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Saturday, March 2, 2019

OPCW Douma Report

March 2-?, 2019
(rough, incomplete)

last update: March 12 
(release locations?)

I really have been incredibly flaky, never even finishing my last lame post before this hit … I've been doing other things, saving my energy, waiting for something - maybe this? The long-awaited release of OPCW fact-finding mission (FFM) report on the Douma chemical attacks nearly a year ago now:

S/1731/2019 
1 March 2019
REPORT OF THE FACT-FINDING MISSION REGARDING THE INCIDENT
OF ALLEGED USE OF TOXIC CHEMICALS AS A WEAPON
IN DOUMA, SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, ON 7 APRIL 2018

Since I'm still being flaky or transtioning, all I have to do now is start this post. I will be reviewing the report over the weekend, and we'll see what I put together in the space below. A few points I'll want to address, some briefly addressed already and growing into sections:

Chemical Issues
No Sarin at Mass-Death Site
2.7 "No organophosphorous nerve agents, their degradation products or synthesis impurities were detected either in environmental samples prioritised for analysis or in plasma samples from alleged casualties."

I think this is technically wrong, unless something changed. The commercial pesticide malation was found on a headscarf, presumably from a female fatality, reportedly found in the basement of location 2 (this is still included; see annex 5, sample code FFM49-18SDS07 ). This can be used to kill headlice, when that's done - here, rather close to a chemical death, that malathion could perhaps explain, in a gas chamber scenario. I hear there's a toxicity issue where it usually just kills insects, but if it can make people sick, it could kill them eventually, in a gas chamber if not on open release. I wouldn't guess Malathion as the killer here, but I'm not confident that scarf finding is a coincidence.

Anyway, the point stands that chlorine alone would not cause dozens to drop dead. (see below)

Dual Chemical Properties: Was There Sarin?
Previously it's seemed there was no open chemical release, based on widespread agreement by many locals who swear they smelled nothing, and inconsistent stories from some who did claim a smell. Putting this aside, perhaps there was a limited release in a small area ... if so, what the FFM heard could be helpful. The FFM seem to have heard about two different chemicals released in the open. Judging by reported smell, color, and immediate symptoms, it comes down into two very familiar types.

"8.59 The smell was described as being similar to cleaning products containing chlorine and local commercial brands, such as “Clor” and “Flash”, were mentioned. They added that the odour was significantly stronger, more pungent and acidic than the cleaning products. Other witnesses described a strong unpleasant smell that was not similar to chlorine and caused shortness of breath, fatigue and blurred vision. The smell of chlorine was also mentioned to be present at Point One around the same time."

No one describes both smells combined. If this was all in real space, it was in 2 different spaces. As for the one unlike chlorine, they say it was unpleasant and strong. This isn't very specific, but is consistent with the smell of impure sarin and/or the foul irritant w/nerve agent properties (FINAP - I just invented that). I put it like that because it's a bit confusing - see as covered here. The smell of that is foul, strange or hard to place, like rotting bodies, and various other guesses (burning nylon, sulfur, garlic, rotten eggs...)

"8.60 Witnesses recounted that, as soon as they perceived the odour, they developed difficulty breathing, eye irritation, severe coughing, nausea, vomiting, weakness, visual impairment, and excess salivation."

This is upon smelling which chemical? Irritant properties and resultant breathing problems could be from either (chlorine by its own action, the other due to irritant impurities). That covers the first three symptoms as too general to clarify. The next five all point more clearly to nerve agents like sarin; vision goes blurry or dark (but external miosis is usually noted), the SLUDGE syndrome causes extra saliva, actual nausea and vomiting (neither of which comes from chlorine - occasional reflexive vomiting, but not nausea), and weakness / fatigue, along with a bad headache, are common on minor sarin exposure. If these reports are true, it's an issue to note.

"8.61 Some witnesses reported seeing a yellow to green cloud or smoke, and one witness described it as a green colour in the atmosphere. ...

Yellow to green is a broad spectrum covering deep green fake chlorine, chlorine (yellow-green), and impure sarin/FINAP (yellow). The green in the atmosphere may refer to they who ludicrously claimed he saw a gas cylinder falling from a helicopter, already releasing its green gas in the twilight sky (before its valve was ever snapped off on impact, as designed, and also wasting much of a supply already inadequate to kill much of anyone). But this said to be the cloud near the tunnel entrance...

Release Locations?
"...This cloud was witnessed on the streets in close proximity to the vehicle entrance of the tunnel leading to the emergency department of Point One and on the ground floor of Location 2." 

It was so bad there, this green chlorine, that "Other casualties who reportedly stayed inside buildings or basements, or who tried to go towards the entrance of the tunnel leading to Point One, died." (8.62)

There has, as yet, been no identified weapon or location for any release of sarin or anything else to explain that second chemical or those non-chlorine symptoms, or any gas release past the documented two at locations 2 and 4. And there could hardly be sarin, and no sarin was found, at either of the two chlorine locations. But there are other locations that were mentioned to the FFM:

8.68 Three casualties stated that another device had landed and released chlorine gas in front of their house approximately 50 to 60 meters from the basement at Location 2. Additionally, several witnesses stated that they perceived the odour of a chemical at different locations within 250 meters southwest of Point One.

"A chemical" could mean the one that smelled unlike chlorine. But 250 meters southwest of the medical Point One is roughly in the same area around location 2 (itself about 200 m sw of point one). Unless that 50-60 meters is off in another direction, these might describe the same limited area. (map...) Maybe these are just differing descriptions of the smell(s) in that one area, which most Douma people would not have been in (and thus would report - accurately as far as they know - that there was no gas released).

A mapping of some claims from the report:

I don't have enough information yet to say just where anything was released, or if any of these claims are true, but FWIW, here's the best weather record I know of - not a darksky.net prediction but actual readings from Damascus International airport a few miles south of Douma.
7:00 45°F, wind 2mph from N
7:30 45°F, wind 3mph from N
8:00 44°F, wind 4mph from N (the little arrows show more like NE in all cases, which would put gas spread to the SW, if this wind applied so far north of the airport)
https://www.wunderground.com/history/daily/OSDI/date/2018-4-4?req_city=Damascus%20International&req_state=RD&req_statename=Syria&reqdb.zip=00000&reqdb.magic=429&reqdb.wmo=40080

Opposition Chemical Activities
Annex 8, on the opposition chemical warehouse suspected of producing chemical weapons: "Some of the chemicals observed could be used to manufacture at least two of the Schedule 3A chemicals, hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride, both highly toxic blood agents (not found on the location)."

One of those is the main basis for Zyklon B, which has worked well at killing people in gas chambers, if not as a battlefield chemical weapon. I don't think this was used (no signs in the environment mentioned at either site, and symptoms don't match), but it's worth noting for an example; they didn't rule out the substance used to kill these people - and it doesn't even need to be schedule 3A - was made here. Also, the FFM specifies it didn't look like sarin was made there. But until I know more, I'd consider it likely enough this was an explosives etc. plant, as they concluded. It shouldn't be ruled out of relevance that easily, but it's not a clear lead to anything at the moment.

Clinical Signs
As noted above, there were reports of symptoms that chlorine is unlikely to cause, and point more to a nerve agent. But that's reported by people who lived and, like all living people, could be lying. What matters most is the people who died and what killed them. Contrary to what some people say, a dead body can tell you how the person died. The message isn't always clearly readable, even to experts, but it's there.

Sudden Death or … Death Elsewhere?
"8.96 The location, positions and lack of visible trauma on the victims in the videos taken inside the building indicate exposure to a rapidly incapacitating or a highly toxic substance. The victims do not appear to have been in the midst of attempting self-extrication or respiratory protection when they collapsed, indicating a very rapid or instant onset. This type of rapid collapse is indicative of an agent capable of quickly killing or immobilising."

In fact, their deaths look so instant it's almost as if they were dead before they dropped in these spots - or were dropped in these spots, depending.

Either way, the only chemical weapon they found sign of in the house was chlorine, and it only causes instant death in a fluke case of laryngospasm, not something that would hit 35+ people at once. Usually it doesn't paralyze or cause unconsciousness (reports out of Syria disagree on this, and they lose the disagreement. They can't re-write science that easily - see here). It causes people to want to leave, and usually they will, and nearly all would survive the limited exposure.

