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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Pre-Douma CW Incidents in E. Ghouta, 2018

March 27-29, 2019
rough, incomplete, and in progress

Let's take a belated and somewhat cursory look at the alleged chemical attacks in the Eastern Ghouta area in early 2018 up to April, all building up to the famous Douma chemical massacre of 7 April (my prior posts in this partially collected here). Along the way, I'm also going to have us look at what seems to at least a bit of chemical extermination of captives that was, as often as not, blamed on non-chemical attacks by Assad forces and. So we're looking, perhaps, at both reported and obscured chemical incidents.

To start, I'm citing a stupid, misleading but impressively huge (useful) list of 336 chemical attacks published recently by the Germany-based Global Public Policy Institute. https://www.gppi.net/2019/02/17/the-logic-of-chemical-weapons-use-in-syria
The listing is useful, not the analysis. (2% by ISIS, 98% by "Assad regime") ,lists 18 chemical attacks in "Reef Damascus" (here meaning Eastern Ghouta) alone in 2018, up to, including, and ending with the one in Douma on 7 April.

The Douma-based Violations Documentation Center (VDC) will also be cited, along with sporadic things for now, perhaps more in time. The VDC's martyrs/killed database lists just 2 fatalities blamed on CW in all Syria in this span (January through April 6), both boys, linked to the Feb. 25 incident (see below). They'll also list some other victims considered here, but as reported - blamed on other things, for some reason.

These reports came in during the Syrian government's offensives to reclaim all of E. Ghouta from opposition forces, who were largely headed by or allied with Jaish Al-Islam … Here, I won't bother much with the details of that fighting and when each area surrendered. The GPPI report includes a handy graphic of how they heard it - attacks on the map compared to a basic gist of the offensives (see page 30). I should whip up my own map, and might do that...

From Douma on 7 April, at least, it seems the gas reports come just before defeat and stop afterwards. This is taken as evidence for the running opposition claim, as with Douma, that this is Assad's way of forcing them to surrender; he knows they have good hearts, as good Muslims who can't stand to see "their own" (or anyone's?) babies dying from toxic gas. So to save lives, they'll finally surrender, as they did in Douma the day after 43 civilians were killed by gas, after weeks where that many died almost daily (allegedly) from non-CW attacks.

Uh, yeah... They did not surrender in 2013 after they apparently gassed several hundred of their own hostages, including dozens of babies. No, at that point, the opposition claimed it was about 1,700 innocents killed by Assad's sarin rockets, and they clamored for U.S. airstrikes to back them in a takeover of the capitol (that would have been led by the Saudi-backed Jaish Al-Islam, by the way).

In 2018, they had no such hopes, were physically at or near defeat, and coincidentally they got better morals all of a sudden? Even as they lost everything, they would free all their civilian hostages rather than using them in a similar way at the last chance? With no motive to win a war, perhaps not … but I suspect they would have enough motive just to kill some heretics and get Syria in trouble (sanctioned more, maybe bombed a bit, demonized more clearly for a bit longer etc.)

Jan-Feb attacks in brief
The first seven CW incidents of the year, per the GPPI report's list, are in
- Douma Jan. 13 (well-confirmed at 3),
- Jan. 22, Jan. 22 (2 in a day, less clear and ranked 1 and 2).
- Then nearby Jisrein Jan 23 + 25 (both murkier level 1 cases),
- then Douma Feb. 1 and
- Hamoryah on Feb. 4,

… and then a pause before the deadly one on Feb. 25. For now I have nothing to add on any of these.

February 25, Al-Shifouniya
25/02/2018 Shafuniyeh Damascus Chlorine Assad regime, confirmation level: 3 of 3 (“comprehensively confirmed.”)

Some child victims suffering exposure were shown in a news video, with white eyes - maybe a hair pink overall, but not red, open with no sign of distress. Their lungs can hardly be much worse off. The masks are for show, as usual.

February 26, Al-Jazeera video
Video description: "Medics in Syria say a child has died and a dozen more are being treated after another suspected chlorine gas attack. Witnesses reported smelling the gas after an explosion in the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta." Video shows a man holding a small child wrapped in blue (blurred) saying, as translated, "they bombard us with chlorine, sarin, and other gasses from Iran. We don't know what they are..." But he knows who to blame, and of course includes Russia.

