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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Two Toxicologists on Saraqib Symptoms

April 24, 2021

I already had this incident of February 4, 2018 covered fairly well in the post The Nonsense Gassing of Militants in Saraqeb - a part of my project Re-Considering the IIT's Nine Unsolved CW Cases. The news is that the findings are in: the OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team found all contrary claim to be nonsense, and that it's "reasonable" to believe that Syria's military did that, and now we're all supposed to believe it. The IIT releases its second report (press release - PDF direct link) just in time for the Conference of State's Parties where Syria was stripped of its rights (Syriana Analysis or Saudi-owned Al-Araby). 

I've been a bit slo to write about this, and now I'm just looking at a couple of aspects. But first a quick review of the chlorine cylinder "impacts." That's an issue I'll have to consider in another post, but I suspect they fell right here from above, and maybe at a very slight angle ... probably after reaching an arc following a steep-angle launch from the surface nearby. The how is unknown but possible, as far as I know, and tricky enough that I have to leave other fakery (hydraulic press, etc. - on-site or off - grass bleaching faked or coincidental, craters made with something else to be explained) or helicopter drop as PHYSICAL possibilities.

Explaining Away the Sarin

Otherwise, there's a lot of strangeness to consider here, like their answer to the illogical sarin-chlorine allegations that were backed up by actual sarin returns. The same would be claimed in Douma in April; sarin and chlorine barrel bombs killed over 180 at activist last count before they reverted to 42, and then just chlorine was found. It seems to me that story was supposed to go somewhere, but it got messed up, presumably in the chaos of total defeat for Islamist forces. And it seems to me Saraqib was supposed to be the illustrative prelude, hence a devious (and essentially impossible) "Assad chemical trick" - sneaking sarin back in under cover of the more boring chlorine. 

IIT report 2 decides: To attack with both sarin and chlorine at once was illogical and improbable, besides poorly-illustrated, as their experts had to admit. So the Identifiers set to correcting the record with no foul called. The sarin was just there in the dirt already. Who knows why. 

There was a separate question of whether normal sarin breakdown products should be found or chlorinated ones. I didn't see that answered here. If they should be chlorinated by the chlorine and aren't, that means they weren't in the attack OR in the soil already, but added later. That would be leading sample contamination - the kind of thing the OPCW thinks it can avoid having rebels videotape their scooping and sealing of samples, while having no clue if anyone had already messed with the site (or seeing clues they decided to ignore?).

The sarin-like symptoms reported would need explained away. Sure, the miosis was never real, at least not for all 11 patients as reported. ("pinpoint or constricted pupils, firmly established by the IIT in two individuals only"). And no foul called for leadingly exaggerating a mismatching symptom. But there were others that seemed odd, and now must be caused by just chlorine. As it happens, the experts agreed - both of them - that it all lined up just fine. 

6.44 Two experts (toxicologists) assessed the FFM Report on Saraqib, photographs, and information provided by witnesses – including medical personnel – on symptoms and treatment of victims involved in the incident of 4 February 2018. The toxicologists, after reviewing relevant medical literature, independently checked each account from witnesses (victims or other eyewitnesses to the symptoms) against the symptoms that could be expected from chlorine exposure. They also considered imagery related to the treatment received by the victims. 

6.45 On the basis of the material provided to them, the two toxicologists reached a shared conclusion, i.e., that the accounts of victims (three of whom were among the first responders) and medical personnel – despite some marginal discrepancies – are consistent with exposure to a toxic gas like chlorine, which is poisonous and classified as a pulmonary irritant. The two toxicologists did not express doubts as to the overall veracity of the accounts. ...

We'll have a look at that, but first at a way these experts were more passively used by the IIT to make a pointless point that misses a much bigger point.

Review: Gas Spread

Next: the toxicologists correctly deduced who should and shouldn't be seriously exposed, without being led there by anyone being identified. Just from the symptoms described by anonymous person X Y or Z, basically, they agreed the ones with the worst reported effects wind up being the same ones who reported being closer to the gas: the event made basic sense, or at least the story was gotten straight. 

"...the victims considered by the expert toxicologists to have symptoms consistent with exposure to irritating gas are those from the shelter, as well as the two first responders. The witnesses deemed to be “unlikely exposed” by the expert toxicologists were either those responders that only assisted in the later transfer of the victims to the Sarmin field hospital or were part of the medical staff (who would have all had much later exposure and were better equipped with protective equipment)."

(otherwise it's three affected "SCD" White Helmets responders). It was initially 6, 8, or 9 men in a shelter, depending on reports, several in camouflage pants, app. all militants claiming to all be civilians. In IIT report 2, it was 7 "individuals" in the shelter effected, plus 3 rescuers, implicitly 2 others from the whole town, one treated at the clinic and one not, out of 12 named individuals who reported experiencing any symptoms. One of them should be this guy:

Manhal Haj Hussein “At about 9 pm, while I was sitting and my family at home, we heard a helicopter approaching the place, and only a few minutes until we started smelling a strange smell inside the house. Then, I fainted, and then the civil defense teams arrived and took me to the hospital...” 

His apparent son, by name - Hasan Manhal Haj Hussein, age 22 - happened to be one of those affected in the fateful shelter, along with an apparent cousin, Dammar Hasan Haj Hussein, 36. The other non-shelter witness at the time was another relative: Ali Hajj Hussein: at "home with his pregnant wife and two children" - heard helicopters, something falling, then screams in the neighborhood. Luckily none of those screaming people needed any medical help, because reportedly just 1 non-shelter person in the town got treatment at what seems to be the only functioning clinic around. 