So what they have here is an unsolved mystery, suggesting that perhaps these people died somewhere else with different chemicals present. The bodies have never been tested. If the place they died hasn't either, we know next to nothing.

A best guess (not the FFM's) would be some dead bodies of gassed people were moved to a place where chlorine was released. They would likely be transported there via the underground tunnels that open about one block from this building. This would be guarded, everyone told to stay inside due to the gas, and anyone who came too close might be shot. As the FFM heard it explained, "Other casualties who ... tried to go towards the entrance of the tunnel leading to Point One, died." But that's because of the chlorine gas in the open there was so especially deadly?

Fake Foam?
"8.90 ... white, foam-like oral and nasal secretions, similar in appearance to fulminate pulmonary oedema but in multiple cases much more profound and seemingly persistent."

"8.98 The airway secretions seen in many cases are similar to those seen with exposure to some chemical weapons, toxic industrial chemicals and toxic doses of pharmaceutical agents but are more profound and seem to have a consistency more like viscous foam than secretions typically originating from the upper or lower airways. Notably, there are casualties both with and without secretions that are in very close proximity to one another."

All odd, but then they close: "In general, the presence and context of the airway secretions indicate exposure to a chemical substance." But aside from generalities, they note it looks different than usual, with bubbles that often don't pop, leaving little dried foam sculptures on some faces. Many (not the FFM) say it looks fake. I would say that, but I'm not sure it really is fake. There are many unknowns about just what they inhaled under what conditions (suffering dehydration? Some kind of thickening dust breathed in as well? Etc.? All unknown). And the foam that's discolored orange or pink seems to be genuinely coming from inside airways clogged with blood and/or mucous and/or unknown substances. So I'm urging caution here in calling clear fake. It's an oddity at least that raises questions that seem hard to answer.

Eye Issues
"8.90 ... One female victim displays corneal opacity. Due to the quality of the videos and the angles of recording, no further ocular signs are noted."
One lacking sign of chlorine exposure is red eyes. It should be in about 100% of cases, but it's seen in about 0%. And this isn't because of bad video or angles - the whites are seen, and they have no pink shift. Another feature that's seen in one boy anyway is tache noir, black spots on the white of the eye, an infrequent sign of death, like the clouding (corneal opacity) observed in several cases, not just one woman.

"8.97 The corneal opacity seen in many of the victims is similar to ocular injuries seen with acid or alkali burns but also resembles post-mortem changes. The interval between death and the time the video/photos were taken is quite broad. "

AFAIK, it's consistent with injuries in the past that have healed into opaque scar tissue. It's NOT consistent with people who just now died from chemicals that burn the eyes. In that case, they would be freshly red, which they aren't. My research suggests corneal irritation, whether from excessively acidic or alkaline substances, always appears as redness of the kind we all know. There's no white irritation I could find.

The time of death might be broad (not sure what that means of if I agree), but not broad enough to allow for the formation of scar tissue, which would probably take days. So the clouding is only consistent with their dying, and with no caustic agents touching their eyes prior to that. But … they do seem to have breathed some corrosive irritant …

Strange Facial Stains
"8.90 ... Several victims display degrees of periorbital discoloration and early signs of livor mortis."

Periorbital... this usually refers to the area inside the eye socket, the soft tissue right around the eyes. This is where periorbital ecchymosis (raccoon eyes) appears in people with intra-cranial bleeding. But in these people, the periorbital area is unusually clear, compared to the area around that...

A thin rim above the upper eyelid, patches on the forehead, across the temples and cheeks, around mouths and noses, and especially in bands across the upper cheeks just beneath the eyes tend to be stained yellow to brown, or sometimes as if by blood, all seeming coughed up by people who were - horrifically - suspended upside-down as someone gassed them with something corrosive. And for unclear reasons, the killers had slapped swimming goggles on them, often secured unusually with straps, etc. so eyes and areas covered with straps came out protected - as noted, no redness, and no staining inside that goggle-shaped area.

This is scary, huge, little-noted so far. It sounds crazy, but I see no other good explanation. See Douma's Mask of Death for the fuller details. I've never seen this in relation to a chemical attack before, and here it's on at least half, and perhaps all the victims. (I do think I've seen it before in another context, on people I suspect were held prisoner by Damascus-area Islamist forces, probably Jaish Al-Islam, back in 2013 - see mask of death part 2 when I finish it, perhaps soon...)

Livor mortis (reddening of the lower parts of the body, as positioned in the hours following death death) does appear in some cases as a varying clue. The boy above has more purple (the low-oxygen, cyanotic version of livor mortis) in the forehead and ears than anywhere else, again consistent with being upside down at the time of death and a while after. That's the same time those nasty burn-stains on his cheeks would have set in. (there's some light issue here, but the purple is clear enough in his lips as well to call cyanosis in his case). The woman with cheeks turned brown except under the straps … under the icky goo, her forehead seems to have a purple tinge as well.

But in connection to eyes (as it's mentioned), some different redness appears, more like a rash, in a sort of mask shape just like the one described above. In this baby girl, that's especially clear, with patches of apparent irritation on the chin, etc. It seems to have developed slowly, much clearer in later photos (different lighting also plays in). In most cases, like the boy above, this kind if burning seems to play in, but is mixed with/concealed by the yellow staining. It usually effects the forehead more, and the chin less if at all. This baby seems differently and less stained, perhaps laid on her back instead of upside-down as usual, and with the yellow sputum was washed off earlier (to prime her for the coming photos that always favor the youngest dead?). Looks like they missed one less-important, yellow-stained earlobe. I suspect she was mostly left face-up so her backside will be livid and front side pale, and this redness is a caustic-induced exception to the general pallor.


"8.101 The periorbital discoloration is not associated with any specific known toxic exposure. To determine whether it is due to a physiologic response to exposure to a toxic substance or simply post-mortem changes would require additional steps."

Note how this important clue remains a total mystery to the FFM, one they didn't even venture a guess for. But it's a mystery we know more about than they would like. It's not a simple post-mortem change either. It's physiological. Once coughed out, gravity pulled the caustic, staining substance up their faces, until the goggles stopped the spread into the immediate periorbital area, but some rolled around the rims, and often rolled up the forehead before dripping off.

One step they could take to investigate this unusual possibility; have a test subject hang upside down in swimming goggles and spit a viscous dyed substance up their face, check the resultant color pattern and note the match. This explains it. Nothing else I can think of does.

I think it also explains another mystery the FFM didn't even take note of: the non-irritated eyes discussed above. How would so many breathe in fatal amounts of a substance that burns the lungs, that would surely burn the eyes as well, and yet all these people died with totally white eyes? Well they could all have been fitted with goggles, but is there any supporting evidence for something that weird? Oh, there is? …

And it might indirectly explain the following mystery as well.

Wet Hair (and faces)
"8.102 The presentation of wet hair in an otherwise dry environment is difficult to assess and is possibly due to profound diaphoresis shortly before death."

We could say this in similar to cold sweats (diaphoresis), but "much more profound and seemingly persistent," as they said for the foam. It doesn't seem quite right. It would be some odd, very slow-drying sweat... visible in the face and hair, but not in the armpits, etc. They ignore the provided explanation that the victims had washed themselves just before death, hoping it would counter the poison that made them basically drop dead (leaving their faces clean, but their hands still filthy, as if they all used someone else's hands, and not any of those on these dead people). Why would the FFM ignore that explanation? Because it doesn't add up to basic logic, or to wet hair 2-3 hours after their sudden deaths? But sweat just on the head does?

It's fairly clear what happened here; someone else has washed their faces up, well after death, shortly before the first images were allowed. That's probably why there are sooty rags by sooty water and a discarded breathing mask all laying nearby. Why the faces, and cheeks and foreheads and hair, but not their hands and feet or clothes? Is this special and unusual washdown related to those bad-looking peri-periorbital stains, or some coughed-up yellow goo still in their hair, for example?
http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2018/05/douma-chemical-massacre-april-7-2018.html


Death Toll
8.57 The three bodies that reached Point One on the night of 7 April had profuse foaming from the mouth, pale colour of the skin and a strong odour emanating from their clothes. The 40 bodies taken to Point One on the morning of 8 April arrived in groups, transported by the SCD. They were described as having a blue colour of the skin and foaming from the mouth; some had dust on their clothes. The bodies with a similar odour to those mentioned above were buried later the same day.