One boy died that day from this, allegedly, and there are picture showing it's the same boy held above. His name was Adnan Smadi ( عدنان صمادي ), as given by the Douma-based VDC (for the Arabic for any VDC entry, replace /en with /ar in the url and reload). Age 4 it says, specifically killed by chlorine, a linked video, already unavailable. He seems to be gasping, as dead people might do with or without poison.
Not much back story is given. He has white eyes, suggesting no chlorine touched them while his heart was still beating. So how could he die from it? (the answer: under unusual circumstances or not at all). It does seem something caused pulmonary edema, or this is suggested by the one plugged nostril. Unless that's putty, it might be foam. No signs of it at his mouth, but … if it's foam, it's kind of pink, which suggests he was bleeding (lightly) in the airways. Yellow staining? Faint traces perhaps … unclear. But it's something we watch for.

The VDC also lists just one other boy, a small baby, dying from CW, but 4 days later, on March 1. Ahmad al-Ahmad was also killed by chlorine, they heard. It's noted "Nine months old , He died today Affected by the attack on 25 February" Both are said the be locals from Shifunia.fresh blood from nose, swollen hand, previous deforming wound to the lower lip? poss. mild cyanosis (not calling it or ruling it out), eyes closed, unclear (no sign of damage), and most obviously a lot of blood from the nose at least, maybe the mouth too.. Yellowish forehead and upper head?

As for the 4-day delay, it often takes hours or even days to finally die from chlorine exposure. Four days is quite long for someone leaking that much blood at the end - after 4 days to stabilize and heal - and with very little of the usual foam that suffocates people, as fluids and air mix awkwardly … if this was a caustics exposure, it was short and sharp, skipped the eyes, and killed in minutes with near-total lung destruction. I'm no expert but I've studied and considered these things for years now. I think this little boy didn't even struggle to breathe for very long, hence little foam and none visible. That's minutes, not 4 days. In such a case, he could as well be shot in the lungs by a gun, and might have been instead. Or, if the blood comes only from his nose, the wound could be to the back of his head.

March, Mostly in Hamouriya
From there, most attacks are in Hamouriya - ATM not sure which one this belongs to, but it's said to be from a chlorine attack there in March (at least 3 will be examined here). It won't have killed anyone, but that is real chlorine, liquid and gas in the right colors (it turns brown, esp. the liquid), and a great view of the frost from autorefrigeration, caused by the compressed liquid boiling away rapidly inside.
FWIW multiple views of it from the video:
I think this thing was tossed/fired and landed - it didn't likely fall from a helicopter far above - the valve snapped off on impact, allowing pressure-liquified chlorine gas to leak out and then boil out. The full half is full of very cold liquid chlorine (somewhere above -34 Celsius to be boiling). The difference from back to front end is due to it being on a slope. The liquid is level. Its drainage would be slower than, for example, the one at Location 2 in the 7 April Douma incident. In Douma, this case, and any others, the yellow tank, with out without the aerial harness, appears as special effects, to provide the key proof Assad must've done this, since only he has helicopters, etc.

5 March, Hamouriya: False-Flag Averted?
The GPPI report lists two CW attacks this day:
05/03/2018 Irbin Reef Damascus, Unknown, Assad regime, conf. level 1
05/03/2018 Hamoryah Reef Damascus Chlorine Assad regime, conf. level 2

I'm not sure how interesting it is that the one attack involved an "unknown" toxin, rather than certain chlorine. A few attacks are listed this way, either because different poisons were used or alleged, or because they just didn't have enough information. Recall the activist above who thought maybe it was sarin the Iranians were sending for Assad to use, besides chlorine. I don't have any information yet on the Irbin incident. Here, for now, we'll focus just on the Hamouriya one.

A girl with no sign of eye damage or chlorine exposure is the most famous image of this day's reported chlorine attack. Actually, the other photo where her eyes are closed was more widely circulated than this one...
This case (Hamouriya) is of special interest with a dedicated post I put on hold. It takes considering some prior reports of interest, lodged by investigative reporter Vanessa Beeley. She heard from Hamouriya locals shortly after liberation how they think they foiled a sizeable CW false flag massacre there, one set to claim around 30 lives and be pinned late on 5 March, to the liberation of the town on the following day or so. In fact they said about 30 were already killed and their bodies gathered, but never reported AS victims of that night's chlorine attack.

