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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Douma, Academics, and Mass Murder Coverup

By Adam Larson 
aka Caustic Logic (as usual)
June 16, 2019
(same day edits - may include later updates)
last updates and edits June 18

So someone is covering for mass murder
A professor of International Politics at Birmingham University (UK), Scott Lucas, recently tweeted "So this UK ex-academic, to cover up #Assad mass murder of civilians in #Douma, is now accusing international inspectors of #OPCW of.... Covering up mass murder." He was referring to my friend Dr. Piers Robinson, founding member of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda, and Media, of which I'm also a member.

update June 17 This term "ex-academic" is clearly a dig at Dr. Robinson ending his job as a professor at the University of Sheffield, back in April. (ex-academy/Univ. = "ex-academic") There had been pressure on the university to have him canned as a dangerous conspiracy theorist, aggravating some very fragile pursuits of "global justice" with some too-smart questions - there were smear pieces in the Huffington Post, etc. A gloating follow-up at HuffPost (amplified by others as here by cyber-thug academic Idrees Ahmad) seemed to hope they helped have Robinson canned, but he said no pressure, just circumstances and his own choice. It was right at that time, but whatever - he stands by that.

It's all gotten a bit political, really. Some misguided people or others dragged reality into dispute (and just who is disputed).

For what it's worth, Piers still directs an 'academic' organization (Organisation for Propaganda Studies) besides the Working Group, (semi-academic? including even current academics) And as he reminds me "I am a journal editor. At the very least I am accurately described as an Independent Researcher but most would see me still as an 'academic'" … besides between jobs as an actual academy-nested scholar. Also he says the move allows more time to work on the more important things he's doing now, and I think this is already paying off, so I guess … gloat away. Anyone curious also might compare the researchgate.net profiles of the public minds Scott Lucas vs. Piers Robinson for more context.
- - End update.

The WGSPM's case is strong, and this is where the evidence has always pointed. If the scene was staged (and this is getting clearer all the time), and considering all the mysteries surrounding the bodies' appearance, there would be - and likely WAS - a chemical mass murder, as in gas chambers. It would be even clearer in the intent than any remote killing with a dropped weapon, especially if it's just barely-fatal chlorine. That could almost be a fluke on top of an accident. But locals locking men, women, and children into poison-filled rooms until they were dead  … would be pretty darn clear.

 And it would almost certainly be done by Jaish Al-Islam, the Douma-based "Army of Islam" or "Islam Army." And in that likely scenario Prof. Lucas laughs off, this smug UK academic would be helping to cover it up, papering over the gaps in logic as he does with appeals to authority, distraction, and baseless smearing of his opponents.

For Prof. Scott Lucas, it's what the OPCW says and not, for example, what the Islam Army says. It's about the same thing, as it so happens, but note who he prefers to cite …

The Toran Center-Douma connection
It should also be noted Prof. Lucas works with the former spokesman, the public face, for that group, the prime culprits for this possible mass murder - he helped them deny crimes in the past, like professionally. As fellow Working Group member Vanessa Beeley wrote recently for UK Column, he does so as a consultant for something called the Toran Center for Strategic Studies, which "appears to have been established in early 2016, just after Russia had intervened" in Syria at the government's request. The center confirmed to her at time of writing that Lucas was still on staff as a consultant in 2019.

"Toran" is apparently Turkish, meaning "the mother nation of all Turks worldwide" as Beeley heard. They seem to be based in Istanbul, and claims are their largest source of funding is the rogue Erdogan regime in Turkey. But its operating languages are Arabic and English.

website: http://torancenter.org/ - many articles in Arabic

http://torancenter.org/en/ - maybe just the two articles on (it seems) understanding a couple of obscure Islamist formations in Syria?