8.62 ...Witness accounts place the deceased lying on the stairs, inside apartments on multiple levels of Location 2, inside basements of neighbouring buildings across the area, on rooftops and on the streets. Additionally, a witness stated that six casualties died at Point One.

43 is the tally as given around, and here it's 3 bodies brought in + 40 bodies brought in, with no room for 6 more who came in alive but died. If these are included, presumably it's part of the 43 total. As for the 40 - it's said there were 35 bodies at location 2, (34 verifiable), so that would leave just five to be found in surrounding areas (at least 2-3 additional bodies not seen at location 2 are seen in later arrays).

I still wonder why several sources reported or estimated that over 100, 150, 180, even 200 people had died from the chemical attack that night (see here). Nothing in the OPCW report seems to shed light on that mystery.

Location 2 Chlorine Cylinder
Impact Plausibility

"8.31 The analyses indicated that the structural damage to the rebar-reinforced concrete terrace at Location 2 was caused by an impacting object with a geometrically symmetric shape and sufficient kinetic energy to cause the observed damage. The analyses indicate that the damage observed on the cylinder found on the roof terrace, the aperture, the balcony, the surrounding rooms, and the rooms underneath and the structure above, is consistent with the creation of the aperture observed in the terrace by the cylinder found in that location. "

It's not as clear if the experts and models show the cylinder stopping just outside the hole it punched to tip over on the roof. One can ask an expert in impact physics and/or what's best to say, and get him to say this makes sense. But in my humble opinion, they'd be evidently wrong and bonkers to say this scene lines up. It implies a totally implausible 100% transfer of kinetic energy from the cylinder to the ceiling, conducted against the laws of physics, entirely at the moment of impact.

If the ceiling gave, it gave, and the cylinder would enter the room, at least enough to avoid tipping over above its rim. Whatever knocked this hole and flung that reinforcing bar so far inward must have entered the room.


Whatever it was had a similar diameter (likely a bit smaller), had some weight/force behind it and - like this gas cylinder - it didn't explode after entering the room. It didn't start the fire that was lit on top of the rubble it created.

Presumably, it wasn't this cylinder itself, or else why drag it back out the hole just to look wrong? But I could see this; some kind of giant cannon or catapult to launch it high up, it'd come down close to vertical. punch through, scrape off its harness … then get dragged back up there why? And I don't think the cylinder is damaged enough for this anyway. I suspect the cylinder was straight-up planted next to this pre-existing hole. The dents we see are likely from it being launched or dropped on rocks somewhere in hopes that would look plausible to the kind of experts the OPCW would go ask.

Valve and Fire Questions
The valve area is finally seen, it looks snapped off, not unscrewed as I had guessed. My point remains the same, but narrowed; this either happened on impact, or later, serving as the other of 2 methods to hide the melted out fusible plug I've suspected happened due to the fire someone set underneath the cylinder, the signs of which many have tried to ignore or explain away.

Annex 6, point 9. "The FFM team noted the blackening of the ceiling and the rim of the aperture from the room immediately below the point of impact (see photo above). It also noted the blackened sooty walls in the corner of the room, as well as what appeared to be the ashen remnants of a small fire. One interviewed witness stated that a fire had been lit in the room after the alleged incident, reportedly to detoxify it of the alleged chemical."

A lot of people were slow to notice the fire intentionally set an top of the rubble in the corner beneath the gas cylinder (see the Reuters photo above). I've proposed it was set to release the chlorine, by melting out the soft metal fusible plug in the valve assembly. That's what they might hide by snapping it off later. Bellingcat ally and chemistry expert DDTea, for one, had decided this fire was caused by chlorine's known reactivity, reacting to something, and igniting some material that happened to have gotten on top of the rubble. But the OPCW's FFM heard that it was set intentionally, to detoxify this room, for some reason. Not safe; it's reactive with fire …

Also the fire was set and done burning before the first video timed at 10:06 pm (its soot line is already visible across the window wall, and the ceiling is visibly soot-gray as well). This is app. 2-3 hours after the alleged impact, but the cylinder is still frosted on a small part of its underside. All evidence I've seen suggests the cylinder like this would empty within about 10 minutes or less. Why would the cylinder only release its gas 2 hours or more after it landed? Why would someone brave the gas within the first moment after that to light this fire, before even these guys barely look and run away in fear?


Supposed Grid Pattern
The FFM seems to favor the NYT/Bellingcat grilled sausage explanation for the supposed grid pattern "seared" into the cylinder from its initial impact with some wire mesh awning presumed to have covered the balcony. They're not sure if it was up at the time or already laying on the balcony, but somehow "the lateral aspect of the cylinder did not slide on the mesh but it hit perpendicularly." Maybe just after it totally stopped just outside the hole it punched, then tipped over so hard on the mesh laying there it rug-burned its pattern into the paint?


Those who can think in 3-D should get the problem with this right off. If the marks are from the mesh grid, this does NOT show it crashing through from an airdrop. Rough 2-D image and cobbled pointers:
Also, the "impact" has to have the canister stationary on the grid, long enough for that "searing" (by heat? or is it rusted on?) to set in. Not a very kinetic kind of impact.

What if it came down sideways? It would mean the aerial harness failed in its purpose, leaving the canister not positioned nosed-down, less likely to punch through or break the valve and initiate gas release... the initial contact would be lattice-grid shaped for a microsecond, until the snap, and then scrape marks as covered above right, but shorter ones up the sides instead of down the length, or perhaps nothing visible …

"Hey, I found the bullet that killed president Kennedy. You can tell because a picture of his face is "seared" into its side, showing that it must have impacted his head." This is clearly an exaggeration, but it's one of the same kind of absurdity at work here.

Bellingcat is excited the OPCW, besides the New York Times and Forensic Architecture already, "add weight" to this reality-impaired thinking. No one notices it's just one spot that looks like that grid, except for one wire that bends - other areas have similar lines one way, missing lines the other way, and the wrong spacing, and shifting pattern, and other scratches that don't fit. 
https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2019/03/01/the-opcw-ffms-report-on-the-april-7th-2018-douma-chemical-attack-versus-the-open-source-evidence/


I'm not certain what these lines mean, but here's my more logical guess, and it suggests two guys pulling and turning the thing in a few small movements, as they dragged it into place, right next to that torn-down wire mesh. In one spot, they may have pulled and turned it so as to leave opposite marks crossing some of the first set, looking like a square grid in that spot (the one spot everyone latches onto). As for the "seared" appearance of the lines, I'm note sure; is it a rust/soot smudged on the surface? paint scraped, later rusting of metal? other?).

There are some other stray lines that don't fit that pattern (just as there are even more that don't fit Bellingcat's partial-grid-and-similar-lines pattern). Maybe these are old scratches and it's all a coincidence. But the proportions re: that grid are uncanny. In the end I agree; most likely caused by the mesh - the ends of 3 or so bars of it. But it was, I think, a slower kind of contact, well after the mesh was torn down in the real impact that caused the hole. 

Location 4 Chlorine Cylinder
The FFM decided it did bounce into that bed after crashing into the room. It's probably on Assad. …

Note: their findings and thinking on this are strange and already widely-noted. As I never had a great feel for that scene, I put covering this as a lower priority. But I don't think it adds up either.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

A Change of Thinking on the Douma Chemical Massacre?

February 17, 2019
(rough, incomplete)
Completed enough March 3

The last week or so saw a rather interesting turn of events in the information war, and it's taken me this long even to make this space for the issue, comments from the brilliant Andrew and others, and maybe better thoughts from me.