Indeed, no such deadly event was reported, so maybe plans were called off. Unusually, the very fact of a chlorine attack was refuted in this case by opposition leaders declaring sorry, no chlorine attack by Assad forces after all. It could be they were just confused, and it was chlorine, but... what caused the confusion and shifts in this case? It suggests something unusual - like a failed plan that they noticed failing - is at work.

But I also didn't see much clear sign of a plan in the works the claim multiple deaths, when the possible plot-foiling happened around half a day after the chlorine attack to be blamed had been reported. I didn't find any report mentioning any deaths from the gas, then or later, just several saying that some 30 people were "choking" from that, and also 23 were reported dead. I checked, and there's no overlap - these are two distinct groups. In fact, they're so distinct it's interesting...

That's actually a pretty good summary now, except for all the details and explanation (there's not many, it's simple), so it may take a while to get motivated to finish the dedicated post...

It is worth adding these links to explain the 23 dead, per VDC queries (hoping the links work right? they look exactly the same ...):
- From Hamouriya, died 5 March presumably there (the woman, 17 men)
- From elsewhere, but died in Hamouriya, same day (5 men)
...and then some quick notes:
- The 5 men from other are 2 relatives from Deir al-Asafir, and 3 others from Jobar (family names Karban, Sweid, Abed)
- 3 men are named al-Masri (the 2 from Deir al-Asafir, and one native to Hamouriya.)
- 3 men are named Issa (all Hamouriya, as the rest):
- 2 Badra men, 2 Aghawani men, 2 Bakir men, 
- one man each of Erbeni, Hamdouh, al-Tereh, Ekhshou.  
- one named just "Talal", 2 just "unidentified."
- the woman, Hanen Ali Sarsak (by listing order, poss. a wife to Samer Badrah)

7 March, Hamouriya
07/03/2018 Hamoryah Reef Damascus Chlorine Assad regime, conf. level 2

This refers people to a video about "people suffering from chlorine gas poison in the town of Hammouriya" Some of the cast below - from left to right: A fighting age male is seen coughing severely and realistically between mask treatments. His eyes maybe too white - maybe a bit pink - never seen well. He does prefer to keep them closed; that might be real and full exposure, FWIW. Among some small boys calmly getting injections, this one (center) has white eyes, no sign of distress, breathing or otherwise. A baby girl with no sign of medical crisis and pearly white eyes (right) is held by someone who doesn't seem like family, for some reason.

And from the same video, a woman who survived, also with no eye redness, speaks through a nebulizer / oxygen mask - gives some explanation of the chlorine attack (not translated)

That's a strange linear scratch across the forehead on this attractive young woman involved in CW attacks in this area in these days, considering … this woman who was among those just found dead in some apartments in Douma on 7 April, with a similar look (better dressed and cared for than many), and with similar scratch, plus a little bruise or, perhaps considering other victims, a little burn mark. The color looks more like a bruise. Hm... according to the scene, she tipped backwards in her chair, I think...

These appear to be two different women with slightly different wounds, but this may be no coincidence. It might point to a shared circumstance (involving captivity of some kind) that's a clue as to why these two women wound up in alleged gas attacks or in real gas chambers during those final days of the Islamist occupation of E. Ghouta…

Fatalities? I didn't notice any reports saying anyone died from the gas in this attack. But that question goes best under its own heading, which is...

A Whole Family Died?
It's said a sad young girl shown on video just lost her whole family to a chlorine attack in this area, by the claim of 8 March. Her eyes are wide and clearly 100% white, but maybe she was off somewhere else when the rest of them died, was brought to the hospital to see them (she seems to be in some kind of hospital, suggesting it all just happened - but that could be a false lead)
"A girl lost her family after the chlorine strikes that targeted the town of Hamouriya" 
That's from Hamza AL-Yousf @HAMZH7711, ‏4:42 AM - 8 Mar 2018 
Yousef is, per translated profile, "Media activist in the Syrian revolution, a journalist in the civil defense, certified trainer"

It's not clear what incident that might refer to. Just two boys agreed to as dead, perhaps zero others in contention (that is, not even a report of deaths that I saw) Here I'll look back at 7 March Hamouriya fatalities, since... 