The other witness I've heard from, speaking later, has a different name, and says his father was one of those in the shelter (apparently being Haithan Amad Kafrtouni, age 53), and was since killed in an airstrike while helping people (not in the course of being an antigovernment militant). There are probably other witnesses out there, but when I was following close, it was 3/3 apparent - and mostly close - relatives with the shelter victims. It seemed a bit like the whole story was some project of a couple local families of some militants nobody else was in on, except a few unrelated militants and the White Helmets always around to help militants. 

The total exclusion of everyone else in this part of town from the story ... not an issue the IIT dwells on, if they even noticed it.

Bleach spots: seem to flow what's downhill there, then gets less discernable, maybe all-over, at the flatter ground. Suggested to me is little wind, leaving topography a serious issue. Mainly there seems to be little of that as well, so it would spread pretty widely, with a general trend wherever the breeze was headed. That may be north - that first flow probably isn't ALL downhill. 

"Crater 3" (top middle, black) may be a new crater, or an old one used as a burn pit more recently? Under the same breeze? Burning anything related to the chlorine cylinder 1 mysteriously found next to it? If so, wind that way, NNW, stronger than it seemed, and similar to the seen flow (so topography mattered less, it pooled up less, less likely to meander so far east as to flood that shelter (blue w/star).

As for wind, IIT hears from more credible sources than the OPCW has usually employed (mainly predictive model websites), or at least it sounds better: "The IIT established the meteorological situation in the area in the evening of 4 February 2018 through  concurring witness statements and other sources of information, including official reports received from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and its specialised meteorological centres" - in whatever mix. They got wind: "light, towards a northerly direction." - sounding rounded-off but likely about right. 

That makes the shelter seem like a reasonable place the gas would drift to - among quite a few other places. As they map likely areas of varying concentration, with estimated likelihood of severe symptoms, the shelter is a 40-50% likelihood by this. But it sounds like everyone there got really sick. (also note how red 50% zone's NE corner cuts off to avoid some likely inhabited buildings)

Annotated by me: excluded areas, at least judging by reports. They are mostly in the outer zone,  only 10% likely. But there are quite a few places where it's estimated 40% of the decent number living there should experience severe symptoms. A few less places than should be are in the red zone of 50%. Between them, IIT hears of two people with symptoms in all of that exempted space.

For the claims and the IIT's conclusions to reflect truth on this point almost requires the following: 

- a family shelter by 2 other home of the same family (which is possible enough - they'd probably be in the two houses immediately west and the upstairs part of the one with shelter: 3 buildings) ...

- ... with some mostly younger men in camo pants and non-relatives together in the shelter, everyone with children and pregnant women sitting upstairs in regular homes. 

- with almost no breeze, and a perfect topographical trough running not-so-straight to that block of 3 buildings and nowhere else (and that doesn't seems so absurd either, in itself, though images suggest that last part may be a bit uphill. To be decided, perhaps.)

- otherwise some other fluke had it all shift east at the road and then fuzz out to effect no one beyond that, or 

- a lot of other people were effected but never treated, never heard from or reported.

But the IIT were left at mild north wind and no special sub-trends, so a spread all over was likely. That's after they consulted experts on topography - not to find that magical trough, as they say, but to see if the terrain might explain the unusual symptoms reported. 

6.47 Although overall the symptoms of the victims are consistent with chlorine exposure, the IIT nonetheless proceeded to request from specialists the topographic analysis of the area, so that geographical and artificial features could be considered when assessing the accounts of witnesses and the likelihood of a chemical attack in an area with those characteristics. 

No, the topography doesn't change the symptoms of chlorine exposure, whether it make you black out or act goofy. Actual gas volume, release rate, wind, topography, all of that just affects concentrations of a gas that does nothing but burn. It is NOT and never was and never will be a nerve agent or anything like that. It doesn't mutate and do new things. It doesn't behave differently in one country vs. another or because the ground is so perfectly flat.

Symptoms Review

So ... the consulted experts found the symptoms to be "consistent with exposure to ... a pulmonary irritant" like chlorine. But worthy of note:

6.46 The toxicologists added that symptoms described in three out of 11 victims could also be consistent with exposure to a substance other than chlorine, such as organophosphates. 

(emphasis in original) But those 3 could just as likely be was from chlorine alone. And that's what it wound up being, since the sarin at the site was ... just already there, not freshly deployed.   

The toxicologists are right that chlorine is a pulmonary irritant, and that it's not anything else. From my readings into the subject, it turns to acid (hydrochloric and hypochlorous) on contact with water, and thus damages tissue (low-grade: "irritation"). This becomes especially problematic in the eyes and airways. It may separately limit oxygen absorption into the blood, but otherwise, it has no significant additional effects, neurological or otherwise. 

And yet the experts declare that the following symptoms all fits that bill, which I challenge with some notes.


symptom reported        -        chlorine sign?         -        (notes, sarin compatibility)

Shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing - YES    -    (when breathing burns, the body auto-limits it (? I just reasoned that out) - chlorine may also block absorption of O2, and causes some actual damage to lung tissue, limiting function - protective mucous is produced, needs coughed out, later on can lead to suffocation. - With sarin, impurities may have a similar caustic effect, but breathing is more paralyzed than painful, more varied fluids are produced needing coughed out, yet coughing is less likely (same reason - breathing and coughing take muscle coordination, which tends to fail under bad sarin intoxication) 

Eye irritation    -    YES  -  (direct effect, corrosive tissue damage - but the impure sarin used in Syria also burns the eyes, FWIW) 

