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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, January 20, 2019

Fall, 2014 East Ghouta CW Attacks

January 20, 2019

I turn now to some neglected CW allegations around Douma, in the East Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, in the Fall of 2014. The summer saw a few reported regime CW attacks in East Ghouta, and just as many claimed against Syrian soldiers cornering Islamist militants in Jobar, Al-Maliha, Al-Kabbas, etc. ending with heavy and fatal attacks on August 29 in Jobar, 9/4 Jobar 9/10 Kabbas - then just a few attacks on civilians and rebel fighters were lodged for:

Adra, 24 Sept.
Harasta, 4 Oct.
Harasta 20/21 Oct.
Harasta, 25 Dec.

All had reported fatalities. The last two killed 3 and 1 rebel fighters and no civilians. Those may prove interesting on closer study, but here we'll just look at the two earlier attacks that killed only civilians, a total of 12 of them.

The chemical(s) used, if any, or the ones alleged aren't totally clear. Sarin was still in play, being OPCW verified in an attack on SAA soldiers in Daraya, in February 2015. But otherwise in this span - after the surrender of Syria's CW stocks - chlorine was the usual claim, by both sides. But frequently, as I'm finding, symptoms that chlorine would not cause are reported, or proven with videos. So it's not clear... Adra, 24 Sept. is said to be chlorine by one source, basis unclear, and otherwise goes unspecified like the rest.

I previously noted here how the alleged chlorine attacks earlier in 2014, in the Hama-Idlib area, had killed almost entirely people described as displaced from other towns. That might be some kind of code for people kidnapped and held hostage. They were almost entirely women and children, as if segregated, like hostages might be.
https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2015/07/syria-chlorine-allegations-2014-attacks.html

As it happens, these two later attacks in East Ghouta do the same, but killing strictly men, 12 in total and mostly seeming displaced. Details and reports are extremely vague and troubling. The visual evidence is limited but damning.


Adra, 24 Sept.
This regime gas attack was reported in Adra Omaliya, part of the sprawling Adra district northeast of Douma. It came nine months after a huge sectarian massacre and mass abduction there by Jaish Al-Islam (from Douma) and Jabhat Al-Nusra, working in tandem.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adra_massacre
http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Adra_massacre

A French intelligence report cites this incident, vaguely, as causing symptoms of breathing difficulties and convulsions (not a chlorine thing).
https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/170425_-_national_evaluation_annex_-_anglais_cle81722e.pdf

https://syrianarchive.org/en/collections/chemical-weapons/database?amp;incident=ADR240914&incident=ADR240914
Chlorine Gas on the town of Adra, Damascus on 24th September 2014: Chemical weapons attack appears to have occurred in Adra On September 24th, 2014. the videos related to this incident show many civilians as well as militant fighters were injured or who had been killed by the alleged chemical attack."

An exact location is given (33.6076513 36.5112588), but it's about in the middle of Adra (the original?), not in the cited Adra Omaliya, which is to the north. (so likely just marking "Adra" as the basic area - see map).

Adra has an industrial area, and the cited area for worker's housing, with status unclear to me in late 2014. In fact, thanks to a tip, I can see government forces were finalizing their re-conquest. The very next day, 25 Sept 2014, Al Jazeera reports "Troops loyal to President Assad capture from rebels Adra al-Omalia, located about 30km from central Damascus."
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/09/syrian-army-overruns-town-near-damascus-2014925141059985563.html

So this fits the noted pattern - the Syrian government allegedly uses CW attacks to clinch military offensives, as with the Douma attack just before the militants surrendered in April, 2018. Under this new horror, they had no choice but relent, to save lives … (but they didn't surrender after they say 1,000+ were killed in Ghouta in 2013).

Who Were The Victims?
In the Douma case, it was also a last chance to kill hostages before militants surrendered their weapons and boarded government-supplied green buses headed north. That won't apply so clearly in 2014, when the militants retreated from Adra Omaliya on their own terms, to Douma and other areas still held, taking whatever and whoever they wanted. But still, if they had any hostages they'd rather cash in than pack up and move, maybe some sick ones, etc... this would be the time to blame Assad for their deaths.


"Workers in Adra" comes up in translation for who was attacked, but it's part of the area name: Omaliya = workers, district is implied. A video title (video 1, alt. posting) says the attack injured prisoners ( الاسرى ), but it's possible the word is families ( الاسر ) with an extra letter related to the date (? not normal, but possibly a local dialect thing). But only men are shown, not families. They don't wear prison uniforms, but it's not clear prisoners of Jaish Al-Islam ever did.

The opposition VDC (based in Douma) lists 7 men killed by Chemical and toxic gases, all civilian, largely displaced/refugees, from across Syria and Iraq who came to be here when the gas was released. Notes: "Due to inhaling chemical and toxic gases which been shelled on the area by the regime army forces, 15 have been injured and 7 dead."

http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/martyrs/1/c29ydGJ5PWEua2lsbGVkX2RhdGV8c29ydGRpcj1ERVNDfGFwcHJvdmVkPXZpc2libGV8ZXh0cmFkaXNwbGF5PTB8Y29kTXVsdGk9MTV8dGhpc0RhdGU9MjAxNC0wOS0yNHw=

* Tawfeeq Mahmoud Hasan from Lattakia
* Ali Younes Akeel from Other Nationalities: Iraq
* Loay Talal Mohammad, from Damascus Suburbs
Imad al-Deen Bader Haydar from Hama, Salamia
Kinan Imad al-Deen Haydar from Hama, Salamia (pres. the former's son, adult by listing)
* Abdullah Mohammad al-Sanari from Damascus Suburbs, Adra Balad
* Mohammad Jasem al-Hosain from Damascus Suburbs, Wafideen Camp

None of these details is really guaranteed to be true, but as the only thing to go on … It's quite a varied roster for placed of origin. In all cases, it seems quite possible the victims were Alawites (majority in distant Latakia), Shi'ites (slight majority in distant Iraq, many fleeing sectarian violence having settled across Syria), other non-Sunnis, or supporters of the Iraqi and Syrian governments in their fight against terrorism. But it's also possible they're all opposition-supporting Sunnis, arrested for some legitimate crime.

Videos/Imagery
Three videos located so far.

Video 1: 2:25 Sham Damascus countryside Adra workers ambulance injuries after the bombing with poison gas 24 9 2014 Video warning too harsh https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7eP5hOuvTA description adds little.
alt posting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz8iQKQf3L0 تنسيقية دوما|| إسعاف المصابين جراء القصف بالغازات السامة على عدرا العمالية وإصابة الاسرى24/9/2014 Douma Coordinating Committee || Ambulance Injured by shelling Toxic gases On Adra Workers And injury prisoners 24/9/2014

video 2: at Syrian Archive (can't seem to link directly) "Casualties of the chemical attack" 2:30 shows militants treated, variously convulsing, agitated, or spaced out and moaning.