Riam Dalati's Investigation Bombshell
As Charles Shoebridge tweeted
"Notable how journalists who for years were at the forefront of pushing #Syria rebel narratives and smearing those who had the courage to question them, are now belatedly coming clean eg re #Douma, fearing perhaps the truth will soon emerge and leave their reputations in tatters"

That refers to the BBC's Syria editor Riam Dalati, with new findings regarding the Douma incident from a (personal?) 6-month investigation, creating controversy. He sparked a bit last year, complaining how activists pose the Douma incident dead for emotional effect (tweet deleted under criticism). But this new turn was far more dramatic. Four 13 February tweets collected by Beyond Party Politics:
https://twitter.com/beyondpartypolt/status/1095683810627325952

Is this Dr. Hanan maybe related to the star witness with the stupid survival story, Naser Hanan? This all sounds intriguingly plausible, for a change, and merits more explanation - from Mr. Dalati, when and how that's possible. I sense he has a serious motivation to finish that work. The criticism this time left him going non-public with all his tweets, amid concerns he's wrecked or risks his career to try and raise these points. Some call for the BBC to "sever ties with this troll" (crypto-Islamist Idrees Ahmad. As for Ahmad's claim of a BBC distancing - they say it's his personal opinion, but defend it by pointing out he's not denying the attack (per a BBC spokesperson's comments to Sputnik News), and they may come around to embrace his limited revelations in the end. 

Harkin's Investigation 
It seems this 6-month investigation was concluded about the same time as another prominent article had raised new questions, in this area we were led to believe was pretty well understood. As Zero Hedge noted:
"The BBC’s Dalati made the statements in response to a lengthy investigative report by James Harkin writing for The Intercept. Harkin had examined the scenes and physical environs of the alleged Douma attack and interviewed eyewitnesses on site. His report paints a complex picture of propaganda and deeply compromised rebel sources such as Saudi-backed Jaish al Islam, which had control of Douma amidst a Syrian government onslaught to retake the town."
https://www.globalresearch.ca/bbc-producers-syria-bombshell-douma-gas-attack-footage-was-staged/5668724

James Harkin is a (director?) at the Centre For Investigative Journalism, who personally hosted the
Higgins-Postol debate last year, the winner of which I declared to be confusion. I don't blame Harkin for that - directly anyway. His sprawling article at The Intercept, published on 9 February, raises some interesting points I didn't even know, but also manages to achieve confusion, and little in the way of a clear overall narrative that makes sense. I will need to review it more closely sometime, but - for example - he decided the famous and disputed hospital scene was the result of natural confusion and panic. But it was a staged faux-crisis, as described by the boy Hassan Diab and several medics seen in the videos, as could be seen by intelligent observers, and as Dalati has now claimed proof for.

Again, I still haven't reviewed Harkin's piece in detail, but one thing that struck me in a quick read was the odd inversion where the good points come from an OPCW investigator (unnamed), and some of the worst from revisionist hero Ted Postol, whose reasoning I was already questioning (see debate review link above). He's sure the regime dropped that chlorine tank from on high, it made a hole because the roof was weak (and stayed outside the hole why?), it filled the room with 'fatal concentration' of chlorine in a couple of minutes (but was still frosted/releasing after 10pm), and people died because of the building layout and stuff (it made them drop dead from just chlorine? weird house...) - it was sort of a fluke, he thinks, probably not basis for airstrikes, but neither can the opposition be held to account for much in the line of fakery or murder. But this comes nowhere near explaining any of the evidence, as the OPCW investigator notes in a some spots.

GPPI's holistic logic and some gaps in it
On the other side, the Germany-based Global Public Policy Institute releases a report on "the logic of chemical weapons use in Syria."
https://www.gppi.net/2019/02/17/the-logic-of-chemical-weapons-use-in-syria

This compiles 300+ reported chemical attacks, including and ending with the most recent one;  07/04/2018 - Douma - Chlorine - Assad regime. It has a verification level of 3 - extra clear in its documentation and well-placed to draw logic lessons from. Stupid stuff. A quick review shows they have these 300+ CW attacks listed, 98% by "Assad regime," 2% by ISIS/Daesh, ZERO by anyone else. The Jaish Al-Islam attack on Sheik Maqsoud in April 2016 (sort-of admitted), is listed as Assad regime, who weren't in on the Islamist assault, using chlorine (wrong properties, wrong symptoms and death toll). Khan al-Assal in March, 2013, is noted as sarin, but said to be launched by the regime, killing their own soldiers and protected Shia civilians. This had Assad demanding an OPCW probe, finally getting inspectors there on 19 August - just in time to distract them with the 21 August sarin attack next door that killed a supposed 1,000+ civilians. A string of chemical attacks on Syrian soldiers in the same area and following days is poorly treated here: Bahariya on the 22nd was by the regime itself, they feel. No sarin was verified, so it's "unknown." Soldiers were attacked nearby on 24-8 from the approximate firing spot for the missiles of 21-8. OPCW later verified sarin. The GPPI list somehow missed this event, doesn't pin blame. Soldiers were hit again in Daraya on 25-8, again verified as sarin by OPCW, but the GPPI list somehow missed this event, doesn't pin blame. 

But 15/02/2015 in Darayya, the GPPI notes an attack, that was on SAA soldiers (none of whom died - see here). They admit it was sarin used, as the OPCW verified - and that's also part of the 98% by "Assad regime." It goes on like that. 

Countless details crucial to determining the case logic - that will build up the campaign logic - are glossed over. Consider Sept. 24, 2014 in Adra, East Ghouta - no explanation for the logic of Assad's chlorine poking holes in the left sides of the chests on at least 3-4 men described as "prisoners" (forced labor workers?), among a reported 7 men from different places who died there. We see one who's old, one who's ill, one with a hand and leg injuries, all left behind as the ruling Islamists here packed up their valuable and fled the area under government assault the following day. More valuable (workers?) probably were brought along, but not these ones.
https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2019/01/fall-2014-east-ghouta-cw-attacks.html

Because what does this say about the logic of Assad chemical attacks, particularly in the East Ghouta area run by the Saudi-backed Jaish Al-Islam? When their forces are about to flee an area, Assad conveniently gasses some prisoners that weren't worth taking? Because in 2018, the coming surrender was total. They couldn't take any prisoners. As every prisoner becomes expendable, to be killed or just released, some 35+ men, women, and children wind up dead under a staged chlorine attack scene, inexplicably dropped dead with bizarre symptoms someone tried to wash off...

None are claimed as prisoners this time, but this man has wrist marks suggesting he spent some time shackled. I think that was previous, since healed, and he then spent some time with no shackles, along with these others who don't have such marks that I noticed. (the arm posture here looks perhaps recently cuffed, frozen that way, but is likely just from post-mortem body position and/or movement).

SMART News photo, mid-day 8 April, located just recently by Qoppa999, showing victim #20 or M2 an numbered here, seen in situ with woman and baby - he's one of those with a clear 'mask of death' pattern. He's mask 4, like most with a washed-off face, but note in one view the underside of his nose still appears smoke-stained. Some but not all of the seen victims were kept somewhere with a lot of smoke and soot, I think. From his fingers, I'd say this man was there for some time, doing things in the ashes with no washing available. 

But that's all got nothing to do with the logic of Assad's chlorine killing him in his own home, right? 

Between these, ratings up for:
* BBC Syria editor Dalati + (a bit ambiguous)
* Harkin at CIJ + (2 bits ambiguous)
* unnamed OPCW investigator +  (unambiguous)

Ratings down or steady for:
* Ted Postol -  (unambiguous)
* GPPI and their "logic" study  (unambiguous)
* The usual diehard apologist for every Islamist crime or deception  (unambiguous)
* Bellingcat/Higgins were barely even cited... Eliot verified Harkin's video as the same place, and that's it, aside from their noted role in shaping the early understanding by which US missiles were fired.

My thoughts on what this means, if anything
Considering these 2 mainstream people in journalism but sort of above it (producer, center director), turn to fresh skepticism with an oddly sudden onset in a few days, it's reasonable to wonder if they're assisting in some planned change of thinking. Considering the many problems with this case, it's possible some parts of that proved unsustainable under scrutiny. The way the OPCW's final report still refused to appear, going on a year after the event. already suggested a problem like this. Damage control would be called for to keep the full truth from emerging.

