Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

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:

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."

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."

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.

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.

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.

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 ...
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

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.

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."

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:
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.

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? 

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.

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.

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
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)

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"
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...

No other tweets I could locate seemed to mention anyone with a more similar name.

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).  


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?


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).

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.