Video 3: 0:50
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZB8oRrQ6W8 available - third video. shows militants deeper in treatment تنسيقية دوما || إستخدام الغازات السامة على عدرا العمالية في محاولة لإقتحامها Always Coordinate || The use of toxic gases on workers in Adra in an attempt to break into it not at Syria archive, coming via VDC

Clinical Signs
Usually, this is where we look at the effects of the chemical weapon to determine what sort it was. But in this case, there are no such signs visible (not that there always will be), and instead, we're looking at wounds caused by weapons or physical violence... none of them clearly fatal, except maybe to the Assad chemical attack narrative.

In video 1, three civilian men are brought in seemingly dead from the start, are splashed with water, and bleed from various wounds, including to the chest. One living man who could be a militant but shares features with the others, including bleeding chest wounds, was already there. In video 2, that man is still being treated, the other 3 are where they were, a possible bloodier body has appeared, and mainly militants brought in after, affected less fatally, bleeding only - and it's a lot - where one of them was injected in the arm. Video 3 shows the militants after they've mostly calmed down.

Ignoring the militants focused on in videos 2 and 3 - none of who seems to have died - we'll consider five possible fatalities - of the seven reported - in order of appearance:

V1: older man, bleeding scrape on the cheek, blood on stretcher? No other bleeding or wounds clearly visible.(both sides of his chest and the front seem clear).
Chemical signs, in case it matters: No fatal-looking wound faintly suggests he died a non-violent death, as by chemicals. But like the others, he shows no sign of coughing up foam, mucous, blood, or anything to show a chemical crisis in their lungs. He has a gasping expression, but this is common to many kinds of death. The whites of his eyes seem to be plain white, not red (no notable irritation, as with chlorine, or impure sarin, or most unknown chemicals used in the conflict).


V2: next we see a living patient, with 2 small holes poked in left side of chest, app. bleeding, seeming dark colored as if infected wounds from some prior events. (?) Another wound at least on the chest, near right nipple, is bleeding (blood runs with splashed water). None of the 3 seen wounds seems to be serious like gunshot wounds.
Chemical signs, in case it matters: white eyes, strange mellow agitation, breathing problems suggested by nebulizer mask, but not by any seen gasping. He seems dazed but somewhat alert, and fairly cooperative.

Note: there's no obvious similarity, but the first two patients in are an older man and a younger one, and the lists give a father and son pair among the dead. So these might be the Haydars from Salamia, if the younger one wound up dying...

V3: a middle-aged but fit, bearded man in green shirt, has a hole poked in left side of chest, bleeding (see running that appears after a splash and/or jostling to place V3, small blood spots prior on undershirt - was this was put on him well after he was done with most bleeding, after he was dead? There seems to be more active bleeding app. from the lower left leg. He also sports a previously bandaged left hand.
Chemical signs, in case it matters: possible cyanotic face (purple hue, increasing towards the forehead), but not clear enough to call. White eyes. Again, no sign of coughing blood or foaming at the mouth, etc.

V4 balding man with mustache, hole poked in left side of chest, seems to bleed a little on splash. From wherever, a larger amount of blood seems to smear and spread under his lower back. When first laid down, it seems his entire shirt is stained red in the back. Pale, slightly emaciated (ribs visible, and sunken eyes can be cause by malnutrition), but with a seemingly distended belly. Sickly yellow skin color. This man may have been quite ill, even if that's not what killed him. One enhanced view suggests bluish discoloration behind the wound, but other views don't, so this is unclear.
Chemical signs, in case it matters: None notable. White eyes, open as with the others. Irritated eyes will be pink to red and/or squeezed shut so we can't tell. Non-irritated eyes look like these.

V5? an even bloodier person brought in later? Or is this just the bloody laundry from the others, in a sizeable pile? From the first moments of video 2 (and note the chest wounds on V3 and V4 are both visible here, just blurry):
I'm not sure what to make of it. None of these holes looks quite like a recent fatal bullet hole, tending to look old and infected, especially with the delirious man. Is this a nasty infection making him ill? What about the others? What caused the holes? Some kind of torture? Or is it how they were killed?

This is unclear to me, but what is clear is that no Assad regime chemicals would poke holes in the victims' chests. Something else is at work in this Islamist-held area, on people the Islamists may have held prisoner, over some criminal offense or apostasy - maybe death penalty offenses. Maybe this wasn't the original plan on how to kill them, but things were rushed. By the following day, these militants would have to be gone.

Add 1-21: It's worth noting Jaish Al-Islam is known to use its prisoners for slave labor on digging tunnels, etc. and considering the details we have on what prisoners they didn't bother taking with them. The three dead men considered in detail above appear to be elderly (V1), having a broken hand (V3), and being seriously ill (V4). None of these seem like good qualifications in the Islamist labor market. These men might be considered disposable... and luckily, Assad's hole-poking gas bombs came along to dispose of them just in time, transforming some deadwood into one more little reminder for that big list of ruthless regime CW attacks Western pro-war hacks are so fond of maintaining.

Harasta, 4 Oct. 
The VDC lists 5 killed in this incident, but they're unusually logged under regime fatalities (other statistics). Alongside a baby Kurdish girl, killed in an ISIS mustard gas attack, they're the only six CW deaths listed there ("Chemical and toxic gases ").
Martyrdom location Damascus Suburbs: Harasta
http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/otherstatistics/1/c29ydGJ5PWEua2lsbGVkX2RhdGV8c29ydGRpcj1ERVNDfGFwcHJvdmVkPXZpc2libGV8ZXh0cmFkaXNwbGF5PTB8Y29kTXVsdGk9MTV8

Everyone in that database is listed as Status: Regime's army. Many, like the girl, are specified as rank: civilian. Some are known non-civilian, government and allied fighters - killed in combat or kidnapped from home doesn't seem to matter. That's the bulk of this database, but not by a wide margin. And many, like these men, are Rank: unknown.

* Mouahmmed al-Basha from Yabroud
* Ody Hanyfieh from Nabek
* and three Unidentified men from Nabek

Yabroud is some distance north of Damascus and Douma, and Nabk (Nabek) is a bit further north of that. Both towns had been overrun by Jaish Al-Islam in 2013, just as Adra was. Ostensibly, these 5 men weren't kidnapped from there, and aren't specified as prisoners. But all had left their home towns and were living in Harasta - which is right next to Douma and run by Islamists allied with Jaish Al-Islam - when, as the VDC puts it, they died "Due to chemical strike by mistake by regime forces."