Consciously or not, exercises like those of Harkin and Dalati may serve a purpose in the larger script. For example, they could conceal a managed massacres of hostages, which holes in the evidence point towards, by connecting some of those holes to other, more innocent explanations. Both still suggest the government did launch chemicals and that is what killed the people, and that seems to be the central flaw in even these "off-script" analyses.

Now that the OPCW final report comes out March 1 (my in-progress review), less than 3 weeks since Harkin started the counter-noise 10 months after the incident, suspicions of coordination will be sharpened. But that could just be a leading illusion. There some natural reasons for this turn:

- For once, government control over Douma makes reporting from there relatively safe and feasible. People can go, ask around, gather information they could have learned with other attacks, except it was never safe to do so. Same applies to media and OPCW, who were able to do their own site inspection for once, and find none of the necessary sarin, etc.. It could be deduced from this limited example that access reveals opposition lies, or at least the seams of them.

- The open questions largely forced by Russian-backed infowar counter-measures that continue to resonate with the global public, the exceptionally large stakes of the incident, and no high-profile CW incidents since then to distract us, allows for more clarity than usual. Perhaps that chance was simply taken?


Anyway, guesses aside, it means what it does, and no one can be sure what that is, as events move on and I have finally finished this post. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Marie Colvin's Killing and the Assad Files

Assad Files 2018 part 4
February 10, 2019

I've been following the "Assad Files" and the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) imperfectly - I've put it wrongly as "Committee for …" in general, for one thing. Oops. I was so focused on how little evidence it seems they actually found, and how much spin they have to engage in to make it seem like they found a lot.

Brushing up now, I see I had also missed the CIJA's role last year in the court case over the death of Marie Colvin, the tough, eye-patched American war correspondent with the New York Times. She was famously killed by shelling after sneaking into terrorist-occupied Baba Amr, Homs, in February, 2012, as the government was trying to reclaim it. What could have been an accident - or even a terrorist false-flag operation - was widely suspected of being a deliberate assassination by the government. Colvin's family has been making that case in court, seeking accountability from top government officials they feel must have ordered the hit.

That's a very basic intro, and I still haven't analyzed this case in much detail. But it came up in my digging that the CIJA's trove of top-secret files was used as evidence in her case - nearly 200 files' worth of them.

Anne Barnard, NYT, 9 April, 2018 (Syrian Forces Aimed to Kill Journalists, U.S. Court Is Told) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/world/middleeast/syria-marie-colvin-death.html

The filings, nearly 200 in total, are part of a far larger cache of some 700,000 records that have been smuggled out of Syria by defectors, activists and others and meticulously collected by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, which wants to build war-crimes cases against the Syrian government.

The Smoking Gun Evidence: From "Ulysses" - Not From the "Assad Files"
A Colvin family lawyer explained the documents “lay out the command and control structure and reveal things that even Syria experts don’t know,” about who was or would have been in charge of any criminal actions. And they "allow us to reconstruct the broader policy planning that identified media workers as targets from very early on in the conflict.”

That supposed policy might reflect on her case, but there's no mention of anything in those nearly 200 pages actually showing the suspected order to target Colvin herself. That's not to say there wasn't one, since the CIJA didn't necessarily get every order generated. But they find some targeting orders (see below), maybe others, maybe most or even all of them ... but not this one.

"Lawyers are also citing several sworn witness accounts," Barnard notes. In fact the key evidence, as before the paper chase, comes from the ramblings of a few Islamist chatterboxes full of stories of regime evil. This doesn't seem to be unusual; every criminal act blamed on the regime lacks documented order that can be found. Luckily, the CIJA also has several defectors on file (perhaps the same ones presented in court?) to help fill in the very large blank spots left by the touted paperwork.

In this case, the main details come from one man with a code-name. "Ulysses" - another defector with a classical Western nickname like "Caesar" - who claims he witnessed and learned about the plot, and in great detail at that. As Barnard put it:

"Ulysses, who remains in exile, told the lawyers that the military had ordered an attack on Ms. Colvin and her colleagues as part of a broader effort — directed from the top and laid out in the documents — to track, arrest and target demonstrators, coordinators and “those who tarnish the image of Syria” by talking to journalists and other foreigners."

We'll come back to this supposed policy and what we've learned of it previously. Ulysses - not the top secret files - had several points of evidence he allegedly learned to prove they killed Colvin:

* "Syria’s powerful intelligence chief, Ali Mamlouk, received information from “friendly Lebanese officials” that foreign journalists were crossing the Syrian border to reach Homs and instructed the commander of the military-security committee in the central Syrian city to “capture the journalists” and “take all necessary measures.” Ulysses said that phrase customarily “authorized killing if needed.”"
* "Syrian activists brought in Ms. Colvin and a British journalist, Paul Conroy, through a mile-long, four-foot-wide water pipe. Soon after, Ulysses said, an informant told intelligence officials that the journalists were at the activists’ media center and described its rough location."
* "Ms. Colvin issued a live report from the media center ... That, Ulysses said, allowed the government to use surveillance equipment to pinpoint the location, matching the informant’s report. He recalled the deputy head of the Computer and Signals Section of Branch 261 of the military intelligence department in Homs saying, “There was a broadcast tonight from the same location.” Then the official added: “The boss is very happy.”"

Then the following day, we're to gather, the regime figured they'd still be there and attacked. As survivor Paul Conroy described, there was shelling at a distance on one side of the media center and then the other, then again but closer and closer until they hit the center - as if to clarify it was no accident. I tend to believe that, and I don't suspect it was an accident. But it's irresponsible to ignore that the terrorists hosting them might have done it. Why not? Because they hadn't pinpointed their location in so many ways?

Now if the CIJA had their 750,000 or so pages of top-secret files, workers and software to comb through it, for several years now ... and they found some 200 pages with relevant information, mostly I guess to show who was the boss of what, but nothing directly related to the Colvin killing … it seems like no documents reflect the plot. One entirely plausible explanation is that, despite what this "Ulysses" says, there was no such order. Someone else targeted and killed Marie Colvin.

A Cited Targeting Order
At least and perhaps just one document, of the nearly 200 from the CIJA that was submitted, suggests deadly targeting of journalists.

Barnard describes the relentless shelling of "Baba Amr, a neighborhood in Homs where opposition activists had set up a media center to communicate with journalists." It's also where terrorists were abducting people, faking shelling videos, doing much unknown … but it's a place with a media center, and later Marie Colvin at that center, and it was shelled, so … this supports targeting of media.

But it gets more specific:

"One document shows how military and security forces intercepted communications between journalists and the activists" in Baba Amr, "in early 2012" (same place and close in time to the Colvin case, for what it's worth). "Intelligence officers passed on information about a journalist for Al Jazeera to a military special forces unit with the instruction, “Take the necessary measures."

As noted above, "Ulysses" says this basic phrase “authorized killing if needed.” But from the paperwork itself, without that bit of 'codebreaking' - it's not clear what those measures were - arrest, murder, arrest and torture to death, rescue from terrorist kidnappers, or other. The text likely did clarify but it didn't include kill, so the CIJA redacted the explanation, left the ambiguous quote, and presented that. If mood music could be attached, they would probably choose a few ominous notes by a string section here.

Also it must be noted some Al-Jazeera "journalists" are clearly in the same team and on message with allies holding guns, and sometimes hostages. Some of these terrorists get a camera, maybe "media training," and then get hired to provide propaganda videos Al-Jazeera and others run as news. He may have been targeted (for arrest, probably) not over his reporting, of facts or lies, but over his violent or criminal activities, or just for questioning, to find out where the bases and hostages are, perhaps.

Still, it seems no such orders relating to Ms. Colvin and her associates was located. They're limited to showing how there's at least one possible precedent - depending on those unclear details.

The CCMC Targeting Backdrop
But they had more color to share. "Ulysses" cites a clear pattern, which he includes Colvin in, by which the regime would, as Barnard put it, "track, arrest and target demonstrators, coordinators and “those who tarnish the image of Syria” by talking to journalists and other foreigners."

