired or hooded eyelids, etc. But he never did die. FWIW the name Khaled means immortal.

The report adds: "He and two other residents accused the rebel Army of Islam, which controlled Douma until the militants surrendered it, of carrying out the attack. As they spoke, government troops were nearby, but out of earshot." So we're to gather they aren't coerced, and might be telling the truth. After all, most people can realize, Jaish al-Islam had the better motive to do such a thing. 

Nusair and two other unnamed "residents" are cited, and an attached photo shows three men, presumably the same. Mr. Nuseir is most likely the one talking, shown here in a crop.

photo credits: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, Monday, April 16, 2018.  "Kahled Mahmoud Nuseir, 25, center, ... in front of a hospital that locals referred as Point One, background, just meters away from where in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, ...The survivors blamed the attack on the Army of Islam ... although they did not offer evidence to back up their claims."

He also claims here his wife, 9-months pregnant, and his two infant girls all died in the attack. The names he gives for his wife and daughters all appear, a bit differently, in opposition lists (see ACLOS for details).  That could be a good sign or a bad one, depending.

Another appearance at about the same time was run on April 17 from German reporter Dirk Emmerich with NTV News:
with Translated subtitles:

The man in the middle of the photo (same face, hair and clothing, but not named) speaks briefly as other watch intently. He says he smelled something "strange", but it soon faded. He drank water and felt better. If any family members died, he doesn't mention it here. It doesn't seem he addresses blame here.

Then, Emmerich heard from a crowd disagreeing with that. They didn't see or smell or feel anything suggesting toxic chemicals were released. They're emphatic, and seem amused at the absurdity of the claim, sometimes smiling.

Then he hears from an older man with a gray beard presented to confirm what the other guy said - he too definitely smelled chlorine. But he adds that it's not clear who might have deployed it, blaming neither side explicitly. Strange that this needs to come up, and wind up not blaming Assad. 

That disagreement is very interesting, and forms part of my doubts about this guy Khaled Nuseir and the others agreeing with him, as first outlined here:

Just because he blames terrorists instead of Assad or Russia doesn't mean his story is true. His given case is not convincing. If the canister had fallen from a helicopter, it won't make an "explosion sound," but it would probably be far more damaged if it really fell that far, and would clearly rupture. Here, it's not visually clear if either tank did rupture. They don't seem damaged enough to have. But he swears it was that damaged and leaking, he saw it, other questions aside. As for his theory Jaish Al-Islam did it: if that's his basis, it wouldn't go far towards convincing those trained to blame "animal Assad" for everything.

Other than those surface-level twists, Khaled Nuseir's account displays a familiar and dubious pattern - He asserts that gas was released from a canister deployed as a weapon, in contrast to what many credible others say.. He says "I lost my children," like Abdelhamid Al-Yousef did, and others before and since.
He escaped the house and made it to a clinic, but passed out there, while his wife and children died in the shelter, developing "white foam" before he saw them again just after waking up. (see Yousef's version of this story here)

Mr. Nuseir also says in the el Deeb AP report that his shelter held 51 people, and Only 5 of those survived, including him and, by usual patterns, we might guess four other fighting age men, for 46 dead there. Two distinct sites are claimed in that same report. He adds that the bodies from his shelter, apparently including his wife and girls, were collected the next day and buried in a mass grave near the zoo. That's an unusual bit of information to add, like a leak that also makes it seems like rebels might be covering something up. But he knows where the OPCW can find them... he may have well-informed sources that have him saying all this.


How Many People Make these Claims?

So, in this class of unusual witness accounts refusing to blame Assad but stil disagreeing with most accounts and evidence, is at least:
- Khaled Nuseir,
- his two unnamed agreeing residents,
- the older man, and perhaps that slick little guy staring so intently at him, then seeming to broadcast agreement towards everyone else, like: "I know a truth-teller, and this guy for sure smelled chlorine like he says. Right, guys?"