Since when does the regime gas people by mistake? Allegedly, from the beginning. People they didn't mean to hit might be soldiers or allied fighters, maybe off-duty or retired - people hanging out with the same - government supporters - just non-Sunnis. For example, hitting Shia civilians and Syrian troops with sarin in Khan Al-Assal, Aleppo, in March, 2013 has been called a regime accident. Here, the people the Assad didn't mean to gas were displaced deep behind "rebel" lines, but the idea is probably the same.

There's no Syrian archive entry for this incident, and it's not in the French intel report, not reported or explained anywhere else I've seen. No known videos. Were these more prisoners/hostages? Did they have even more obvious signs of execution by weapons, making videos seem like a bad idea?

Afer
There were no more Adra Omaliya attacks, and no deadly CW attacks at all in East Ghouta, for the rest of 2014, aside from two more in Harasta. Perhaps for balance, Assad's toxic gas killed militants in both of these cases, and civilians in neither.

Harasta 20/21 Oct.: Not in French intel report cited here. But a Syrian Archive page exists, noting (wrongly?) "This incident was included in published reports on chemical weapons attacks created by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs." (maybe in another report) There it shows one video of a distraught wailing, agitated man who struggles as people hold him down and cut off his shirt, all with bare hands and no ill-effect. This is taken as convulsions, as if from a nerve agent. notes one death.
https://syrianarchive.org/en/collections/chemical-weapons/database?incident=HAR201014

The VDC lists one dead militant "Due to Chemical and toxic weapons use by the regime army forces on one of the front lines"
http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/martyrs/1/c29ydGJ5PWEua2lsbGVkX2RhdGV8c29ydGRpcj1ERVNDfGFwcHJvdmVkPXZpc2libGV8ZXh0cmFkaXNwbGF5PTB8Y29kTXVsdGk9MTV8c3RhcnREYXRlPTIwMTQtMTAtMjB8ZW5kRGF0ZT0yMDE0LTEwLTIxfA==

Harasta, 25 Dec.: 3 rebels "Martyred Due to Chemical and toxic weapons use by the regime army forces on one of the front lines of Damascus- Homs road."
http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/martyrs/1/c29ydGJ5PWEua2lsbGVkX2RhdGV8c29ydGRpcj1ERVNDfGFwcHJvdmVkPXZpc2libGV8ZXh0cmFkaXNwbGF5PTB8Y29kTXVsdGk9MTV8c3RhcnREYXRlPTIwMTQtMTAtMjV8ZW5kRGF0ZT0yMDE0LTEyLTI1fA==
Luckily no civilians died in this Christmas CW attack. If any had, we could guess they might be Christian hostages.

There is no Syrian archive entry, and it's not in French intel report. However: LCC Facebook post at the time claimed 2 dead from a regime chlorine gas attack.
https://www.facebook.com/LCCSy/photos/a.722911217736017/1054929494534186/?type=1&theater
Zaman Al-Wasl article (Arabic - no review) https://www.zamanalwsl.net/news/article/56549

Monday, January 7, 2019

Heads Blown off to Maintain "Food Embargo" on Douma?

January 7/8, 2018
(rough, maybe complete but for formatting)

First, some backgroundon market attacks in Douma:
August 16, 2015, more than 100 civilians were killed in an alleged "Assad regime" air force attack on three public markets. The crime was loudly decried, widely illustrated with images and reports, and got some attention from me and my research associates as the Douma market attack.  

While images suggest a very few girls died, primarily of nasty, sword-shaped head wounds, I found all lists combined claimed 2 fighters and 118 civilian dead: 5 boys, 3 women, no girls, 110 men (perhaps including some teenage boys). At least the smaller half of these seen at right were killed before to the blamed rockets were even fired. The image was taken within minutes of the attack by solar angles, unclear if before or after (details) - 40+ men and boys are already dead, blood dried, gathered, so.... How did they really die all at once?

And it so happens the rockets were almost surelty fired from the surface, 800m south, not from a jet as alleged. Someone running the area did this. See at right: all 4 impacts mapped exactly (see here for details on how). This arc is not a coincidence: the firing spot is at circle's center (the white circle is a bit rough, so the center is approximate - the red dots are exact, and an expert reading from those will show the firing spot).

The ruling opposition faction in Douma, strongly backed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, was at the time Jaish al-Islam (JaI). They swore they had no military presence to strike inside Douma, having agreed to stay outside the city following on recent protests by the locals. So, as they bragged, the regime must be hitting the local civilians, for their undying support for JaI. The group decided from its locations including, I presume, 800m south of the rocket impacts...

Other market attacks in Douma blamed on the "Assad regime" seem to begin in 2014 (no clear examples found earlier than that) and include …
* 2014-06-07
* 2014-06-15 
* 2015-02-09  
* 2015-06-30 (see section)
* 2015-08-12  (see section)
* 2015-08-16
* 2015-08-23

See other market attacks with the mentioned  sections - it was compiled 2015, so very dated. Other attacks were within JaI's area of control across Eastern Ghouta, but I'm not sure all which areas to list here... (so just Douma). But they held many adjacent areas from various/unclear times in 2011 and 2012 until Syrian military offensives of 2017 whittled them down, and in April, 2018, JaI had surrendered even in their home base of Douma and left the area, officially for good.

Not on that list, but covered below, are 2 sort-of market attacks that each caused severe and suspicious damage to a certain shopkeeper's head.

The 2018 Incident
Just about one year ago now, a man had his head blown off in a chair sitting at a food booth amid alleged shelling of a market (very graphic: new window for full size). Firas Abdullah, a "journalist from Douma" is one who tweeted the image 10:52 AM - 9 Jan 2018: "Died without head ! Mahmoud Wawieh, was killed today by a mortar dropped in front of him in the pubic market of #Douma_city during continuous bombardment by #Assad regime army."


The Douma-based VDC (Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria... translations /acronyms vary - they use VDC) of course has a listing for Mahmoud Younes Wawieh - civilian, married, occupation blank. Killed 2018-01-09 in "Shelling on a popular market" by "Actors: Syrian government and affiliated militias." This shelling is said to kill 7 locals, one boy and 6 men including Wawieh. They show the photo at right, smiling with what could be his child or grandchild, depending (Firas Abdullah used the same image as well). 

Scene analysis: There no sign of damage or even smoke to suggest any shelling attack within visible range. Clearly no mortar shell landed in front of him, where an intact shelf holds upright bottle of cooking oil (presumed olive). Some of it was impacted by his blood and tissues, not shrapnel. Nothing much behind him or on any other side suggests an impact there either. One jug of (sunflower oil?) is tipped over, a few apparent spatters of blood, unclear white things, and general dust (not heavy post-attack dust - it's neither floating visibly in the air, nor recently settled out).

Any artillery shell must've hit his head directly, and judging by the pattern of blood and brains, it came in from the left and a bit behind. It must not be very powerful - his head seems to have absorbed 100% of its power.