That 'tarnish" quote suggests he's referring to the CIJA's files on the August, 2011 creation of a Central Crisis Management Cell in Damascus. I've covered this previously in what could be called my linchpin article so far, run proudly at 21st Century Wire. The files describing this body became the "linchpin" of the CIJA case against Syrian officials, explaining who was in charge of what, allowing for a list of names. It was said the plan was to round up protesters for nothing more, and to do so in an organized way. The "crisis" was just one of free speech, and all the soldiers and policemen getting killed by foreign-backed militants (including in Hama just a few days before the CCMC's first meeting) was not even an issue.

But the only view we get of the actual document - thanks to a slip by the editors at El-Pais English - shows their names are all over a plan to stop "armed gangs" from some of these crimes, which they are known to have been engaged in at the time:

* "vandalism”
* “looting”
* “pillaging”
* “attacking state institutions”
* “killing and terrorizing citizens.”

These are the wanted people, in the CCMC's outlined plans. The orders are to "arrest them." Then, the document continues, some among those militants also "tarnish/harm the image of Syria" by speaking to the foreign media. The orders are to arrest them, especially. It's not mentioned here, but the government position (supported by much evidence) is these people speak to the media falsely, denying any militancy on their own side to help blame their own crimes on the government. That's not free speech, but part of a criminal operation. That's the government view; militants who also spread lies in the media were wanted as the especially dangerous class they are.

Folks who organize protests were also mentioned as targets. Indeed, "demonstrations/events" and related words appear in the apparently real orders we can finally see, but their meaning here seems a bit different than usual. These "demonstrations" are organized by militants, and involved funding and "armaments," the sources of which Damascus wanted to know. Further, any militants involved in these activities via the Local Coordinating Committees was especially wanted for arrest and questioning.

It seems "Ulysses" still finds the fake version of this policy and that 'tarnish' quote central to showing how the regime went around killing journalists. But in reality, that's attached to the anti-militant policy described above. How does a well-informed insider miss such details? I propose he does it on purpose, to further the information Jihad.

As Barnard explains, the CIJA documents filed for the Colvin case "appear to reveal the workings of the Central Crisis Management Cell, a committee reporting to Mr. Assad that was created to counter the uprisings that broke out across Syria in 2011." This, minus its crucial militant context, is central to the false picture painted in court, as it has been in the court of public opinion previously.

The skewed view of "Ulysses" was borne out here, not by other documents, but by two more defectors Barnard spoke with, and who were called on in the Colvin case.

The original smuggler of the CCMC documents, Abdelmajid Barakat "said he heard discussions of plans to fabricate evidence of rebels attacking civilians." There's been no mention of any documents relating to such plans. Could this be idle talk, or invented talk? Yes, the latter in particular. But it was taken as real talk, and a real plan that was acted on.

The same guy says he "saw documents that identified Syrians providing information to journalists as a top national security threat demanding a lethal response." But he only provided documents like the ones discussed above, with no mention of that on paper yet. The ones we can see only say "arrest them." If they were to shoot back during the attempt, they may get a lethal response, but that's a bit past speaking to journalists, right? Others have found these orders central, apparently failing to find anything juicier ... like the files Barakat could only recall seeing. False recall perhaps?

Anwar Malek, an Algerian who had been part of an Arab League monitoring mission, says Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, President Assad’s brother-in-law, and a member of the CCMC, told him openly that, as Barnard put it:
"...it was necessary to kill civilians to defeat “the terrorists,” that “he would have been able to destroy Baba Amr in 10 minutes if there were not any video cameras” and that foreign journalists reporting from Baba Amr were “agents” of Israel and other countries... "‘For us, these are terrorists,’” Mr. Malek quoted him as saying. “They are targets for our military services and our security forces.”

I highly doubt this is how the conversation truly went. According to Barnard's article, Malek is sure a 5-year-old boy was really killed by a regime sniper, and felt the Arab League mission was compromised for rejecting that claim, so he quit. He says he got death threat phone calls, "and his convoy to Damascus was shot at. The government blamed rebels, but Mr. Malek believed the attack was staged by the government." Sure he believes that. I mean, it only makes sense … to certain people. He's quick to believe every Islamist claim. He's characteristic of every selected source run by the corporate-controlled media-government system to explain the "truth" about Syria. It's supposed to be a big deal that he agrees with the others in his general tone.

And still, he didn't apparently have any specific information on the Marie Colvin case. Nor did Mr. Barakat, nor the "Assad Files." Just "Ulysses" did.

Conclusion
So there's the evidence against the regime in the Colvin case, from this best effort to make it seem convincing. It's not very convincing. Mr. Malek especially was there to provide the color, or mood music, to help conjure belief in a crime for which there seems to be no reliable evidence.

The "Assad Files" were there to make it seem like top-secret papers agree with these handy omniscient defectors, all reflecting a real government policy. But the documents, which seem to reflect reality, call these liars out. They don't work well on the same team.

Which part should be demoted? If "justice" over all these alleged crimes is your interest, clearly it's the reality-reflecting "Assad Files" you'll want to lose. And they already do, for the most part. They skip over hundreds of thousands of pages entirely, to focus on a select few, used simply as pools from which to extract spooky-sounding quotes, and the names of people they want to see in jail, ignoring or deleting all the context they need to achieve that.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Abdulmuemen Alhaj Hamdo

Abdulmuemen Alhaj Hamdo
Caesar Photos Victim Profile
February 5/6, 2019
(perhaps complete, but rough formatting for now)

Background: The Cause Behind a False "Dawn of Justice"
One that made the news briefly … a truck or van driver Abdulmuemen Alhaj Hamdo, from Idlib or perhaps Latakia, was said to be abducted, went missing, was detained from a government checkpoint, something... in February, 2013. The part that seems clear is he wound up dead, seen in one of the "Caesar photos" a year or two later. 

Because Mr. Hamdo's sister was a Spanish citizen, she was taken as a victim of brother-killing by the Assad regime by a legal activist group called Guernica 37. A Spanish National Court judge's ruling on March 27, 2017 marked "the first criminal case accepted by a foreign court against President Bashar al-Assad's regime," as this detailed AP report says, further explaining: "The case is built around the arbitrary detention of [Mr. Hamdo] who was detained arbitrarily, "then disappeared, was allegedly tortured and executed in Damascus." His plaintiff sister is given as "Amal Hag Hamdo Anfalis, a Spanish national," who "learned of her brother's death by looking at the macabre trove of photographs." The ruling judge "has called on the sister and the forensic photographer to testify April 10," and also "called on the European Union's agency for judicial cooperation to provide information that could lead to setting up an international commission to investigate similar cases." (I'm not sure if either happened)

The decision was criticized.
https://alethonews.com/2017/04/03/selective-justice-spanish-court-seeks-to-try-syrian-officials-for-terrorism/

But it was also hailed. Some creeps I study are cited in the AP report:
"Stephen Rapp, former U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues... "It is the dawn of justice for Syria, it will only get stronger after this point," he said."

"The Commission for International Justice and Accountability" behind the "Assad Files" hoax "...said Monday the decision had "significant symbolic importance" for victims in Syria but recognized that the chances of the nine being brought to trial were slim. Spain has previously taken up universal justice cases against foreign nationals although almost none has concluded in trial." https://newsok.com/article/feed/1192571/spain-court-opens-1st-criminal-case-against-syrian-officials

But alas, four months later ...
https://apnews.com/2b30add47cdd45aea55f3e867b78e2a4
Spain’s National Court drops probe into Syrian crimes
July 21, 2017
"A panel of top judges in Spain says the country’s courts have no jurisdiction to investigate the first foreign criminal case for torture and terrorism against the Syrian government.
The U-turn by Spain’s National Court is a setback for activists and human rights campaigners who had hailed the case as a stepping stone for accountability in Syria."

So it didn't really go anywhere. They can keep moaning about denied justice. A few further articles about the case give more details about the victim in question.