4+ noted there, and there's also Nasser Amer Hanan/Hanen, perhaps the episode's star witness, who spoke to CBS News' reporter Seth Doan (footage also used by the BBC).

and separately he was interviewed by Stefan Borg of Sweden's TV4 News, and others.

From the second interview, subtitles translated via Petri Krohn (ACLOS), Naser says he and many others were all sitting segregated in the basement when the "bomb" hit 4 floors above, and "Suddenly there was a sound like a valve on a gas pipe was opened." He heard it down there. Perhaps realizing how stupid this is, he immediately explains "It is difficult to explain. I cannot explain. I do not know what to say." Then he remembers it's about emotion, not logic, and continues so: "The situation makes me cry. Children and toddlers, around 25 children."

He says his mother and his wife died, besides his "brothers." But that could be a translation issue, singular read as plural; Opposition lists have just one brother, the same name he gives, Hamzeh. His wife and mother are unclear - they would retain "maiden names," usually - three females with the same Hanan name are listed and apparently unexplained. (see ACLOS link above)  Or is this a Christian family? A modern/secular tradition-shunning family? As some note, he doesn't look jihadist, and never says Allah anything. The same seems to apply for Mr. Nuseir above.

He says his brother Hamzeh tried to wash himself at the sink, but died, while Naser watched, and then fled while Hamzeh died... or... whatever. As for his beloved wife, and mother ... He cannot explain. He doesn't know what to say. He might forget what they told him to say. It was all so very sad, he cannot remember clearly...

Okay, this guy ... it's not in the video reports, but after the fact, the reporter Stefan Borg adds that Mr. Hanan blamed the rebel side for doing this and also he blamed the White Helmets for not coming to rescue them. (from this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcjbsRh2c34 - fuller exact translation later)

Well that certainly doesn't sound like bait to embrace an unlikely story, does it?

Other examples will likely emerge when I dig for them, but at 5+ it's clear enough to call out. After this post, there's a good chance the trend will stop - maybe because it was just a localized fluke that already played its short course, maybe because I just called the strategy of smarter propaganda they were hoping to expand. 

Add 4-24: no other examples yet, but more on Khaled, thanks to a comment
AP video, 16 April interview with  Khaled Mahmoud Nuseir
From the provided transcript:

I came back from my work around dusk (April 7?) then went down to the basement, we were around 50 to 60 people  in the basement. All the alley was in this basement. We were praying during the dusk prayers (should be app. 7pm) when we felt a bottle of gas was opened - it was not a hit. I fainted for almost 10 hours (10 minutes?). When I woke up, (4-5 AM April 8? well after most videos filmed - or let's say he said or meant minutes)  I ran to the hospital here, where (the White Helmets) were. ... I told them: 'For God's sake, the people are still alive.' They did not accept to go and help.
(He passed out again at the "hospital"?)
I woke up at two o'clock after midnight (2 am on April 8?), I ran to the basement and found my children and my wife on the ground with foam at their mouths. I carried my children to the hospital and they (White Helmets) did not help me until the next day. (or later on April 8) At 10 o'clock (am?) we brought them out, while they refused to help. On the second day (still 4-8?), local officials (from the local council of Douma) came to inspect. We went up and found a missile with a certain volume, but it had not exploded - as if someone put it there and opened it, but it was not dropped by a plane. We could not see anything. We were in the basement and if someone came and shot us we would not know."
"The Army of Islam is behind it. They did it. They destroyed the country and escaped."
(Question: "What was the smell?")
"It was something yellow that approached us, like a yellow dust."
he "says 47 people were killed, including his pregnant wife and two young daughters, in one underground shelter."
At 1:52 he shows his girls, allegedly, when alive. The clothing they wear doesn't ring a bell among the victims seen at the 35-bodies site. In those clothes would be suspicious, but did they die or get dumped at the other site, talked about but no bodies shown?
So, planted evidence, not even a hit from it being fired, just set there ... but which site? Which cylinder does he refer to? He says up, but not to the roof or a balcony. Both shown have damage associated he doesn't explain. Maybe it's a third site?