He may have been sitting right here and somehow didn't tip over. I think when he was hit (with whatever), Mr. Wawieh was leaning back to his left, right foot extended for balance (see blood on that boot, clear arc on pavement where his toes were?) - maybe pointing or reaching back with his left hand, maybe towards someone behind him or up the street, from the apparent direction he was hit... or towards that unexpected mortar shell? That would put his head a bit to the right of where he slumped afterwards...

The apparent downward angle from his head down to its splattered remains is steep. If this reflects a line of fire, it looks to me most like a man holding a very powerful gun with an exploding bullet shot him, either standing above him on the raised sidewalk, behind and to the left, or perhaps from a sniper rifle positioned up the street and high enough to fit. By this angle, it could also be an incoming mortar shell of very little power ... A few other things could possibly explain it. I'm no expert. And all these angle considerations too are provisional, hard for an expert even to be sure about, so let's not get hung up on it. Heads explode certain ways, there's unsure posture, possible deflection...

An assassination? Maybe this was caused by a very powerful gun meant for shooting down aircraft, in the bed of a truck parked nearby? I wouldn't think so but for Eva Bartlett's 10 June, 2018 RT report "Torture, starvation, executions: Eastern Ghouta civilians talk of life under terrorist rule" (brought to my attention recently). This relates allegations of summary executions, robbery, kidnapping, torture, organ harvesting, etc. (adding greatly to some of my own writing on JaI atrocities here, and see also here for the bigger picture). I'm not convinced all these stories are true, but I am convinced most of them and their overall picture of things is at least "based on a true story." A living hell was imposed on them by criminals enabled by the "world community" just to further another regime change campaign.

Bartlett spoke with a young man named Khaled, who reported a 2-day imprisonment by Jaish al-Islam, tortured on suspicion of working with the government. Khaled also spoke of an execution he witnessed in Douma:

“They came in a truck with a 23mm (anti-aircraft) machine gun and blew off his head. Then, they accused the Syrian Army of killing him.” A photo on his mobile phone showed a headless man sitting in a chair, no remnants of shelling. 
“Jaysh al-Islam blew his head off for selling food cheaply, because they wanted to keep prices high, so that people stay impoverished and would have to work for them in tunneling or join them in fighting.”

It's not clear if the above is the scene referred to, or the exact image, or if Khaled had his own view of the same scene (or a different one?). But this happened about 6 months before that article, and fits the description. It's not really clear he witnessed it, or is telling the correct details, but it seems plausible, and he seems credible. This 23mm is a big gun, truck-mounted or towed artillery, basically, so it would be on the street. The angle from Mr. Wawieh's head to any truck could make sense, especially if it was parked up the sidewalk, just around the next corner (a way off frame to the right). 

But again, nothing is clear enough (to me) to say what the directions must be, nor what weapon is really needed to do this. But I'll try anyway. This … maybe. 23mm is not big diameter, but the shells are long, I think, packed with some explosives, and fired with great force. I suspect it would pierce his head, bursting it, pushing matter forward and exploding a moment later, spraying brains and such down and in all directions from a spot just past his head. I can see that, again, especially if they were parked just around the nearest corner, firing almost along that wall. He might have been facing them, asking "what, are you going to shoot me with THAT?" 

The 2015 incident
As strange as this kind of "Assad regime shelling" might seem, it's not the first time it had happened, at a public market, in Douma. Images of this were posted at the time including the still at right on Facebook by @sedemkdad August 26, 2015. A video of the scene is still available at Live Leak, noting "very bizarre way to die even the body didn't moved.. after a direct hit by bomb fragments." Indeed - arms folded, legs crossed, just chilling as if for a portrait photo from this very angle, when BAM … he stays in just that posture, as his head explodes?

The VDC attaches a crop of this image to its entry for Saif al-Deen Ahmad al-Fawal, from Douma. Occupation blank, killed 2015-08-26 "due to regime`s army forces shelling." This is a different market shelling 10 days after the big incident I had studied. This didn't come up as an incident to list, but it could be added to the list. Does the same kind of market-related tension underlie both incidents?

He's just one of nine people the VDC lists as killed in the area by shelling this day (2 from Erbeen, 7 from Douma, including 2 girls) 

Scene Analysis: Unlike the 2018 scene, there is nearby damage consistent with shelling, smoking hole in the side of a building, an injured or dead person brought out (video's end), dust in the air, even some jumbling near the killing site (a man picks up a light metal object next to the victim's tables). This doesn't prove who did it. 

But as the arranged posture suggests, nothing explosive happened right at Mr. al-Fawal's stand, except just inside his skull. In this case, he appears staged, given an unrealistic, casual posture presumably held just before he died. Originally, he was likely seated here at the event, then might have stayed upright, or tipped over, depending on the angle. Some blood/material flew down around the chair, and a lot of just blood trickled across the ground underneath his smaller table, remaining wet. That would likely come out of the stump if he spent some minutes laying there on his back or side.

This table was most likely tipped over and then re-arranged along with him - note the things closest to the alleged mortar strike are set nicely, while things a few feet away are naturally jumbled (not to the right degree for shelling, but consistent with a man violently tipping over). 

Maybe not tipped fully over … He was running what seems to be a tea stand; little cups, saucers, a teapot neatly arranged on his smaller table as he was propped in this position for the video. More saucers, boxes perhaps with sweet rolls are on the larger table, one box slid halfway off. It's hard to read, but that's a taller table set a bit apart. See at right looking down between the tables - hanging box on the right is higher up. A clear dish atop a pink box was chipped recently, but not shattered - maybe by that box once tipping all the way into it? Same with the opposite side of the blue tray to the left, chipped by … something else, or it's been re-arranged. Would he use chipped dishes? Maybe. It wasn't the best of times. If he were a newly-dead guy whose tipped over body and stuff were being disrespectfully re-posed, he probably would. 


Possible targeting check 
The same basic story is suggested; someone targeted each of these food sellers for some reason, and made up a fake regime-blame story in each case. This would suggest their true reasoning is best left unsaid, for legal or PR purposes. Maintaining that "Assad food embargo"  as a pressure on the people, as cited by Khaled for the 2018 case, sounds like about the right motive to me. Bartlett for RT also heard of another man arrested 15 days by JaI for selling rice without their approval. He was released, but others wouldn't be so lucky.

For both possibly targeted men, who else of that name and area (possible relatives) was killed in what alleged ways, before and after these events? I checked the databases of the Douma-based VDC. Sometimes clear patterns emerge, but not here. As often is the case, there are
* civilians killed in disputable circumstances,
* some rebel fighters showing that sympathy within the family, and
* some soldiers in the Syrian Arab Army, showing a division of beliefs.

This leaves it unclear which way these two men would have leaned, especially vis-à-vis Jaish al-Islam; JaI were also opposed by many opposition armed groups, at least for periods until they were each crushed...