Nausea         - NO - (vomiting is often listed as a chlorine sign, but it's secondary - look it up - severe coughing can cause retching, thence vomiting, but not usually a feeling of nausea, and especially not a sudden one - sarin does that. The G and E is SLUDGE: gastrointestinal distress, emesis (vomiting, maybe a paralyzed, infantile form of it). And it comes on instantly. Several say as they approached the bomb craters, they felt "sick" swiftly enough to note it worsening with each step. Chlorine would best be described as burning worse with each step closer, and further out too, so they probably wouldn't BE walking closer, but rather away)

Excessive secretions - NO - (eyes will water to rinse out the acid, but no one calls that excessive, and usually would say "tears," not "secretions." - Sarin can or will make secretions pour out every pore, gland, and orifice. SLUDGE syndrome.)

loss of consciousness (LoC) (sudden) - NO (contrary to popular belief, chlorine has no relation to chloroform and what that does. * This JUST BURNS. That complicates breathing, as noted. The lower O2 levels usually take time to develop, but then will cause headache, fatigue, perhaps blackout, and death. It won't be remotely instant like people describe)

* they have same "chlor" surname, but that's not how name changes work in chemical marriages. Just kidding. 

Headache (if sudden) - NO - (chlorine: secondary to hypoxia, which takes a while to develop, usually - sarin: like most signs, headache comes on suddenly)

Dizziness     - NO - (AFAIK this should be like headache, fatigue, LoC - secondary and later on, in a severe case)

Miosis         - NO - (claimed for all 11 patients, IIT decides two have it, although chlorine doesn't cause it - it's the classic outward sign of sarin exposure everyone knows to look for)

"Leg weakness" (if sudden) - NO  - (chlorine: well into a severe cases with lowering oxygen levels, fatigue appears, often noted specifically in the legs (which they're using, to escape, because they did NOT just black out) - sarin: not a specific sign I know of, but could go with general paralysis, mild form, similar fatigue issues that appear much quicker) 

"Relaxed legs" - NO - (body parts not working right is not a chlorine thing - for sarin it is, but the paralysis tends to be rigid and trembling, not "relaxed.")

Altered mental state - NO - (if anything people sharpen up with the crisis of chlorine and do logical things like seek fresh air. - "two other patients presented with moderate signs and symptoms, displaying an altered mental state that required them to be assisted." One is seen on video laying down waving his hand in the air like he's conducting a symphony. - sarin paralyzes - complex movements like that become difficult, not optional and not involuntary.)


"5.22 ... No secondary exposure was reported." - YES - (no secondary exposure with chlorine past a minor itch, perhaps - whereas it would be likely with sarin)

"5.36 No biomedical samples were taken." - ?? - (no point with chlorine, but with sarin, you'll want that proof. It was claimed, but maybe not "with a high degree of confidence." They didn't collect any samples to test their claims.)

"strange odor" - NO - (chlorine smells like bleach or other cleaning products, which isn't odd or strange to most people. Someone might say that anyway, but here 2+ describe it that way, and also say they passed out right away. Impure sarin: "foul" and "strange" are the most common words used for the smell. But quite a few chemicals out there will have similar smells from similar impurities)


The IIT seems to be hitting rock bottom for experts here. Lucky for them, they weren't named, and their reputations won't be harmed. Unlucky for the people of Syria: they'll be trusted by many because the OPCW's IIT trusted them. Their shoddy work is already helping prolong the punishment of Syrians, apparently just for having a government our leaders don't like.

My Amateur View

There was probably no sarin exposure; despite some consistent signs, others conflict. The bleached grass and cylinders still suggest to me chlorine was released. Chlorine exposure with these militants seems pretty possible, despite the lack of visible red eyes (I haven't seen any that I recall, but I missed some evidence and got rusty). But if so, it clearly is not the whole story. 

It definitely doesn't sound like BZ/Agent 15 either (altered mental state, relaxed legs sounds good, secretions definitely not a fit, and we'd see dilated pupils, neither reported nor seen (that I've seen). That's almost my whole list of things I could say. I don't have any guess as to the relevant agent(s) except for: chosen, as part of this public deception.

Which isn't to say sarin wasn't used; it supposedly turned up in tests and now has to be awkwardly explained away. I'd say it was just used more like a movie prop - sprinkled or sprayed at the site of the chlorine cylinder "impacts." 

Basic gist of the conspiracy I theorize, starting from impact: they claim sarin-chlorine bomb attack, get some local militants poisoned with probably something else, unknown, have the medics fill in the key sarin details like miosis - get their few trusted witnesses on record, plant the sarin at the scene, carefully sample from the scene and document that to prove no tampering, get the sarin confirmed - then let someone else try to make sense of that mess later on.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Whose Hexamine?

Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic

April 20/21, 2021

(kind of rough - edits 4/23, adds 4/24)

This is largely simmered down from a previous post and is less complete, but includes new points and thoughts, and I hope added readability.

The Hexamine Shell-Game, Recap

So as luck would have it, in their response to peaceful protests in 2011, President Assad and his brainwashed minions walked into one self-made trap after another, vis-a-vis international human rights norms. They started with shooting protesters and castrating young boys, and quickly turned to sectarian massacres - Alawite Shabiha death cult hacking up Sunni families in their homes and leaving their bodies for the freedom fighters to document, like in Taldou, Al-Houla. By late 2012 Assad and his Shabiha were convincing people less and less that they were truly behind those crimes. People like Channel 4's Alex Thomson were starting to air doubts and to pass on competing claims that Jabhat al-Nusra and their ilk were behind these heinous crimes (See Aqrab, Haswiyeh, both in December, 2012). 

So as luck would have it, Assad decided it was better to kill in ways only he could - barrel bombs, any thing from the air, chemical weapons, especially sarin. Enough with the swords and hatchets. Shocking, yes, but too ambiguous. 