- if it was the 5th, ostensibly only the men of several families died in Hamouriya, and not from chlorine. The 28 civilians (13 women and 15 children) reported in bad shape from the chlorine, all allegedly survived and were "evacuated" from the area coming under government control (that is, thet left with the fighting groups and their families, supporters, prisoners, etc. The White Helmets ("Syrian civil defense") rescued them, with 2 getting sick (for the reports of 30 people choking), and vouched for their safe evacuation away from Hamouriya.
- anything before the 5th is pretty old news
- the VDC has no deaths of locals listed for the 6th or the 8th

VDC lists 27 people from Hamouriya dying the 7th, all from regular old "warplane shelling." 
Every one is listed as unidentified, with no details. All 27 say adult male for gender, but in this case, that could mean blank; AM seems to be the default setting that appears if nothing is entered there. I've seen thousands of the VDC entries, and never once is the gender field blank or says anything like "unknown." Where it seems like it should, it says Adult-Male.

If so, why was it all blank? That's unusual. Sometimes a body is blown up so badly they can't tell, or charred to a skeleton. They could only get a death toll and no details, perhaps, where communication is cut off. That's not it here, better and clearer reports follow.

Maybe they leave that info out sometimes because it's embarrassing? I'm sure that's the case with some names. As for the gender and age of these 27 deaths ... That could be a couple of families and some single men, or maybe just men, or all of the 28 women and children rescued earlier, with one spared, or just left off the tally to explain this girl - perhaps a real survivor, spared from the gas chamber, on account of being mute, perhaps? Why have a witness to something you're going to write off as boring "warplane shelling" anyway? Maybe two different plans, not well coordinated … 

So it seems possible this girl did lose her family, over the span of three days: father, maybe an uncle or older brother, killed by "shelling" on the 5th, as her mother and any female and preteen male siblings allegedly were gas attacked but rescued by the White Helmets that day (along with her?), "evacuated," only to be killed on the 7th somewhere outside Hamouriya, by "shelling" or "chlorine attack" (depending who you ask - Hamza al-Yousef, a W.H. source, heard it was chlorine). 

Other possibilities exist, including total coincidence. But the ones involving the 28-27 people matching up are most compelling to me. (e.g. the girl is just an actor good at looking sad, or the victims did die in Hamouriya on the 5th and just had the reports delayed, besides sanitized of all connecting details).

14 March, Hamouriya
14/03/2018 Hamoryah Reef Damascus Chlorine Assad regime, confirmation level 1 (“credibly substantiated” - but not certain or very clear)
It seems to be in Hamouriya that a stupid green smoke scene was filed, and posted 14 March by waحed shami وحيد الشامي @ahlelsham (a quick scan suggests he's so hardcore he's pestered even many opposition supporters into blocking him)
https://twitter.com/ahlelsham/status/974051568319369216 - two screen grabs help show the green. The scene is explained pretty thoroughly by ahlelsham: "#SOS #Hamouriya #EasternGhouta #Damascus #Syria #Chlorine #Rape #Executions #SaveChildren #SaveCivilians #SaveElderly #SaveHumanLives #WarCrimes #Hitlers #BasharAlAssad #VladimirPutin #Genocide #Holocaust #UnitedNations #USA #UK #EU" Strangely, Iran isn't mentioned...

The cameraman's gesture towards the smoke (or people that way?) made me wonder, but an Arabic speaker tells me no one in the video claims this is chlorine, which would be wise - no one seems to cough or need much of a mask, or try to flee in a rush - some climb over rubble, suggesting a recent attack causing some of the non-green dust in the air... - the rest, maybe looking faker a bit ago, is some green colored smoke, the wrong shade for chlorine (which is an almost yellow shade, to this almost fluorescent green closer to aquamarine), and also too light and high-drifiting to be chlorine. It's possible this is a weird effect of conventional bombs going off wrong, etc. that coincidentally happened on the same day a chlorine attack was reported. But you can guess what I think; this was supposed to look like chlorine, but they called off calling it that for some reason...