In fact, it seems likely the victims of the final massacre with chemicals, for which pres. Trump bombed Syria … might be relatives of a prominent military opponent:  Mohammad Diab Bakrieh, commander of the Douma Martyrs Brigade from the murky sniper killing of his son, I think, until his own killing in unclear circumstances in April 2014 - the same day an apparent civilian relative was also shot dead in a supposed coincidence. His DMB soon formed a Jaish Al-Umma coalition that rebelled against Jaish al-Islam, largely over their brutality to locals and hoarding of food. This ran off and on from September, 2014 to January 2015, when they were ruthlessly crushed by JaI. (this is months before the big market attack, when civilians who had supported that uprising were pushed again to protest, and bad events followed.) Survivors of the group were hunted down. Their families, unclear... The survivors of Bakriyeh's group who could regrouped and formed an alliance with the Syrian government instead. 

Yeah... a bunch of his likely relatives named Bakriyeh also died in an unsolved chemical mass murder on 7 April, 2018 - just as JaI prepared to flee Douma, and would see a last chance to kill off any hostages they didn't want to set free. So it's worth looking into these things.

Wawiehposs. relatives of the shopkeeper killed in 2018
واوية
The VDC lists only a few killed, mostly from Douma, mostly civilian. The shopkeeper is the most recent. Going back in time, here are most of them:

* boy killed by landmine 2016-07-25
* man killed by sniper 2015-11-14
* man killed by shelling 2015-08-24 (2 days before the OTHER shopkeeper died, FWIW)
* man killed by shelling, warplane, "massacre" 2015-08-12
* boy died 2015-07-12 from "starvation because of the siege imposed by the forces of regime" (or perhaps: hostage not well enough cared for)
* A Wawieh woman died 2015-03-05 from warplane shelling
* a man killed 2015-02-22 warplane shelling (face photo: looks a bit starved?)
* Thayer Wawiyeh with "FSA (meaning opposition forces, usually not ISIS or Nusra Front), killed 2015-01-04 in "the clashes." Actors: Armed opposition groups (not regime, not ISIS = JaI?)
* Another "FSA" killed by regime's army in clashes at Mahin, Homs, 2013-11-07
* Another non-Civilian, corporal in "regime's army," killed in Homs : Naziheen 2012-02-11. Militants were just being chased out of Homs after running it as a horror show for a couple months. Unclear why he's on the "killed" (formerly "martyrs") list. He's also listed in the right place - regime forces/"other statistics" #7906

Al-Fawal - poss. relatives of the shopkeeper killed in 2015

الفوال
Nael Foal, from Dummar (not Douma, but not far away). Non-Civilian, "Regime's army." Killed 2014-02-25 in Deir Ezzor by Shooting. Unclear why he's on the "killed" (formerly "martyrs") list - he's also listed in the right place - regime forces/"other statistics": #117351

Some are civilians, like Mahmoud al-Fawal (a man from Douma
"Martyred by the regime`s army forces sniper`s gunfire" 2014-01-18) or Rokaya al-Foual, (woman, age 65, from East Ghouta somewhere, killed
2013-11-21 due to "lack of medical supplies and prevent her from going out because of the siege of the forces of order" (or perhaps: hostage of the forces of chaos not well enough cared for)

And some are "FSA" like Mohammad Rateb Ali al-Fawal, from Douma, aka Abo Ali Tibieh - killed 2016-02-08 in Damascus Suburbs: Tal Sawan "during the clashes with the regime`s army forces." Abd al-Hadi al-Fawal from "Damascus Suburbs" - Adult - Male (by photos, app. 16) - Non-Civilian, "FSA" "media activist" "called as Abo Moseab" - killed 2013-09-25 in East Ghota "during the clashes with the regime `s army."  Yaser, also FSA, killed 8-31-13 in Otaibah clashes. Not so much getting killed by other rebels with these few...

Waleed Muhmood al-Foual, "FSA" - killed 2013-12-13 in Damascus Suburbs: Adra. Oohh… He's one of those killed during JaI Nusra Front murder-kidnap raid - the VDC's founder Razan Zaitouneh was abducted just before this offensive, of which they kept an odd record (ACLOS). Jaish al-Islam ran it, along with Jabhat al-Nusra (and he's "FSA" so...). Adra is where they got these people at right. Was Waleed Al-Fawal one of the attackers, presumably? Several were killed, including on the 13th. That would put some locals of this name in a JaI friendly camp, but that's far from a guarantee for others, four years on...

Conclusion
Logic-impaired Islamists have already noted the parallel with this implausible head-shelling happening to certain shopkeepers in Douma, at least twice - and blamed Assad's shelling and the world's silence for making this scene repeat. An example at Deskgram (auto-translated):

"Malo Bashar kills his people as his throne .. Hraaam you ... Haraam you, the massacres and scenes repeated and the oppressors and one of them there is always their only sin, they ask for the livelihood of the Halal of God and not with their arms and ammunition to the complainant"

Rather, I think it shows some of the twisted governance of the foreign-backed Takfiri scum left in charge of the people living in East Ghouta, and especially in Douma. Bartlett for RT another man arrested 15 days by JaI for selling rice without their approval. The 2015 incident followed just after the horribly shady massacre involving alleged Assad attacks on markets. It served the same horrific effect. News stories from around the time of the January 2018 incident, referring to supposed food blockade on Douma and its controlled territories:

Nov. 2017: Raed Srewel, an activist in the city of Douma, said expectant mothers were underfed, leading to a greater prevalence of heart conditions in infants as well as infections such as meningitis.
...the government has continued to impose a siege on the area...
“There is great hunger among the people,” Srewel said. ..."The basic pillars of life are absent here.”
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/13/assad-regimes-starve-or-surrender-strategy-is-a-war-says-amnesty

March 2018, as JaI's end drew very near: "The UN has warned of impending starvation if aid cannot reach the area, where international deliveries have long been erratic and obstructed by the Syrian government... A convoy of relief trucks crossed front lines into eastern Ghouta on Friday and unloaded all its food to the trapped population despite the fighting."
https://www.algemeiner.com/2018/03/12/syrias-douma-said-to-be-facing-catastrophe-as-assad-regimes-assault-grinds-on/


In between: a guy had lots of cooking oil (up front: olive? behind: larger gallons of maybe sunflower (Solina? other brand)) - there was some food, and people could use this to fry up quite a lot of it. …he seems willing to sell, but nowhere near sold out yet and already dead. With his head blown off, his oil and whatever else will presumably taken by someone, but not taken yet... Despite the claimed starvation, this wealth is not being freely looted. Clearly the vigilant-looking men here are keeping that under control, perhaps until they can cart away the loot themselves? 

The regime gets blamed for a cooking oil embargo, prices stay high, scarce food goes unfried outside certain circles … they might call it the tempura club. 