https://twitter.com/ToranCenter (Arabic) and https://twitter.com/ToranCenterEN, a self-described "independent institution that aims to build an intellectual edifice based on scholarly foundations that places the reader at the heart of current policies." That sounds deep. They also claim a mission to:
"Approach reality through all its dimensions and contexts, analyze all possible steps and paths thereto, and come up with recommendations and mechanisms to put before stakeholders and decision-makers." 
And what a multi-faceted prism this is. Among the other sharp minds gathered were a few opposition luminaries, including a female - Dima Moussa, a Vice President of the Syrian National Council - and no one with a pro-government view. Some other Syrians involved include Capt. Rashid Al Hourani "most closely associated with the Homs Liberation Movement" (allied with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al Qaeda franchise) and perhaps with "the splinter group, Tahrir Al Watan that has connections to Nour Al Din Zinki, beheaders of 12 year old Palestinian child, Abdullah Issa in 2016."

More to the point, another face at the Toran Center is Majdi Nema, ( مجدي نعمة ) formerly a spokesman for the mentioned suspects Jaish Al-Islam (JaI). Based then in Douma and backed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, JaI is also allied with Al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda). From 2013 at least, Mr. Nema apparently took the group's mission and the founder's family name for the clever nom de guerre Islam Alloush, attaining the rank of captain, and helping keep their west-facing façade as shiny as possible. Here he is (right) with JaI founder Zahran Allouh (left - or is it Mohammed Zahran Alloush? I've heard both, but the former is more common and I'll keep using it for now). They're posing on a highway, I think, to Damascus International Airport south of Douma.

Beeley: "The Toran Center have informed me that Nema is the contact point for information on the administration and financial records of the centre. I have also been reliably informed, by sources on the ground, that Turkey is the primary source of funding for this organisation but have not been able to find accounts evidence to support that claim."

Website: http://www.majdinema.com/ still in June 2019 "coming soon." Twitter accounts (Arabic and English)  describe him as based in Istanbul, "a Researcher in Syrian Affairs" and "Vice President of @ToranCenter."

A Feb. 4 2018 Toran Center tweet maps "The Areas Lastly Targeted With Chemical Bombing By Assad Regime In The Eastern Ghouta" (right). This shows Douma and surrounding areas run primarily by JaI  ("revolution forces"). Attacks in Douma, Harasta, and Irbeen are shown. These feature partly in the earlier incidents lacking fatalities as I listed here. As that green area was whittled down and defeated Islamists lodged more shrill claims, the alleged chemical attacks turned deadly. This ran from late February up the big one in April.

Nema himself doesn't seem to be the social media warrior; his tweets and replies are sparse. He notably hasn't mentioned Douma in his own tweets since he was JaI spokesman in 2016; there's no talk of the April 2018 incident or OPCW issues. You'd think he would have something to say, and he probably does, but perhaps the arrangement is here to let Prof. Lucas speak, and mainly cite the OPCW; the Army of Islam cover story guy will NOT publicly be left in charge of deciding the narrative about a crime that could be by Army of Islam. Because...

Nema's record on truth re: Jaish al-Islam's crimes
Let's consider the fairly famous abduction, on December 9, 2013, of Razan Zaitouneh (Wikipedia), the Douma-based founder of the opposition VDC, and a co-founder of the Local Coordinating Committees. An exhaustive AP report from Bassem Mroue in 2017, where many witnesses were even to scattered or scared to talk, still found ample evidence Jaish al-Islam had almost certainly kidnapped Zaitouneh, her husband, and two other activists. A computer seized during the abduction was reportedly opened inside Tawbeh prison, run by JaI. Much evidence from eyewitnesses and scrawled messages on the walls has her held through 2016 and early 2017, when it seems likely she was finally killed.

None of these points is smoking-gun certain, in my estimation. But the collective clarity and lack of plausible alternatives leave this case relatively obvious to call. This was the main suspicion from the start, and it was denied from the start. As the Islamist opposition supporters at Zaman Al-Wasl reported at the time (December 12): "Islam Army denies kidnap accusations":

"Opposition Coalition member, Rima Flaihan, in a letter submitted to the coalition members has accused Islam Army leader of kidnapping Zaitouneh , according Zaman Alwasl source. Islam Army spokesman, captain Islam Alloush, denounced to Zaman Alwasl Flaihan's claims that Zaharn [sic] Alloush, Islam Army Leader had threatened Zaitouneh."