Further Clues in News Articles

https://www.opencanada.org/features/spain-will-pioneering-case-bring-justice-syrian-victims/
Abdulmuemen Alhaj Hamdo, a Syrian truck driver, was allegedly forcedly disappeared, tortured and killed in an illegal government prison in Damascus in 2013. Pictures of his dead body emerged as part of the Caesar files...
The Guernica 37 lawyers argue that Hamdo’s sister should be considered an indirect victim — which satisfies Spanish law’s requirement that a victim in a criminal case should have Spanish nationality at the moment when the alleged crime was committed.

https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/ali-mamlouk-marie-colvin-case/
on 17 February 2013, Abdulmuemen Alhaj Hamdo, a Syrian national born in Idleb, disappeared while delivering goods between the municipality Mashta el Helou and the city of Homs, in the west of Syria. In 2015, the oldest son of Abdulmuemen Alhaj Hando recognised his father’s corpse on multiple photographs taken by a forensic photographer going by the name of Caesar...

https://www.newsdeeply.com/syria/articles/2017/03/31/spanish-prosecutor-appeals-decision-to-allow-trial-of-syrian-officials by Cristina Roca
Hamdo was detained somewhere between his hometown of Mashta al-Helou in Latakia and Homs city, a route he regularly took from his job as a delivery van driver.
"From Caesar’s photo, the family was able to deduce that Hamdo was tortured and executed in Branch 248."

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/15/world/middleeast/syria-bashar-al-assad-evidence.html
As Atrocities Mount in Syria, Justice Seems Out of Reach
By Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Ian Fisher
April 15, 2017
In 2014, Amal Hag Hamdo Anfalis, a Spanish-Syrian hairdresser, received a text message from her niece containing a photo of a body she had seen on Facebook. She immediately recognized her brother, a truck driver who had disappeared at a Syrian government checkpoint a year earlier.
 “As soon as I saw it, I completely collapsed and my children were wondering why I was crying,” she said by phone from Madrid. “My children recognized him right away. They looked at the photo and said, ‘That’s our uncle.’”

In Review:
Most sources cite a 2015 ID by the man's eldest son, but his sister says her niece (his daughter?) already made the match from an online photo in 2014. (That also involved "government checkpoint," where others say it more like "missing") Neither the 2014 nor 2015 identification claim seems to give a month (one report said "mid-2015"). "The sister learned of her brother's death by looking at the macabre trove of photographs" herself, AP reported. But that could be a fuzzed report of either of these other stories, besides, perhaps, a third story.

It doesn't seem likely both storiesare true. Wouldn't everyone hear about whichever match came first, so the second one would never happen? The 2014 match is unlikely, and I can see why they might change that story, or call it an erred memory. Barely any of the photos were published in 2014. I'm Not sure about Arabic sources, esp. Zaman Al-Wasl, etc. at the moment, but Western-published images had faces blurred out almost 100% of the time It's possible these few contained one of the 54 victims included for the small Branch 248 folder, and showed a face to match, but that might be provably impossibly (with more work than I'm willing to do). The other story is much better; it was only in March, 2015, that the full set of face-shots people have mainly used for IDs were made available on the SAFMCD website (and briefly by a Facebook site as well). The facial details there are all but required for a good visual match.

Mr. Hamdo has no published images (I know of) to compare with the "Caesar photos" I have on file. That would yield a photo folder date (indirect clue to death date), and some visual clues on how he died (usually just those from the neck up). But if I had one, and he was in 248 … that's likely to be a quick match, except for how people change under starvation, neglect, sometimes torture, and usually it seems poisonous gas extermination at the end. 

VDC Records
The basics, in review, will help find more details on this alleged victim of Assad regime brutality. 
- Abdulmuemen Alhaj Hamdo - Name always given just like that. Age never given, even approximately. 
- said from Idlib, or Latakia, a truck or van driver, presumably civilian
- disappearance perhaps on Feb. 17 2013, driving between Homs and "Mashta el Helou
- No mention of any further news from him, trials, sightings, anything.

As usual, I checked the useful databases of the opposition VDC. His name does not appear exactly. An Arabic search for all detention-related deaths of people with Hamdo ( الحمدو ) in the name = 25:
http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/ar/martyrs/1/c29ydGJ5PWEua2lsbGVkX2RhdGV8c29ydGRpcj1ERVNDfGFwcHJvdmVkPXZpc2libGV8ZXh0cmFkaXNwbGF5PTB8Y29kTXVsdGk9OCw5LDEwfDE9JUQ4JUFEJUQ5JTg1JUQ4JUFGJUQ5JTg4fA==
The name Abdulmomen ( عبد المؤمن) does not appear.

The closest few, perhaps including him in a slightly different name, include:

* Abdulmou'men Hamdow from Karnaz, Hama. A non-civilian, he died 2013-02-03 "due to clashes with regime's army." Also noted: "defected colonel." so really, might be from either side (some allegedly tried to defect right at the end, but not quick enough...) noted nickname Abu Omar suggests he was on the Islamist side). Kernaz is not in Idlib, but it's right on the border, just west of Kafr Zita, Hama, southwest of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib. No mention of driving, and locale of clashes not clear, but this is just about the name given, and the date is only two weeks too early to match. But it says he was killed in shooting, not detained. Former military, defected to be a fighter, not the civilian presented.

http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/details/detainees/43743#.XFfBdPZFxjo
In the VDC's detainees database, one can find Major (SAA?) Abdulmoamen Muhammad Hamdou, from unknown (possibly Idlib), "in a list of military detainees in Seidnayah prison," no mention of his having defected, or of being a driver delivering goods... Detention Date (inaccurate) 2013-05-19. That's likely a reported-on date, so based on an alleged sighting, etc. from then  or earlier. Considering the above … two military guys with the same basic name, one said shot by the regime, one said arrested by the regime … is this two references to the same man? Killed, no taken alive but likely to die... same man later dead in the Caesar photos? 

http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/details/martyrs/93142#.XFfENPZFxjo
Abdul Mote Hamdo al-Qasem, from Halfaya, Hama, a civilian, killed (by?) 2013-08-26 (inaccurate) in Damascus, after being "detained on August 2011 with his brother Emad" - not quite the right name, locale, or story.

http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/details/martyrs/123919#.XFfAh_ZFxjo
martyr Mohammad Haj Hamdo, civilian, from Aleppo, 2014-05-24 "Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons in the State Security Branch Date of death unknown accurately, Corpse are in Aleppo university hospital" Should not be in the Caesar photos, by time or locale, incomplete name match, etc.

http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/details/martyrs/203103
Ahmad Abd al-Hameed al-Hamdo
civilian, from Kernaz
Date of death: 2018-12-11
Notes: "under torture in the regime`s prisons, Date of death unknown accurately. The Hamdo Family was informed about the death of their son by the Personal Status Department in Mharda"

I checked the regime forces/otherstatistics list (all names including Hamdo), didn't see any likely matches (one likely relative was killed fighting terrorists in 2012).

I don't always check their smaller "missing" database, but did and found another 'defected' military Hamdo near-match, and also … what the hell is going on here?

* Abd al-Fattah al-Haj Hamdo
http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/details/missing/2946#.XFl5ovZFxjo
from Aleppo province. 
Missing Place: Homs: Qaryatain
Disappearance date: 2013-03-15
Notes: Defected soldier 
Photo provided, in uniform. Unhappy non-selfie from prior to capture? Hostage photo made available to someone? Qaryatain is nowhere near where our subject was said to go missing - it's way south of Homs, in the desert halfway to Damascus. This is also about one month later than the reported arrest of a guy with such a similar name. But … that could still be two versions of one man's story, with one or probably both being mostly untrue, in a few clashing effort to conceal the true story. That seems to happen.

The VDC entry for Abdelfatah also points to a Facebook post, still available, with the same photo they use. Auto-translated, that said: "# Missing Abdul Fattah Haj Hamdo from # Aleppo broke away from the regime army and lost in the villages B ( بـ ) # Homs on 2013/3/15." The B is not a word, but a typo, perhaps "brive" was meant, meaning rural - the towns of rural Homs. Vague. We hear from the VDC is was around Qaryatain, not up around Al-Houla. An Ibrahim Moussa says in a comment this is his brother(?) 