Over the years, I've seen this; the ruling Islamists had some people - including some likely relatives of each shopkeeper under study - starved to the bone from a total food cut-off, as others just went slightly undernourished or, if well-connected, put on weight. This was always proof of unequal food distribution, not any embargo imposed by Assad. I've had only to repeat the same point from 2013 onward. Here's one from the time and area under study, Turkish propaganda source. 

How could he force people to stop sharing? There is no human decency embargo one can impose. The people have to be assholes themselves. Consider Yaser al-Doumani, who started quite thin, but would swell all during the brutal siege, and report all chubby on the April 2018 chemical massacre of the Bakriyeh family (lower right). During this time, he ate fine. Many other did the same. Is that because they felt the Jihad must be fed first, and maybe overfed second, while the common people needed some suffering "to build character"?



Sunday, December 30, 2018

On the Layla Shweikani Issue

December 29, 2018

In late November, news broke that a dual US-Syrian citizen was killed in detention in a Syrian prison, some two years earlier. Layla Shweikani (Arabic: ليلى شويكاني ) was a U.S.-born Chicago native, educated as a software engineer. But she went to Syria in 2015, ostensibly, to help displaced people in the Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta.

The area was run by Saudi-backed hardline Islamists Jaish Al-Islam, who apparently approved of her work. Other women activists there, like Razan Zaitouneh, have been arrested and killed by JaI for challenging their harsh policies. But it seems Shweikani was arrested by the Syrian authorities instead, and is believed by most to have been executed following on torture, and surely for no real crime except trying to help the Syrian people.

Since I don't follow the news closely, my first view happened to be via Tony Cartalucci at Land Destroyer on December 15, panning "a particularly scurrilous op-ed appeared in the pages of the Washington Post" two days earlier which, he argues, lacked "any actual evidence" for the allegations. He also considers a report in the UK Independent, which featured more explicit evidence. But as he accurately put it, the source for that was "dubious activists relying on second and even third-hand accounts."

- Washington Post article by Jason Rezaian (soon arrested in Iran, tried, and convicted for espionage, as noted).
- The Independent article by Richard Hall

In this post, I'll offer a reasoned rundown of what we supposedly know, and what we don't really know, and what possibilities exist.

The first 33 months of silence
Activists are pressing president Trump, with apparent futility, to impose penalties, and shaming the public and media for supposedly ignoring the crime. For example, rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told WaPo's Rezaian in early December “It’s disheartening that there not only has been no outrage over the murder of an American by the Assad regime, but that there has been little to no coverage on her story by our national media.” The story had by then been making limited rounds for perhaps two weeks, with little evidence yet and, as it turns out, emerging from the blue with zero preludes or prior reports.

As people are guilt-tripped for silence over this crime, it should be noted everyone including her family, her government, and Syrian activist groups failed to make any public mention of the case in nearly three years since her reported arrest in February, 2016. WaPo: "She was being held in solitary confinement with no contact with the outside world." For some reason , even the people who knew she was in there didn't make one-way contact possible by speaking of her case.

Opposition records often give clues, and my primary source is the databases of the Center for Documentation of Violations (or VDC). It's pretty exhaustive up to a point, but never got a report of her as detained or killed. This seems to be the proper spelling of the fairly rare name in question: شويكاني
The VDC lists 2 men of this name killed, a civilian in 2014, a militant in 2015, both from Mleha, E. Ghouta. No women or children appear. For detainees, they list just 4 men, 3 in mid-2012 and one in late 2013 (one is from Daraya, the rest from Mleha). None since, no Shweikani women. (there's also a database for missing, which lists zero Shweikanis.)

So she didn't make it into this source. Nor did her father, nor probably her fiance. A decent internet search suggests no one else anywhere reported her arrest or detention or worries, prior to the recent news. On Twitter, I found Tweets featuring her name in Arabic first appear, just barely, on November 26 of this year, come in heavy in the following days, and sporadically since. It seems no one spoke of her prior to that.

I don't what this means, if anything, but it's odd. Detained activists are usually named as heroes and supported with protests, petitions, hashtag campaigns, etc. But here, a U.S. citizen activist and some family members are detained February 2016, contact was made with U.S. Government help 10 months later (see below), execution should have seemed likely or imminent (see below), and then contact was lost for two years, apparently with no clarification from Damascus ... and still no public note or complaint of the missing U.S. citizen, the detained activist facing execution, perhaps already killed.

But the Syrian government just now (sometime in November) confirmed her death, on December 28, 2016, through an update to its civil registry. It doesn't say she was executed, or was even in jail, just that she died. Other information might well clarify that, but that information might be untrue, in whole or part.

Then, suddenly everybody knows just when and where she died, and were able to speak about it. The explanation they'd give is they knew where she was and how she would have died if she had. But since the regime cruelly refused to confirm the killing, uncertainty over her fate and perhaps some kind of threats made them keep quiet about it (like maybe they would kill her as soon as anyone spoke up). In that case, perhaps a Syrian affirmation of hear death was taken as credible proof of something they highly suspected, and was enough to shake their tongues free.

That's entirely possible, but I suspect the abnormal quiet is some kind of a clue to the hidden truth of this story. For now, it's just worth noting.

Anyway, considering everyone else's silence for nearly three years,  I don't feel so slow in catching the story and following up with this starter post that winds up just missing the mark of two years since her death, and one month after the first anyone heard of her.

How we know she was in jail
My main question in general with tortured detainees is whether they ever were prisoners of the Syrian government, rather than of opposition groups with their own genocide plans (see Fail Caesar part 6 for well-founded doubts even in those cases that have supposed photo proof). But here, it seems Layla Shweikani was held in Syrian prison, and did presumably die there, possibly in an execution. So the usual line of questioning is - barring a surprise revelation - out the window.

Since Washington withdrew its meddling, hostile "ambassador" to Syria, Robert Ford, early in the engineered conflict, the U.S. pursued Shweikani's case through the Czech ambassador to Damascus, Eva Filipi. As the Independent reported, "ten months after she was first detained, on 18 December 2016, Filipi visited Shweikani in Adra prison on behalf of the US government."

It's a logical possibility that ambassador Filipi fabricated this visit to help sow a false story of the detained American activist - especially considering the case of Robert Ford. But it's surely not an accusation I'm making. As a professional politician outside the Jihadist deception network (alleged inmates at the prison, etc. are always suspect), she's presumably trustworthy - on basic facts like this anyway.

The government officials and reporters passing on news of her meeting are probably doing it correctly enough. Important context is probably left off, but  I presume this visit was real, and so: Ms. Shweikani was held at Adra prison as of December 18, and the Syrian government acknowledged that fact by granting the visit that proved it. And unless she was released in the interim (which seems unlikely) the same authorities' claim she died somewhere, somehow, ten days later, means she died in prison. Execution is obviously one way that happens.