There was never any word from JaI about who did kidnap these folks in the heart of their control. There doesn't seem to have been any hunt to find out, or to rescue the activists. Despite the fairly obvious blame, Majdi Nema still doesn't buy it. Or does he now acknowledge the truth, as generally accepted? Whatever position - if any - he choses on that awkward subject, we can conclude he was willing to lie back then to help conceal the crimes of his compatriots, and it's unclear how hard that old habit would die.

Mr. Nema also - and I have to cite myself here - helped sow the false story for an August, 2015 massacre of over 100 civilians, which they blamed on a Syrian jet attack on three public markets at mid-day. Islam Alloush said of the Islam Army “We do not have any presence in the residential areas” and so couldn't themselves be the target -  the regime meant to kill civilians. As I gather, JaI had recently agreed to leave the city center under massive public protest. But one of their positions might be at the edge of town, about 820 meters south of the stricken markets. Someone there (at right: a pre-adjustment graphic showing 800m) fired 4 rockets in a perfect arc of attack, all evenly spaced 11 degrees apart and all frag patterns and other clues suggest (at least for impacts 1 and 3) they were fired from the south to southwest - all unlikely to happen from the described jet attack.

"Islam Alloush" and others blamed regime jets, claimed the civilians were attacked for their support to JaI - not for the protests against them. They showed off dozens of bodies of men and older boys, long-dead and gathered by solar noon, meaning they were killed before those surface-fired rockets even hit. Just over 100 males of several families were listed as killed, and no females, in these three market attacks. That could mean they were actually gender-segregated captives, pulled from detention and killed on cue. Whatever the truth, it's not what they presented, and the current Toran Center Vice President Majdi Nema was there to help with the cover story.

Other cases: what would Nema say?
The sectarian massacre and mass-kidnapping in Adra Omaliya near Douma was launched December 11, 2013, just after the kidnapping of the VDC activists (ACLOS). Even the pro-opposition Human Rights Watch and UN Commission of Inquiry had to admit "Jabhat al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Islam abducted hundreds of civilians, mostly Alawites, according to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The hostages, many of them women and children, are being held in unidentified locations in Eastern Ghouta." (HRW) Hundreds is a minimum; the SOHR would later report (in a possible mangling of the truth) there were 9,000 people taken in Adra (with 3,000 believed held near the end in 2018, and only about 200 finally released), and ISIS was involved in the raid.

I could find no statement from spokesman Islam about the alleged raid, massacre, and mass abductions in Adra. But by normal standards, he'd praise the raid, deny the massacre or blame the other side, and claim the civilians were taken "for their own protection" from "regime shelling." He would say they're treated well, and would be released later in exchanges - regardless of when that "shelling" ended.

Unknown numbers of others, especially captured soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army, were also held in al-Tawbah and other prisons across Eastern Ghouta, reportedly used as slave labor to dig tunnels under the area. Some of these, described as Alawites and probably from Adra, were put in cages and placed on rooftops, supposedly to deter airstrikes, in October 2015. A JaI spokesman and also their political leader Mohamed Alloush (but not Islam Alloush himself that I could find) spoke in defense of this "shields of protection" campaign, calling it necessary to protect the local (mostly Sunni) civilians, and also a "bargaining chip".

As for deterring airstrikes, the cages stunt was inadequate to prevent a Syrian bomb from killing JaI founder Zahran Alloush just a couple months later, on Christmas, 2015. Upon his belated passing, the genocidal fanatic (see Landis) was given a long and ultimately positive assessment from Prof. Lucas at EA Worldview as, for one thing, the main barrier keeping ISIS from getting a foothold in Eastern Ghouta. A little sectarian, perhaps ... controversial ... a different picture ... promised once to be nice to Christians ... blamed Assad-induced stress for earlier sectarian rants ... part of a proud tradition ...