As luck would have it yet again Assad's forces used a very unusual and distinctive method of producing sarin, one extra-sure to be traced back to them. And so Assad freely used it over and over, even against his own troops several times. As far as we know (?) no other state uses hexamine (copy-pasting hexamethylenetetramine) in its production of Sarin, past or present. Yet Syria does, even now, long after claiming to surrender its program. And the Sarin that keeps turning up there has Hexamine, so it must be theirs, not any from any other state nor from any terrorist lab.

Or so we've heard. (Sarcasm mode off for the moment. )

As far as I can tell, here's how we came to hear that:

Nov 24, 2013: CW expert Jean Pascal Zanders lists the chemical precursors Syria had just declared to the OPCW: Under category heading "Sarin" are listed three compounds: hexamine, isopropanol and hydrogen fluoride. Explained, maybe: "[…] The EOI’s list of compounds consists mainly of chemicals that play a role in the startup of the development or production of chemical warfare agents or are intermediate-stage precursors. I have grouped them according to the type of warfare agent in a separate table. […]" 

By what method those were grouped under sarin is unclear. Hexamine shouldn't normally belong (see Kaszeta, below). My guess: it had turned up in the sarin being used in Syria, and Zanders wanted that to be made by Syria's recipe, so he decided on this recipe and then listed the ingredients accordingly.

As declared to OPCW, per the actual REQUEST FOR EXPRESSION OF INTEREST (EOI) of 20 November 2013 (PDF), hexamine and isopropanol are listed under "organic chemicals" while hydrogen fluoride is listed separately under "inorganic chemicals." The "type of warfare agent" each was related to production of must be explained somewhere else. Until I see otherwise, I'm sticking with my guess that Zanders just wanted it that way.

Just a few weeks later, the same idea gained traction. Dan Kaszeta is a CW expert, or a former US Secret Service man who knows such experts, a lot about CRBN response, other relevant bits and pieces, and mainly - like Zanders - he knows the right thing to say, politically, so he gets to be a touted "expert" rather than "propagandist." He wrote via Higgins/Brown Moses Dec. 14, 2013: "I consider the presence of hexamine both in the field samples and in the official stockpile of the Syrian government to be very damning evidence of government culpability in the Ghouta attacks." He assumes it's being added to Syria's binary sarin. FWIW the volcano rockets used in Ghouta were not binary, and there was never any evidence they were.

"It would have been informative if the UN and OPCW had explained why they considered hexamethylenetetramine (‘hexamine’)" as relevant to declare and have destroyed. Again, they didn't clarify by listing it under "Sarin," as was just suggested. To his credit, Kaszeta doesn't cite Zanders' list as if it mattered, and instead replicates that inexplicable listing with his own brand of detective work.  

"I do not think that hexamine’s normal uses ... do not [sic] merit its inclusion as a chemical of concern by the OPCW." He does not think it does not belong (other than by a manufactured mystery he'll solve). And indeed it probably does belong in a more normal way. As WhoGhouta would soon remind this supposed CW expert, heaxmine is the traditional stabilizer for sulfur mustard (mustard gas), which was a Syrian program of interest. That will corrode metal canisters badly, but it was found long ago a bit of hexamine added - maybe to scavenge the excess acids? - helped it have a longer shelf life. Thus "hexamine is not a smoking gun." 

So Kaszeta ignored or was unaware of the most logical reason hexamine would be included, then decide on a useful alternate reason that let him blame the government for these sarin attacks. He found it quite a unique thing they did there in Syria: "7 weeks of research on this subject reveal no public domain evidence of hexamine being used in this way in other Sarin programs."  Just the one. IF the one, and he was pretty sure. 

And the New York Times couldn't miss the chance for a big story on December 18: Experts say hexamine may be the smoking gun, citing Kaszeta's faux deduction that let Higgins have a promotional scoop along the way, probably a couple of "oh yeah, sure" experts with intel backgrounds agreeing. I don't have a subscription.

June 2014: UN mission head Ake Sellstrom is said to agree Hexamine was used in Syria's sarin program: "It is in their formula, it is their acid scavenger." Audio is said to prove he said that, without any contradictory qualifiers, and so case closed. Dan Kaszeta says so.

Back to Zanders, August, 2014: "Analysis of their contents by the OPCW confirmed sarin as their payload. Moreover, the filling displayed all the characteristics of sarin as produced by the Syrian government, the principal telltale sign being the presence of hexamine.” The cylinders in question: tested in June, 2014, after they were "allegedly" used against SAA troops in Jobar on 8/24/13, almost a year earlier. That happened, as we now realize, about 400 meters from the probable - and opposition-controlled - firing spot for the sarin rockets that hit East Ghouta on 8/21/13. 

It seems hexamine turned up in all that stuff; the sarin in E. Ghouta would show hexamine, just like the stuff used against troops and civilians in Khan al-Assal in March, and just as would the stuff released on these SAA conscripts in Jobar. Zanders explained in a comment at the same post "The hexamine presence was confirmed in several discussions I have had over the past two months with people closely following the Syria dossier, including government officials, diplomats and scientists." Assad must have gassed his own troops, or faked all of that, or whatever. Trusted officials and the type of "scientists" tipping off this Zanders character say so. Or so says Zanders.

In 2017 the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism would add a wrinkle - besides hexamine, two specific impurities they say were found in the actual DF Syria had declared and also in the Khan Sheikhoun attack, at least. 