SOS #Hamouriya URGENT TIME IS RUNNING OUT #Ghouta #EasternGhouta #Syria Many cases of suffocation of women and children were caused by an attack of chlorine gas by the chlorine gangs on the peaceful neighbourhoods of the city. #GhoutaGenocide #SaveGhouta
Included photo shows 2 dead children (both look like boys to me) - one looks ill or possibly gassed - it involves puffy eyes. This can happen from various causes, including but not limited to the eyes being badly damaged by corrosive chemicals. Such eyes would not be white like those shown above, but ... I'm not quite not sure. Somewhere between bloodshot and totally dissolved. Of course it's the younger one this may have been done to; the older kid appears fairly normal, no sign of blood from the airways, so if that's his blood on the sheet, it's probably from a wound in the neck-head area - likely fatal.
Damascus Media Center stamped photo - the backstory origin is unclear, maybe the same people?

The VDC at least got no reports of chemical fatalities to cover these or any others. These were probably reported, but as killed by something else.
It seems these are among 14 civilians killed that day, probably all in one alleged strike on some basement they were sheltering in. 13 come up as from Hamouriya: 7 men, 2 women, 3 boys, 1 girl. Six victims are named Erbeeni (a man, 1 boy, the girl, both women - no room for any maiden-name wives - is one of these the man's wife?). Besides that family, there are 6 unaccompanied men - 2 are named Naddaf, the rest Hamdan, Rihani, Issa, Tomeh. The other children are two sons of a Mostafa Yasin, named Mohammad and Obada. No ages or notes are given, and no images, but logically, these are probably the two boys shown above. Victim 14 is on another list for martyrdom location: Hamouria (from elsewhere): Samir Nader Rihan (if this is the same name, it's spelled different (typo?) in the Arabic rendering as well) He was from Madyara. Unlike the others, the VDC have a photo of him (alive, no clues), and notes: he was called Abo Nader

17/18 March, Douma / Ein Tarma (?)
The GPPI lists just one attack here, where it seems there may be two: 18/03/2018 Douma Reef Damascus Chlorine Assad regime, conf. level 1
I haven't found much info on this yet, unless it connects to a set of people it shouldn't - there's some confusion here. Maybe the GPPI should have rated it zero and dropped it. A video posted the 17th claims to show some children killed by bombing in Ain Tarma. But they look very much like toxic gas victims. But the GPPI lodged no report for a March 17 attack … ah, did they rate this a zero? See, they make that into a blank spot, whereas I take the smoking gun clues the zeros usually include, and make a big deal of it...

Killed by #Hitlers #BasharAlAssad and #VladimirPutin in #Eastern_Ghouta #Damascus #Syria #ChildrenUnderAttack #Childhood #UN #USA #UK #EU
Jobar News photos - added text to be translated

older children, two preteen (?) girls, apparently (or a girl and a boy with pink clothing spots) dirty-smoky clothing, moderate degree, fairly mild signs but there - faintly purple lips, dry yellow mucous in mouth? undamaged eyes in one case. Actually, quite a few clues on closer inspection.

The baby (boy? only blue seen) had it bad and differently: purple lips and upper face (eyes, forehead - as if upside-down so this is the livor mortis pattern, shifted purple by low oxygen), horribly swollen eyes, burning eyelids, yellow mucous tinged with blood, dry sticky yellow residue all over his forehead...
Odd, considering CW victims in Douma, 7 April, looked about the same except ... someone decided to do it with goggles this time? Yellow, caustic, staining material from the mouth and nose, winds up all over the face, especially right under the eyes, but not right in the eyes.

Viola, the eyes were undamaged, almost looking fake, despite a real gassing death. What confused moron would do this, unless maybe he'd seen how that baby turned out in the trial run two weeks earlier, already adjust for the others. Or, likely, they were already goggling most victims in what had become regular work for these terrorists, and that baby led them to scrape up some baby-sized goggles. Douma, 7 April: this baby girl has clear eyes inside a baby-goggles shape, surrounded by rash-like irritation (difference in views likely from both time passed and lighting, but no yellow staining. They washed her up quicker than most - except that one earlobe, at least … 

Then she, and not that melted toddler above, got shown off as a victim of Assad's chlorine genocide, save the babies, etc.  