In his report, Tony Cartalucci added some questioning of the WaPo journalist Josh Rogin, who acknowledged "we don't know the specifics of Layla's death ... Thank you for that caution. ... But the regime is responsible for her death, in their custody." From this, we can say Rogin is pretty sure she was in jail when she died, and can only claim general responsibility based on that. And that's probably accurate enough while the rest is, in fact, hearsay. And there's been a lot of that regarding Syria, that either goes untested or fails a test.

The charges and Shweikani's uncertain fate
Without explaining how this was known, the article claims the prisoner admitted to the leveled charges, but only after "Shweikani had been threatened by Syrian authorities that they would harm her family if she did not confess to the ambassador to the crimes she had been accused of, which she then did."

If this is true, she said in the meeting that she was guilty. The claim that this was extracted under threat is suspect; there's little reason to know what happens inside torture chambers at Adra prison. Was this just a guess? 

What were the charges? Most sources are vague, saying it was related to "terrorism." But Richard Hall wrote for the Independent how Layla was arrested sometime in February, 2016, "along with her father and her fiancé. She was charged with planning to assassinate members of the Syrian government."

First off, Hall can't know what the charges actually were - his activist source almost surely filled in this detail, as he did for most relevant details. And as we'll discuss next, he doesn't seem very trustworthy. But if this is the charge - and it should be the one she claimed to be guilty of, before an ambassador and a judge, if so - it would probably be known early on; her family probably learned of it from or before the December 18 meeting with ambassador Filipi. It's surely a death penalty crime, and execution should be expected with little delay, justified or otherwise. And at some point, as I'll explain next, they learned she had been sentenced to death in a December 26 trial that lasted 30 seconds. Yet, as the Independent reports, until the 2018 confirmation...
"Since there was no official confirmation of her death at that time, Shweikani’s family still held out hope that she was alive, and that she would be released. From the time they lost contact with her at the end of 2016, the Czech ambassador continued to make enquiries about her with the Syrian government and the case was followed by the then US envoy to Syria, Michael Ratney." 
That sounds like it's missing something. The Americans must have been given no clear answer? Why would Damascus deny a supposedly valid execution for terrorism? Did they actually send an answer but the Americans - for example - "misplaced" it, in order to maintain the illusion of a horrible injustice and cause for yet more "pressure on Damascus"? There are open questions here.

Another way of looking at it; a US citizen was allegedly involved in assassination plots in Syria - and no one mentions her detention, least of all the U.S. government, until Damascus brings up her name first in 2018. That could be coincidence, or might help clarify what caused that unusual silence.

Qutaiba Idlibi's "Research"
Alleged threats behind Shweikani's confession to ambassador Filipi were mentioned above. It's not clear how these were learned of, but that's presumably some of the prolific detective work by "Qutaiba Idlbi​, a researcher who works with the relatives of Syrian detainees," as cited for the Independent, not in the WaPo piece. After stumbling on his Twitter account (first tweet mentioning her case - Nov. 27, 2018) I asked him about that finding in particular: "Are you the source for that claim? How was it learned of?" (awaiting a response...)

Based on info he gathered (when?), Hall at the Independent would report:

"What happened next was discovered by Idlbi through testimony of other inmates at Adra prison, where she was held, and contact with Syrian officials after the fact."

"...Eight days later [Dec. 26], Shweikani was taken from Adra prison to a military court, where she was asked to answer to the charges against her. “The trial is basically one question: ‘Do you admit to the accusations?’ Layla said yes, due to the threats on her family’s life,” says Idlbi.  “Through an official, we found out that a judge sentenced her to execution for terrorism. The trial lasted 30 seconds.”


The trial part would be internal. It would almost require a functioning insider to witness it or know a witness. Luckily, Idlibi claims, there was an unnamed official sympathetic to the opposition who knew of these details and leaked them to this researcher. It's not clear when he pulled this convenient trick, but presumably well after the fact. These details would make her death pretty certain, as they seem to do now. Yet for years, this info was apparently not available as "Shweikani’s family still held out hope that she was alive, and that she would be released."

I suspect this 'sympathetic insider' only 'stepped forward' in November 2018, as if to bolster the government's new listing, as if he had no clue before, or maybe had just forgotten until the registry update jogged his memory. But it seems likely he only handed over these long-quiet details, to support more opposition claims, in the days before Idlibi would finally 'reveal' his own ongoing research.

Otherwise, this "researcher" Idlibi relies - as many other opposition propagandists do - on alleged prisoners who saw detainees here and there, and bring this up upon their alleged release. In this case, I suspect all such source were 'released' suddenly in late November, 2018, just as that official came out to help Idlibi with his big debut as a world-stage research guy.

Here's another little puzzle - following a trial on December 26, as Richard Hall heard it:
"According to Idlbi, Shweikani was then transferred to the infamous Saydnaya prison, just outside of the capital. “Since then our assumption is that she was definitely killed. Because usually you are executed within 48 hours [of a verdict],” he says."  
So it was illogically that "Shweikani’s family still held out hope that she was alive" - at least, once this presumption was formed (just when is unclear - when someone who saw it was allegedly released?) And from that point forward, this outlandish fantasy somehow underpinned their continued public silence, until the regime finally admitted it on their own.

Furthermore, the presumed date, known since whenever, happens to match exactly what they Syrian government had just confirmed - December 28 (transferred Dec. 26, usually killed within 48 hours). Are they really that predictable, or is this a fake prediction fitted to the revelation after-the-fact? The latter option remains open anyway, since Idlibi waited two years for this regime confirmation before raising any public complaints.

In support, the article notes how the Syrian Network for Human Rights also "believes she was executed on 28 December 2016." The SNHR is a western-funded pro-regime change front propaganda group, as Cartalucci notes. It's also the more shrill, partisan propagandist cousin of the widely-cited Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, from which it branched off following an early dispute. The SNHR, not the SOHR, endorse the claims brought by Mr. Idlibi, which means nothing. It blames Assad, so they agree. (that's not to say the western-funded SOHR would NOT endorse the story...)

As Cartalucci notes, Idlibi's status as an opposition member means he lacks neutrality as a witness and further, he might be repaying favors to a hostile state; "Qutaiba Idlbi lives in the United States after receiving a scholarship to study at Columbia University," as Cartalucci found with a bit of his own research. I can add it says Columbia student right on his Twitter profile. More research on this chap may be in order. But even as I'm sure Idlibi is researching me now (as if that matters), I probably won't bother much. My questions are those raised here, and digging around won't answer them. Some discussion with him might provide clues, however. I am going to pursue that.