It's likely that too is a non-specific a clue, because those impurities are very common, or because the terrorists were given Syria's DF, or a reverse-engineered version of it, based on samples stolen years ago and handed to a foreign intelligence agency. For example, as Joby Warrick recently informed us - sometime before 2001, CIA double-agent "Ayman" handed over what sounds like completed liquid sarin produced by the Syrian CW program he worked for. Interesting details: 

"His laboratories would make a form of binary sarin: two stable liquids that could be stored separately and blended only at the last minute. One of the two liquids was ordinary isopropyl alcohol. The other, a toxic brew called DF, contained all the other ingredients, including an exclusive additive — which Ayman helped discover — that helped ensure that the sarin lost none of its potency during the short interval between the mixing and the arrival at the target." 

Someone will say that additive was hexamine, but I doubt that - unless the additive part was added by his handlers years after Ayman's death by firing squad for treason.

2018's information offensive didn't expand much apparently expanded on the chemical matches. The previous findings for Hexamine and the two DF impurities were repeated as valid, but no clearer reason to implicate Syria's military alone was given. Importantly, it seems (?) the whole impurities package  was expanded laterally - the usual "attack a had the same sarin as attack b" - existing appearances of blame tapped into to cover for any shortage of relevant evidence. redone in the light of matching "signatures" (plural - not just hexamine, but still including it)

Anthony Deutsch, Reuters, 1/29/18: “We compared Khan Sheikhoun, Khan al-Assal, Ghouta,” said one source who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the findings. “There were signatures in all three of them that matched.” Eliot Higgins echoed the sentiment in June 2018: "The presence of hexamine at every confirmed Sarin attack shows the hexamine is part of the Syrian government’s manufacturing process" The fact that it's being used is all the proof we need. Well, that plus the seemingly knee-jerk and often absurd findings of government guilt in case after case. 

What if Hexamine Meant Something Else?

As I've said before, even if hexamine really was part of Damascus' sarin formula, that’s more like a recipe than a fingerprint. Fingers can even be cut off, but it's easier yet for others to copy the recipe, or have their own that’s just similar. 

Absolute proof that opposition forces had sarin still seems lacking, but it's quite likely they did. And among all those who'd acknowledge the possibility, none of them could tell you how it was made, what it did and didn’t have in it, or how it compares to the stuff being used. It's still quite possible they did have sarin, and it used hexamine and DF with those same impurities, because it's the exact stuff used, in every single case.

In his Brown Moses piece, Dan Kaszeta acknowledged that it was possible for terrorists to have come up with a formula for sarin involving hexamine. However, "the likelihood of both a Syrian government research and development program AND a non-state actor both coming up with the same innovation seems negligible to me." Since he had just faux deduced the former, he had no choice but to caps-lock AND and then reject the latter. Obviously we're not repeating that stunt here. 

I don't always believe what Seymour Hersh's intelligence sources say, but when I do ... for his LRB article "Whose Sarin?" this one sounds quite credible in telling him: 

"An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. He is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military."

From his record making mustard gas, Ahmed would know about hexamine’s stabilizing properties, and might make an unusual choice to use it in his sarin. An odd new sarin appears – not exclusively but mainly in E. Ghouta – by Mid-March 2013 at latest, and it uses hexamine. US intel heard the terrorist Ahmaf was making it right there in E. Ghouta by summer at the latest. They heard he was doing it for Al-Nusra Front, who could distribute it nationwide and further if they wanted. No one knows what it would look like, and someone’s sarin kept turning up and getting Damascus in deeper and deeper trouble. The link to Syria's stocks remains far from proven, and still the only clear thing hexamine links to is to many, most, or all of the disputed sarin incidents over the years. 

Ahmed was a "high-profile target" for the U.S. in Iraq, but didn't get killed there, was operating in Syria, and like every foreign-backed militant there, was off-limits for Syrian government forces, as far as Washington had a say. And he might have been the one person central to getting that "red line" crossed. 

Helpers would be involved, of course, in terrorist groups and western governments, the media, etc. At right: a Jabhat al-Nusra "policeman," Northern Syria, April 21, 2013 with one of the exact, specific, unknown grenades otherwise said to be Syrian military make, filled with hexamine sarin and reportedly ... dropped from regime helicopters ... in cinderblocks ... that emit white smoke and also glow as they fall ... and then burst into piles of white powder and plastic bag scraps on impact. See here.

Why use hexamine? Just knowing about it from prior use is no great reason to reach for it in a sarin recipe. It's impossible to say, but from what I know, here's one possibility: As I gather, hexamine is an amine, one of the kind of impurities that lend the unusual characteristics to the sarin used in Syria: a yellowish color, corrosive properties (burns the eyes and airways), and an odor most often described as "foul" and "strange" - like rotting corpses but different, hard to place. I imagine it's a bit synaesthetic - a smell that's almost a different sensation. Soldiers in the August 24 attack described, per the UN report, "a foul and strange odour" and "a badly smelling gas."

The smell aspect always struck me as interesting from a psychological standpoint. I've read somewhere survivors describing the paralysis, loss of sight, and suffocation of severe sarin exposure as feeling like the angel of death is crushing you. If one's goal is to terrorize with the stuff, making it burn and smell like disgusting death might just be a desirable effect. This Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed - or whoever makes this stuff - might even be proud of his innovation and give it a cool nickname like "stench of death." 

A Brief History of DUUHHHH (and strange, foul smells)

Sarcasm back on for a recap of what all "Assad" has done with this unique hexamine sarin.