I didn't find a statement from Islam Alloush on the Ghouta chemical massacre in August, 2013, but Jaish al-Islam are the likely culprits behind it. Of course the US and allies and compromised bodies at the UN, OPCW, etc. all tended to accuse the Syrian state, and claimed up to 1,429 were killed. We can verify several hundred at least were killed in the Eastern Ghouta area, and there are many clues for their captivity prior to death, and the execution of at least one that didn't die from the gas. The rockets blamed for delivering sarin can be traced back by impact damage to a firing spot 1.75 km NW, under control of JaI. (work by several involved, including initial readings by "Sasa Wawa" (WhoGhouta),  the late Richard Loyd, and Prof. Theordore Postol, working with others like Chris Kabusk - with later refinements by Michaels Kobs along with Kabusk and myself - partly explained here, also in tweets and other places...)

A mortar shell fired from the same area a few days later (August 24) reportedly released a paralytic gas on SAA troops who had cornered some militants here. None of the soldiers died but four of them tested positive for sarin in government tests. Considering a long delay, OPCW could only verify one of those four had been exposed, but they probably all were, from that shell, from the same area the Ghouta attack was launched from. (indicated spot above - too precisely as a pin, but with a question mark - compared to UN report placement of Aug. 24 incident locale).

JaI founder and supreme leader Zahran Alloush was seen in Turkey a week before the incident, amid meetings with regional opposition commanders and foreign backers, seeming visibly excited about a "new surprise" planned in the coming days, as some predicted "an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria." … and would have left JaI (then called Liwa al-Islam) leading an march on Damascus, should US airstrikes go far enough to assist. Weapons deliveries were agreed based on the unspecified surprise someone felt capable of delivering. What was that surprise? Why was ZA so excited? Nothing emerged in the following days to fit the description of that "surprise/event" - aside from the Ghouta incident itself.

But considering even all of that … oh plus the murky video of apparent JaI men in gas masks firing the same kind of rockets on what they say is the day of the attack (see WhoGhouta and note JaI said it's an obvious frame-up). But even considering that too, we can still be sure "Assad" was behind this incident that nearly got him bombed for crossing Obama's red line so enormously at the perfectly wrong moment. Considering the UN-OPCW investigation, we can be sure this used the same impure sarin - with hexamine, caustic properties, yellow color, and a foul smell - that was used up in Khan al-Assal on March 19, 2013 (ACLOS), and in perhaps all cases since. And THAT has been linked to the "Assad regime" ... perhaps from a recipe similarity to their known and surrendered stocks, or just because it keeps getting used in incidents that keep getting blamed on "Assad." The exact reason was kind of opaque last I checked.

For much of that time, any cases of sarin usage in the Douma involving JaI (or LaI at the time) would be explained, at least partly, by their man Captain Islam Alloush.

Finally, I can't skip this one: Adra Omaliya was taken by JaI and allies, including the Al-Qaeda franchise Al-Nusra Front, in December 2013, as noted. It was held by the opposition side for about 9 months before Government forces pushed out the Islamic Front fighters then led by JaI and another allied faction, in late September, 2014. About one day before they folded and fled back towards Douma, they informed us Assad forces used chlorine gas to kill civilian men there, 7 in total, who happened to be "prisoners" of the militants. 4 or 5 of these are shown on video with no chlorine signs, (four dead and one still alive). They're described as prisoners - likely used for slave labor, but past their usefulness. One is elderly, one quite ill (emaciated and yellow-colored), one is crippled by prior hand injury (bandaged) and a fresh, bleeding leg wound. Three of these four men have small, lightly bleeding holes in the left sides of their chests, as if pierced or shot right in the heart. That's not a chlorine symptom. A day or two later the Islamists packed up valuables, including worthwhile "human resources" and fled, leaving some dead weight behind - this part thanks to "Assad's chlorine attack."