18 March. I'll be including this case in Douma's Mask of Death part 2 fairly soon, I hope. 

VDC results unclear ATM - 2 groups might include the 3 children in the Jobar News photos - one set is from Jobar (going with Jobar News), but displaced to and killed in Ein Tarma (where people get gassed upside down to look like that baby), on 3-17, which is another match and yet another. Another batch includes kids from Douma, said to be killed there the 18th - a potential but less compelling match in both regards. All are reported as killed by regular shelling by regime forces. But someone said there was a chemical attack, and it seemed to be in Douma.

These three kids at least were gassed, and it was reported wrong or not at all. The GPPI list didn't see fit to include a matching event. As their report explained, "As of 23 January 2019, we assessed 336 incidents as either “credibly substantiated,” “confirmed,” or “comprehensively confirmed.” We dismissed 162 reports." It's not clear if this is one of them, or a case that was just never even reported to them AS a CW incident. It doesn't seem the VDC or anyone else considers it as such.

18 March Victims: going over the VDC records, there were 16 killed here, some families, one being of an FSA fighter. One still on Jaish Al-Islam's good side, right? His family went down with him.
16 civilians from Jobar are listed as dying on this day. All, I think, specify the following:
Area \ Place of birth: Jobar
Date of death: 2018-03-17
Martyrdom location: Damascus Suburbs: Ein Tarma (displaced? explanation?)
Cause of Death: Warplane shelling
Actors: Syrian government and affiliated militias
Notes: generally none, except for the FSA guy. All but him are listed as civilian.

Everything different follows: the names, gender, ages given for 2 women, 3 men, and 11 children, mostly from 3 families (in parantheses means my notes).

Baraea Hassan Tarabilsi Adult - Female age 30 (if this is the mother of the next two, they could be a Christian or non-Muslim family)
Mariam al-Tarabilsi Child - Female age 8
Sara al-Tarabilsi Child - Female age 14
Raefat Arnaeout Child - Male age blank (less than 1? is he the melted infant?)
Rafif al-Bokaei Child - Female age 2
Mohammad Nabil Sawwan Child - Male age 7
Mohammad Zaher Sawwan Child - Male age 11
Alae Sawwan Child - Female age 10
Othman Sawwan Child - Male age 5
Rashed Salem al-Soda Child - Male age 6
Ali Salem al-Souda Child - Male age 4
Salem Soliman al-Souda Adult - Male age 35 Non-Civilian, Rank FSA "called as Abo Rashed"
Shahed al-Souda Adult - Female age blank (as with the rest)
Tabarak Mohammad Khanfour "Dobia" Adult - Male
Khalil Ahmad Shahouta Adult - Male
Raefat al-Tarablsi Child - Male

This is interesting, and may be yet another parallel with the Douma attack. The hardest-hit family there was named Bakriyeh -
It's a fairly rare name on the VDC's killed list, but on a prominent "FSA" commander Mohamed Diab Bakriyeh killed in fighting, they say, in 2014 (oddly, on the same day as a relative - perhaps brother by name, from regime shelling). He commanded a Douma Martyr's Brigade that was soon running afoul of the dominant Jaish Al-Islam, soon helps spawn a rebellion against them that was crushed, and then the remainder of Bakriyeh's DMB signed up to help the Syrian government unstead of fighting it. 11 people with his family name, plus some wives married in (unclear) were among those gassed with caustics on 7 April as JaI closed up its old business and moved to Idlib…

Remaining to Cover
Not that I will cover them all, but perhaps ... the other early 2018 Ghouta incidents on the GPPI big list not yet mentioned in this blog post - actually just four that they included, and none of them rated 3 for confirmation.
conf. level 1 10/03/2018 Irbin Reef Damascus Unknown Assad regime
conf. level 2 11/03/2018 Irbin Reef Damascus Chlorine Assad regime
conf. level 1 12/03/2018 Eastern Ghouta Reef Damascus Unknown Assad regime
conf. level 1 21/03/2018 Zamalka Reef Damascus Unknown Assad regime

Then there are the few I mentioned, but didn't look at. Now all are included here, in case I want to find another one to tackle. Other possibilities, like the important 17 March incident, don't even get listed as CW events, and have to pop out by their own details. So there could be even more, that I might possibly find, and also cover...

Saturday, March 2, 2019

OPCW Douma Report S/1731, 2019

Douma Chemical Massacre: OPCW Douma Report S/1731, 2019
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:

1 March 2019

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)

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?

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. 

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.