* The same hexamine sarin first appears, that we know of, at Khan al-Assal, Aleppo 3/19/13 – 1 soldier and 19 civilians killed - gov reports terrorist sarin attack, demands a probe. (smell: some say chlorine-like, others said sulfur-like) 

* Same 3/19/13: Oppo. reports sarin attack in Ateibah, killing 5 men, a baby (a foul smell) - abortively reports a CW attack in Homs as well, and oppo. says regime hit themselves in Khan al-Assal, with a fighter jet or a scud missile  (reliable accounts differ), missing the nearest rebel target by over 1km, maybe on purpose. Alleged: coordinated regime CW attacks in Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs.

* April-May-June, Syria's request: Western powers tack on opposition allegations incl. Ateibah that need investigated just as badly, slow the process digging for as many as possible - dismiss sarin claims re: Khan al-Assal (eg SSG's clear findings a sarin simulant was used), play them up in other cases

* 4/29/19 sarin grenade attack, Saraqeb (“It was a horrible, suffocating smell.") One woman dies in the ambulance en route to Turkey, with a super-fatal dose that should have killed in minutes - no one else comes close to dying.

* "rebels" re-take Khan al-Assal in June, precluding investigation there (agreement on which was nearly achieved at the time), massacre captive soldiers, possibly witnesses, steal the sarin samples there (? SyGov later unable to produce samples to OPCW)

* US intel has sarin samples from an attack somewhere sent in, supposed match w/government stocks/hexamine/etc. found (?). Chain of custody, whatever, UN investigations eventually decided the Khan al-Assal attack used sarin with the same impurities as in other attacks. Reasonable cause to believe the Syrian government attacked their own troops and civilians - in a mostly Shi'ite village just being re-populated after a brief occupation by sectarian "rebels" 

* 8/18/13: UN-OPCW inspectors finally arrive - again, originally on Syrian invitation - to investigate Khan al-Assal, plus Ateibah, and a Dec. 23, 2012 incident in Homs city thought to involve sarin - 1st reports differed 180 on miosis & atropine, pointing to sarin OR incapacitant BZ - some reported it was "pungent-smelling" - rockets and bombs are cited, but so are "canisters" or "grenades" maybe lobbed from a regime car that drove by the "street battles" - 1 "FSA" fighter and 6 civilian men rep. killed by the gas - the day after 7 SAA troops re. killed by a yellow gas (no smell rep) down in Daraya.) 



* Assad allegedly distracts them using the same sarin to kill hundreds right next door (smell: "something like vinegar and rotten eggs" or "like cooking gas" (if propane is meant, then that will be Ethyl Mercaptan: "Most people describe the smell as either rotten eggs or rotten cabbage")) – eventually helping prove he did Khan al-Assal too, hitting his own troops  

* Obviously on Aug. 24, gas his own troops again and hand the proof over again 

* and adding he did this again on Aug. 25 in Daraya, soldiers and sarin handed over just to be ignored in the rush to attack Syria (smell: "foul," "bizarre"). Another CW attack on SAA troops in E. Ghouta, on August 22, didn't seem as likely to be sarin-related.

* Then Assad paused in sarin use after the red line threat failed to materialize; after trying so hard to get bombed out of power with these brazen attacks and false-flag failures, he suddenly wanted to appear as if he’d handed it all over?

* 2014-2017: Assad resorts to killing - implausibly - with small air-dropped cylinders of chlorine gas that had bizarre and mutable properties 

* He quietly sarin-attacks his own soldiers again at least in Daraya, Feb. 2015, OPCW confirmed – just out of old habit – no one cared. (smell: "like burning nylon") 

* Likely did the same back on 8/29/2014 in Jobar - twice in a day, incapacitating soldiers in both cases, leading to capture and execution for many in the 4PM incident - reportedly just 2 of the 15 soldiers involved escaped back to base. At least as I read it. Anyone else? The UN-OPCW heard from the two survivors of the 4PM incident, and 20 survivors of the later 6PM incident, but sadly had to dismiss the reports of the day's singular "incident" based on the 2 "discrepant" stories they heard (one or both must be made up) and so so "The FFM was not able to identify a cohesive narrative" - let alone a credible or true one. 

And as the Fact-Finding Mission knew from its facts in Syria "the smell of sarin is most frequently described as a sweet smell of apple or pear" - just like reported over and over by both sides in all these sarin incident. WHEREAS the soldiers described something way different: "a particular odour which some compared to the smell of dead animals or corpses and others reported as similar to rotten eggs. Still others reported that they had never experienced anything similar before and couldn’t compare the smell to anything." 

Some others who maybe couldn't compare it to anything tried anyway, and came up with "chlorine," as some did at Khan al-Assal. Another sign it's all made up! Except at Khan al-Assal it turned out to be sarin. Still, fresh and fruity was the correct answer! At least on that occasion. 

The FFM did allow that soldiers in whichever version might be true MIGHT have been exposed, briefly, a little bit, to "some type of non-persistent, airborne irritant secondary to the surface impact of two launched objects." If they blacked out and got captured and killed just because of some basic irritant, that's their problem. No one's getting "held to account" over pansy stuff like that. And besides, it was probably all made up. Right? No realistic detail or anything.

* 2017: then Assad breaks out more of the same sarin in April, 2017, alongside chlorine in confusing combinations but with a uniquely Russian or uniquely Syrian binary sarin bomb, to kill some 80-100 civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, and a few in some preceding test incidents mostly in Al-Lataminah, maybe just to see if Trump had a more relevant "red line" kind of deal - he did. The miles-long plume of sarin fog coating town from at least two points quite far from the one identified sarin crater ... reportedly "it smelled like rotten food" "a foul smell ... a strange smell. I can’t put my finger on it." a "really disgusting odor," a "stench." Others reported a chlorine smell, and many say chlorine, or chlorine and sarin were used. One Lataminah sarin incident on 3-30 had clear reports of no smell, and another one went completely unmentioned, until after it was noticed that bizarre contradictions in another one almost required such an event - then it was oh yeah, the 3/24/17 sarin attack, we forgot about that. (and as Andrew alerts me, 3/24 even has an even-more forgotten 2nd CW attaack later in the day to explain other oddities)

- Actually everyone forgets because ISIS, but Assad also killed something like 100+ in an ISIS place (Uqrabiyat, Hama) with sarin in December 2016. Seriously, it seems no one remembers that. I barely do. Smell: "Some also said that there was a strong odor, although they could not describe it, while others said that they could not detect any." Statements were made. No one wanted to come bail out ISIS. I don't think OPCW ever did an investigation.  HRW did include it in a report, in some detail.