I've made a point of looking for that distinctive chin or other similarities - maybe the same camo jacket? - in the "branch 248" folder. No clear matches popped out. Most chins are bearded, many faces starved down. 248-60 26-7-2013 seems like a possible match, but no good basis for anyone to be sure … http://safmcd.com/martyr/view.php?id=3485

Likely, this missing soldier is a different relative of the missing driver. And both went missing around Homs, about one month apart. This one, got in contact with opposition people enough they knew he had "broken away" - I mean, you don't just make that up. Maybe he was an active fighter who had defected month ago. But then must have been back out of touch, as they don't know where the hell he went. Just wandered off. Hm.


This is Abdulfatah, not Abdulmomen, but it seems he has the same father's name - Haj Hamdo - as the missing-detained guy in question. If these aren't the same guy reported differently, or two brothers … it would be quite a coincidence if two different sons of two different Hajj Hamdos would both go missing-detained in rural Homs within a span of about one month. It's not a very common name, either part and especially in that combination.

And Two More Haj Hamdos Just Vanished Then?
And oddly, two presumably civilian relatives from Aleppo (Sfeera) went missing the same day as the defected soldier. These also have Haj and Hamdo in their family names, but with two full middle names before (Al-Yousuf, Al-Omar). That means these are great-great nephews of the Haj Hamdo brothers, one at least a young soldier or ... I don't get this family (or two very similarly named families with bad luck synchronized?). (for all 3 entries, see VDC query, all missing named Hamdo - three of the first four shown below)


These two lack explanation, like how they went missing, but likely they were with Abdelfatah for some reason as he 'defected.' Coordinated abductions in different areas can also be coordinated. A dead Facebook link is provided. 

So … the driver with the sister in Spain was oddly not listed by the VDC, unless he was - also oddly - as an unmentioned militant, probably for the government side at one point if not always. But they have relatives listed - is it four total, for five including the one they missed? Or is one of these the same man that Spanish court was so interested in? And that other Hamdo soldier taken into regime prison apparently prior to May, 2013... is he part of this strange pattern?

Other Records
Looking past the VDC, I find the exact name appears on Twitter as two tweets, both referring to the defected colonel killed Feb. 3 2013, pointing to a deleted YouTube video (v=QbmHNjoO6Zk)

https://twitter.com/2011syriafree/status/298478248126451713
Targeting a group of gunmen in the village of Mughayira in Hama countryside, killing and wounding a number of them # known as "Abdul Momen Hamdo"
https://twitter.com/syriahama1/status/298095125677080577
Mentions he was from Kernaz.
Mughayira ( المغير ) is just north of Kernaz. I was wondering if it was near the Lebanon border west of Homs...
http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=35.407101&lon=36.486969&z=13&m=w&show=/10257691/Al-Mughayr&search=%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%BA%D9%8A%D8%B1

No other tweets I could locate seemed to mention anyone with a more similar name.
https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&q=Abdulmuemen%20Alhaj%20Hamdo&src=typd

So he never received much social media support, unless he's that militant, who would have two different stories now.

My guess is his case was never strong or clear, like the few cases meant to highlight (like known peaceful activists Rihab Allawi and Ayham Ghazoul, etc.). He was just one of the many murkier cases who happened to have foreign nationality - or rather his sister did, at the reported time of the arrest-disappearance, and had a case develop far enough to make the news. 

Location of Abduction

We hear Abdulmuemen was a truck driver , or van (perhaps minibus?) driver - Two sources cite Homs and "Mashta el Helou" as the places he was between when he went missing. One source said this was in Latakia (and was his hometown), while the other doesn't say. 

But a search on Wikimapia places this name only in Lebanon, just across the border from Syria, west of Al-Houla (so NW of Homs city). It's very near the Valley of Christians, and labeled as a "predominately Christian" town.… http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=34.874102&lon=36.259689&z=11&m=w&show=/37146522/Mashta-al-Helu-Subdistrict-(Nahiyah)&search=Mashta%20al-Helou
The town name appears in 2 other spots, neither in Latakia. Both are just inside Syria, on roads between Homs and this same Lebanese town. (auto-translated to "Elbow in the last of the road - a road up to Mushta sweet" and "Intersection of Musayaf junction with the next road from Mashta El Helou to Barshin")

So Abdulmuemen was doing cross-border deliveries of goods, or people, in a truck or van, between a Christian-majority area of Lebanon and perhaps some part of Homs city (where many Christians live, and often travel by bus, I hear). Someone took his truck and him, perhaps his cargo/passengers, anywhere between inside Lebanon, in the Houla area, in or right around Homs city, elsewhere. Maybe it was at a government checkpoint, or a rebel one, or at his destination, carrying whatever...

How The Driver Precedent Swings
It could be Mr. Hamdo was killed by terrorists who wanted his truck/van, or were already using it. Professional drivers of taxis, trucks, etc. and people abducted while driving are common in the Caesar photos. Several captured drivers wind up with brothers and cousins also tortured-detained to death ... perhaps after they showed up at the jail with some ransom money? How many relatives of this Abdelmuemen Hamdo were killed, detained, or went missing at the same basic time? The VDC lists at least 4, none of them clearly this guy (so maybe 5+ - another defected military Hamdo arrested prior to May, 2013...).

Regardless of those questions, the best evidence already suggests the famous "Caesar torture photos" show several thousand Syrian men and boys systematically exterminated by terrorists, likely with Jaish Al-Islam, who had the run of the countryside around Damascus.  Many of them look like soldiers and militiamen, and some at least are Shi'ite, Alawites, or Christians (just those that can be told by visible tattoos).  

https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2016/04/fail-caesar-part-6-f-arrested-on-road.html
http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2016/02/fail-caesar-part-6-evidence-victims.html

Someone abducted in Homs could wind up in an East Ghouta dungeon in a variety of ways; it seems likely Jaish Al-Islam bought up other peoples' surplus prisoners to use for things like the Ghouta sarin attack victims on 21 August, 2013, that was supposed to cross Obama's "red line," spark a decisive US-led pounding, and an Islamist ground push to take Damascus the JaI guys would lead. Also, they would be used, and I think thousands were, for these horrible photos"that - coincidentally? - were collected up until "Caesar" suddenly felt unsafe in Damascus and fled on 20 August, 2013 - just hours before that red line-crossing. Kind of makes you wonder...


Beyond the "Caesar photos," other abducted drivers, especially of large and expensive and useful vehicles, including firetrucks and armored fighting vehicles, often wind up dead, vehicles unknown, regime blamed as possible. One was a bus driver, killed along with a small family, found dumped just north of the Al-Houla area, just before the infamous massacre there on 25 May, 2012. It turns out that was conducted by a huge rebel force, including foreigners - just after a couple busses with Shi'ite pilgrims were hijacked near the Turkish border on 22 May. Did the jihadists involved cross the border and use those busses to travel south to Houla before they massacre over 100 people from loyalist Sunni and Shia convert families?

http://taldoutruth.blogspot.com/2014/07/may-22-bus-hijacking-houla-massacre-link.html


There have been many clear cases of buses, minibuses and vans carrying state workers or other travelers, hijacked by armed gangs who single out and executing non-Sunni passengers. This was especially common in the Homs area in 2012 and 2013. I haven't studied other areas as much. See several bus massacres listed here, even though that wasn't the main scope (so I've missed many).
http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Homs_Massacres

Side-note: His sister's name - Amal Hag (Haj) Hamdo Anfalis - is a bit odd. They both share the middle name Haj, presumably their father's first name. But the family part is half-different from his. Observant Muslim women usually keep only their father's name on marriage, shunning the adoption of her husband's name, so she would stay a Hamdo. Here, it sounds like she took both names, after marrying a man named Anfalis. 

Anfal is an Arabic word, but Anfalis sounded Greek, and Greek names are common among Syrian and Lebanese Christians. But a bit of searching suggests it is an Arabic name. (which are also used by Christians and others in that language area … it's just a neutral clue). Still, her adoption of it suggests at least the family is not part of a Sunni extremist network, who have a way sometimes of getting arrested by the authorities. And, perhaps, she has the extra name for some other reason. That's too big a paragraph for such a small clue, but oh well. It's at the end now. Unless this isn't the end.


Further Findings
They seem possible. Here's space.