Nope. El Deeb/AP went to the site, saw blankets along the wall, no blood, and showed entrance to the basement. Same place we've been analyzing. So ... WTF is this guy talking about? And is there no second site with bodies? People said there were, but they keep pointing to this same one.
Add 4-28: This should probably be Mr. Nuseir's alleged wife Fathmeh Qarouq. No foam per se. Some leaking yellowish mucous, signs or more, causing skin irritation or staining on the cheeks, Seems to have been laid on her back, from the evenly pale color of her skin, and how the fluid doesn't seem to have gone "up" over her eyes and forehead, like in some other cases. So good sign: he din;t leave his wife tied hanging upside down with swimmer's goggles on. Tied, goggles, perhaps, but not upside-down.


  1. have you seen this video of Khaled Mahmoud Nuseir(translation in description) he blames white helmets too


    1. no, so thanks! Same visit, on video. Will absorb and maybe add.

    2. looks like the same guy


    3. interesting catch, but probably not. 3 years ago halfway across the country ... not likely. Similar style, actual features (eyebrow pattern, etc), not clear from the few views I have, but seems more like "similar" in general.

    4. Thanks for the reply. Just thought it was interesting the guy(s) appears in the US media(CBS and FP) on same subject.

      The first report from the building that was attacked was from TV4(Sweden). On youtube(TV4 Douma) the reporter does not mention or show the chlorine bomb on roof or mention it in another youtube video with CNN. In the CBS report the guy from Douma leads the CBS reporter to the bomb on roof wearing same T-shirt so likely TV4 and CBS there same time. Why TV4 does not show or talk about the chlorine bomb is a mystery.

    5. TV4 has 2 video reports, one showing the canister, including the handy video from beneath, and the other not including it. So that's just editing. links at the post on the "CW barrel bomb that wasn't there"

    6. Wonder why they edited out the most important bit of the report?

  2. More witnesses


    including Abdallah Abo Hammam who filmed in the morning https://twitter.com/Qoppa999/status/986966186645651456 and a woman who says her daughter was in the clinic for 2 days "lying next to dead bodies" after the event.

    1. thanks. Interesting add to the credible side, and some to one of the CW release versions. Just which version isn't clear (didn't see where they say who was behind it), but the thing they all insist on remains clear.

  3. 22/4/2018 A senior correspondent for German state media broadcast ZDF heute stunned his European audience during a report from on the ground in Syria when he gave a straightforward and honest account of his findings while investigating what happened in Douma. The veteran reporter, Uli Gack, interviewed multiple eyewitnesses of the April 7 alleged chemical attack and concluded of the testimonials, "the Douma chemical attack is most likely staged, a great many people here seem very convinced."
    It appears that all local Syrians encountered by the German public broadcast reporter were immediately dismissive of the widespread allegation that the Syrian government gassed civilians, which the US, UK, France, and Israel used a pretext for launching missile strikes on Damascus.

  4. Gack's dispatch doesn't seem to be as useful as most. I think (poss. confused) he heard a bad guess that terrorists stashed chlorine tanks so they'd be bombed, causing a CW release the more credible witnesses swear never happened, and in a way no one else has presented any evidence for.

  5. More from the mother of Masa the girl interviewed by BBC, whose father got CNN to do this and so on


    Despite saying they were in the neighbouring building to the one where everyone dropped dead, she was now saved by "the cotton that had the water drops on top of it".

  6. 24/4/2018The destruction of the pharmaceutical research centre in Barzeh remains a mystery. This installation was in no way secret. It had been created with the help of France. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspected it five times and found nothing that could be linked to research on chemical weapons [3]. According to officials, in the context of international sanctions, the laboratory was carrying out research on anti-cancer products. It was not guarded, and there were no victims in the collapse of the buildings. http://www.voltairenet.org/article200905.html


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