* Last confirmed sarin: 4/4/17. No more in the following entries:

* Pause, then Nov. 2017 Harasta, next to Douma: in grenades or artillery shells, used Against: Ahrar al-Sham fighters, civilians - no deaths - symptoms: miosis, spasms, weakness, loss of consciousness, "excessive salivation," breathing problems, red eyes, "restlessness" - secondary contamination - reported as organophosphate, not sarin, because there was "a stench that does not exist in Sarin gas." This seems to be what US SecDef Mattis referred to  in Feb. 2018, saying he didn't see good evidence for sarin use recently (since Khan Sheikhoun, 4/4/17). 


* Saraqeb, 2/4/18 just after Mattis clarified that, Assad attacks with chlorine-sarin cylinders, later corrected by the IIT to just-chlorine with new, sarin-like symptoms reported and/or experienced, and some random background sarin complicating tests - (activists initially reporting a sarin-chlorine attack must be confused, IIT decided in correcting them, as that makes no sense) - it effected (as IIT confirmed) just 12 confirmed people: 8 people (militants pretending to be civilians, IIT doesn't specify) in a shelter, 3 "SCD" White Helmets sent to help them, one other person in the whole town, likely one of three we've heard from affirming the attack - all seemingly close relatives of the affected militants. 


* Assad was smart enough to wait a year plus three days after Khan Sheikhoun before before he did that kind of big sarin massacre again in a non-ISIS rebel place: in Douma, the last and lost "rebel" bastion threatening Damascus, sarin and chlorine cylinders killed some 180+ civilians, leading to swift US-led military strikes - then when sarin couldn't appear for whatever reason, the chlorine alone just killed 42+, which itself is astounding. How the other 140 actually died: never explained. I guess they just didn't? Some insiders who should know say 187 were in fact killed, and they still seem to think it was sarin. 


* And Assad's brilliant sarin strategy is laid bare. Right?

Add 4/24: thanks to "Gumby JD" (tweet) another twist in that strategy: 

To believe a defected CW program expert Abdel Salam Abdul Razaq*, Syria's program made sarin that was pure, colorless, odorless - no hexamine, clearly. It evaporates quickly, he says. And so they used it regularly, by December 2012 (Times of Israel - and it's not clear who error it was to call mustard gas a nreve agent). But (news to me) the fingerprint hexamine evaporate much slower, so in mixture, it makes the sarin  more likely to be found and verified (Kane via BBC). That's the stuff Assad allegedly used in 2013, to cross Obama's red line, with inspectors right there. He allegedly delayed them, and bombed the area to "erase the evidence." But he couldn't just stick with his old formula?  

* (who would later join the US-backed moderate Noureddine AL-Zenki group, Al-Qaeda allies, child beheaders and app. users of CW with Abdulrazaq their designated denier of that)

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ghouta "FSA" Fatalities

 Ghouta Chemical Massacre(s): "FSA" Fatalities

April 18, 2021 

Recently I noticed this line from a Sept. 2013 statement by Liwa al-Islam, denying ...

"In the targeted areas in Gouta, there was a battalion affiliated with Liwa al-Islam. Ten soldiers of this battalion were killed and around 50 were injured."

There were a lot of presumably affiliated militants who died in E. Ghouta all spring and summer, often related to each other, and to civilians targeted for killing in the same span - maybe their affiliation was just then expiring? (see here for some details on that)

The VDC martyrs database I've long used in finally defunct - the general site is marked unsafe, having certification expire nearly a year ago, and I checked that the site still exists, the database I used for years simply doesn't. 

ACLOS, citing what was there: Non-civilian deaths in what included a government offensive against rebels and rebel-held areas: of 301 men listed as dead from the gas attack, just 13 are listed as non-civilian. The same number of "FSA" men were listed as killed with other weapons, for a total of 26 acknowledged rebel fighters killed in the Damascus suburbs that day.

And Liwa al-Islam claims ten of the 13 gassed were from a single LaI-affiliated battalion?

From saved files: Starting with two or maybe three listed as killed "in the Jobar neighborhood," when it turns out no rockets landed there - though it seems they were launched from there by Lia al-Islam, denials aside. Also the wind almost surely would carry an drift away from Jobar. Early reports of fatalities there were later explained as confusion - people from there, or taken there after exposure elsewhere. Maybe it's the same for these. 

#1 194. Mujahid: Abdul Rahman Medawar (Abu al-Bashar) / from rural Damascus, Douma, with "Army / free" (FSA, general term, maybe Liwa al-Islam) "killed in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus" 

I think VDC in English gave "Trochanter" as his family name, and/or another list from Facebook (link dead) also translated Trochanter but gives Arabic " عبد الرحمن المدور " Abdul Rahman Al-Medawar. Another list mentions that he was "of the Mujahideen of Al-Farouk brigade" - the only specific formation mentioned. There was a photo. He looks like a possible sarin victim, dead of asphyxiation, a bit cyanotic, red, roughed up eyes, mucous from the nose. Possibly related: giant beards and gas masks don't mix all that well.