Spokesman "Islam" was around for all these incidents before he left the group in September 2016, for muddled reasons involving Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli interlocutor and ally of prof. Lucas (Beeley, Syrian Observer). Former-Captain Nema was soon using his real name and getting paid, working up in Istanbul with mid-to-high-level Westerners including still-UK-Academic Scott Lucas, to help with "strategic studies" and "approaching reality" through some mix of the many possible dimensions of that.

In his heart or mind - maybe even in the minds of others - Mr. Nema might still be a Jaish al-Islam spokesman, despite the public statements. After all, we know some of these are not trustworthy. But either way it's pretty likely he would continue sympathizing with JaI - privately at least - accepting their claims when possible. That would certainly include the April 7, 2018 murder with toxic gas of 43-187 people (counts differ) back in Douma. If that happened, he'd surely deny it, whether he knew the truth or not, and make the same case as the JaI activists at the poorly-staged scene. I mean, pretty much everyone else does, so why not?

What might he know and gloss over? For one thing, let's return to "the short-lived Jaish Al-Ummah rebellion" mentioned above. Meaning "Army of the Muslim People/Community," that ran for a few months in late 2014. Several group joined, but perhaps most central was the Douma Martyrs' Brigade, whose conflicts with JaI likely ran back to and before the death of its founder and commander Mohamed Diab Bakriyeh in April, 2014. He was said to die in clashes when JaI reinforcements were slow to arrive, but then a likely brother of his (Amjad Diab Bakriyeh) died in coincidental "shelling" the same day, suggesting more to that story. Commander Bakriyeh's DMB would lead the rebellion later that year, and his own family might become fair game for abduction. 12+ apparent relatives of his were among the 35 identified victims of this Douma massacre.
(rel. info here, about halfway down - should be summarized better somewhere fresh: https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2018/05/bakriyeh-family-deaths.html )

This likely mass murder has its coverup aspect as well, seeking to shift the blame in a way the opposition nearly always can. Here, it was sloppier than usual. It includes placing those cylinders to give outsiders something to work with as they labored to implicate some helicopter, and thus Damascus. The outsiders' intent would not be to cover up for mass murder, but in the scenario, that would be the only way to blame it on the "Assad regime."

Some of that work, or related signal amplification - would be done via this Toran Center, likely by the 'former spokesman' for the possible killers. And just on the Toran end, some more can be done by - or just passed over to - supposed Syria expert Scott Lucas and EA Worldview, to further assist in that coverup, using especially his over-estimated rhetorical skills (sophistry, deflection and diversion - in Native English!) Maybe Charles Lister was asking too much, etc.?


  1. Adding by comment on Toran - : Mademoiselle Durak tweet
    directs to the Wikipedia article for Turan - a broad region across the Caspian sea, basically most of what w call Central Asia. (includes Turkmenistan, and Turkmen, and other Turkic people) But Turan sounds more Iranian by the article, being a Persian name for a Persian tribe called the "Tur" - not "Turks". And the Tur got the name from being ruled by a guy named Tur, a son of the emperor Fereydun who killed a dragon or something. But this Toran (not the same as Turan?) is in Turkey and focused on Syria - and Iran - so … whatever, for now.

  2. Scott Lucas could just download the report PDF with testimony and research the witnesses for himself instead of harassing Vanessa Beeley every day


    All these 'highly qualified experts' seem to have a lot of spare time for twitter, I'd have thought with demand for their expertise they would be too busy.

    1. https://twitter.com/PatrickHilsman/status/1142167978353528832
      "FYI forensic architecture found that one of the canisters was rotated, a very normal thing to do if someone is checking to see if a canister is still leaking"

      The balcony cylinder that had *no valve*

      Who knew the Rami guy would be the brains of the revolution.


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