What Remains
Idlibi's research might still be partly or totally true. I doubt that, but doubt is just what it is. Otherwise, there are other possibilities for the few solid facts here:

1. she was executed legitimately, for a serious crime she was guilty of (or reasonably considered guilty)
2. she was executed illegitimately, on false charges (I take it as my job to question such claims, not rule them out absent a very good reason)
3. She died of natural causes, illness, etc. It happens in jails and prisons everywhere. (but that would mean her charges, confessions, and perhaps trial and sentencing to death at the same time are coincidental)

There are also standing questions over the government's actions. At least as the stories imply, her family was never informed, obviously not given her body. Washington and the Czech ambassador pursued the case, we hear. They must have been misled/uninformed over the execution. I'm not convinced that's the reality, but it could well be. There are different possible reasons, some of them reasonable, why Damascus might stay quiet on this execution in particular. But certainly that secrecy would feed into narratives like those circulating now.

And let's consider the troubling precedents and prior allegations that make these stories seem likely enough most won't even bother with specific evidence. What we think we know about Assad's secret prison killing machine includes mass arrests of innocents, inhumane conditions, routine torture, false confessions, and mass executions, thought to have been ramped up lately. This is; all alleged, with the allegations widely credited. Like most, Layla is said to have been killed at Sednaya prison, the "human slaughterhouse" as decried by Amnesty International in a report I considered here.

It's widely accepted there must be a system to this mass killing, some order for it coming from on high. There probably should be, if it's real. In fact anti-Syria investigators have gathered close to a million pages of top secret documents seized from overrun government facilities, etc. But despite the public bluster, these "Assad Files" apparently reveal no such orders. The best examples they can find to even suggest it note some beatings and some torture have occurred in Syrian prisons. But officials are only seen - talking candidly and secretly between themselves - calling these "mistakes" and ordering that it be stopped. Oversight is proposed. Some deaths by disease are also noted; officials secretly suggested more attention to cleanliness to minimize that. (see here) The orders TO starve, neglect and mass exterminate the prisoners ... yet to be found, just like the orders to shoot or arrest peaceful protesters.

The torture part of Layla's tale might be a specific from Idlibi's supposed insider, or simply inferred from the record of allegations and the supposed proof in the "Caesar photos," said to show "torture." Tony Cartalucci noted this:

"Part of [WaPo reporter Josh] Rogin’s diversions included references to the 2013 “Caesar photographs,” which Rogin would claim were “verified” by the FBI. US Representative Kinzinger is also fond of invoking the photographs which were allegedly smuggled out of Syria and reportedly depict Syrians "tortured then executed" by the Syrian government. "

"What Rogin failed to mention was that the photographs were “verified” only as undoctored by the FBI who never once stepped foot in Syria to investigate or verify the identities of or circumstances surrounding those depicted in the photographs."


This is true and well-put. They are genuine photos, mostly or all taken at an official location in Damascus near Assad's palace. But where did these thousands of real and emaciated bodies come from? I've made a huge project of analyzing these photos (not all published, but a lot of work is collected here). For a nine month span, the bodies came thorough at a rate of about 1,000/month. This is a huge crime. The circumstances deserve careful consideration, not the easily-convinced, almost kneejerk Assad blame they were greeted with.

Some photo evidence and considerable logic suggest those thousands of men and boys (and one woman) were prisoners of the local terrorists (see again FC6). Most likely, that would be the same Jaish Al-Islam that freely kidnaps non-Sunni civilians and uses them how it sees fit (see Fail Caesar part 8), and also seemingly approved of Layla Shewikani's work with "displaced people." Knowing they had a sympathetic insider at the morgue end ("Caesar"), I think they killed off most of the huge number of prisoners they held, forged "regime prisoner" numbers on the bodies they dumped for the government to process as unknown. Then, I suspect, the insider "confirmed" those numbers with his own unofficial morgue photos of the victims, to make it all look official.  Even many opposition sources support my hunch that most of the victims are captured Syrian army soldiers and the like (allegedly, they had "tried to defect" - see here).

So there's little documented reason to be sure this torture-killing of innocents by the "Assad regime"  is a real thing, let alone the obvious explanation for Ms. Shweikani's fate. We should still be applying some skepticism to the specific evidence and, as we see above, finding it doesn't hold much weight on its own. It needs these precedents to be real, but they probably aren't.

Remember Nabil Sharbaji
At least some detainee stories seem to be simply made up, or grossly embellished. Consider the case of Nabil Sharbaji, arrested at the uprising's start in March, 2011, but quickly released, detained again in Feb. 2012 for helping start an opposition newspaper, and held for longer. In late 2012, he allegedly wrote down the names and details of some 82 cellmates at Adra prison - in blood and rust with a chicken bone, on scraps of rough cloth, and seemingly illegible - as highlighted in a presentation and documentary film sponsored by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Then he was arrested a third time at the end of January, 2013. That last arrest is suspicious, going ignored by most sources, and following on an even more-ignored release. He may have been in real jail before, was released twice, and was then kidnapped into a terrorist dungeon for the final and fatal stretch. (see my analysis for this and the following details). It should be noted he, like most highlighted over such fates, was always opposed to violence and Islamism. If anyone had a reason to kill him, it would be the violent Islamists taking over his neighborhood. And yet it was the cruel Assad regime, we hear, arrested everyone nice, forcing the rebellion to turn violent and Islamist...

As it happens the 82-names list - some pile of cloth - was allegedly hidden in the cuffs and collar of one shirt and smuggled out by Mansour Al-Omari, who also ran the VDC's detainee database (that never listed Layla). According to this man and that database, Sharbaji was never released after the second arrest; he kept sending out notes from the regime prisons (mostly with ink and paper and smuggled in unspecified ways) long enough to disprove rumors he was killed in April. The notes continued up to August, 2013, with sightings and an alleged prison visit in October, 3013. But then there's no news I could find for over three years before, in late 2016, the same Mansour Al-Omari revealed how his friend Nabil had been killed two years earlier; "He died in the Saydnaya military prison after a jailer kicked him in the chest" on May 3, 2015.

This would have happened two months after Sharbaji  was reliably identified (March, 2015 - see second VDC martyr's entry) in a "Caesar photo" looking like he died of suffocation. But it's dated February, 2013, and no Caesar photos show bodies later than mid-August of that year. (Alleged sightings continue into October - just long enough to 'clarify' he lived past the photo collection.) But that really looks like him, and timeline analysis supports this is the right basic time for that body number to pass through, probably about two weeks after that murky third arrest. Unless the ID is wrong, he was dead before most of the smuggled notes attributed to him, and some of the alleged sightings. He might still have written that famous 82-names list before he died, but you know ... I just don't buy that either. I find that evidence almost ludicrous in and of itself.

It's worth remembering Nabil at this time, and wondering how widely this kind of embellishment happens. Maybe something of the like plays into the stories about Layla Shweikani's death for no crime, under systematic torture ordered by the brutal Assad regime.