#2 178. Mujahid: Safi Khaled Al-Nabki  ( صافي خالد النبكي ), the / Damascus - Jisreen Army / free / "cited (killed) in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus" The rebel (coordinating) media office in Douma called him "unidentified," killed by "barbaric shelling." Douma revolution on Tmblr. That could explain the massive head wounds  leaving him with bandages all over and "raccoon eyes" from cerebral bleeding. However the VDC lists the same guy as a victim of the day's poison gas attack, the only CW victim listed as from Jisreen district and identified fine as Safi Khaled Al-Nabki - 92786. Of course no gas was credibly reported in Douma.

#3 victim 92785, Muhammad Aakash Balla, the only martyr of the gas listed as from the outlying Saqba district. An active list says he was civilian. But per VDC< he was a local "FSA" fighter, with photo and video that's a better fit - unscathed outside, inside leaking foamy yellow fluid, perhaps a bit blood-tinged. He and Safi, from the outlying districts, were reported together in a pair of oddball entries (92785, 92786). Interesting. Maybe both Jobar deaths logged in Douma.

#4 180. Mujahid: Asad Sosag / Damascus - Rankous رنكوس Army / free / cited in Zamalka city of the Rural Damascus - VDC Asad Sosaq 92749 Non-Civilian FSA photo (not saved), from Rankus, killed 8/21 by Chemical and toxic gases

in Zamalka, three fighters who came from al-Bukamal to help wound up dead

#5 Mujahid ** : Mahmoud Jumaa Al-Aran, 50 years old / Deir Ezzor - Al-Bukamal  / martyred in East Gouta Rural Damascus as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

#6 Al-Mujahid: Abbas Asaad Al-Barghout, 21 years old / Deir Ezzor - Al-Bukamal / martyred in East Gouta Rural Damascus as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

#7 Al-Mujahid: Hassan (Abu Ahed) (the nickname did not arrive) 21 years old / Deir Ezzor - Al-Bukamal / He was martyred in Eastern Ghouta Rural Damascus as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

And four more "FSA" martyrs were from the Daraa area. Two are related

#8 * Martyr : Mohamed Hassan al - Balkhi / Daraa - Al-Najih / martyred in the East Gouta Rural DamascusDamascus, by chemical weapons

#9 Mujahid ** : Nasser al - Balkhi / Daraa - Bosra Sham, FSA, martyred in the East Gouta Rural Damascus, by chemical weapons

And so are the other two men from Daraa province, and both are named Sami Qanbas/Guenbs (different middle names = fathers - likely cousins), and both of them had other family members die with them, so not jut out in the fighting.  

#10a Mujahid ** : Sami Mohammad Kurdi Samih Muhammad Qanbas / Daraa - Al-Harrah  / shield - warm Army / free / cited in the town of Zamalka Damascus countryside as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons. Somehow his wife (name unknown), 3 children, and his mother (family name unknown) suffered the same fate, presumably in their home-away-from-home.

#10b** Martyr did not reach its name (the wife of the martyr Sami Mohammed Guenbs ) / shield - warm / cited in the town of Zamalka Damascus countryside as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

10c** Martyr : Fatima (the nickname did not arrive) Sami's mother: (Umm Sami Qanbas) / Daraa - Al-Harrah / cited in the town of Zamalka Damascus countryside as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

10d* Child: Abdul Karim Sami Guenbs / shield - warm / cited in the town of Zamalka Damascus countryside as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

10e* Child: Abdullah Sami Guenbs / shield - warm / cited in the town of Zamalka Damascus countryside as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

10f Girl ** : The names of Sami Guenbs / shield - warm / cited in the town of Zamalka Damascus countryside as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

The other Sami Guenbs was maybe more of a newlywed, dying alongside only his wife, whose name again was unknown. 

11a ** Martyr : Samih Mohamed Guenbs , / shield - warm / cited in the town of Zamalka Damascus countryside as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

11b ** Martyr did not reach its name (the wife of the martyr Samih Mohammed Guenbs ) , / shield - warm / cited in the town of Zamalka Damascus countryside as a result of the bombing of regime forces to chemical weapons

That would be just 11 listed for E. Ghouta, affiliation unclear, but LaI claims just ten, all from a single unit allied to them. If that 10 and this 11 are the same, it's odd how so many could be killed unless grouped in combat, in 2 groups (Jobar, Zamalka) - especially none is from Jobar or Zamalka, only 3 from E. Ghouta at all, and they tend to die in displaced-seeming little groups - and then how some died with their family members too. , all those from Daraa dying alongside relatives.

Unclear if any of those is this militant-looking guy who apparently died in the basement of the old Tuberculosis hospital in Kafr Batna, E. Ghouta. Is that 12 or still 11? Are any of these people rellatives of his?

The one from Rankous, Asad Sosaq, has company - but apparently in West Ghouta, not East. 

12a Aaked Al-Bettar #92789 - Non-Civilian FSA - From Damascus Suburbs: Rankus, Killed 2013-08-21 by Chemical and toxic gases. Notes: "He was martyred with his wife during ambulance her" - photo 

12b Wife of Aaked Al-Bettar #92788 - Civilian - Adult - Female - Damascus Suburbs: Rankus - killed 2013-08-21 by Chemical and toxic gases. Notes: "She was martyred with her husband." 

It's not as clear where these died; Rankous had no sarin attack ever reported, and is just as far from Zamalka as it is from Moadamiya. FSA man Sosaq died in "Zamalka," but perhaps off fighting, and this FSA man died with his wife - presumably not fighting. And also, an apparent relative from even further out of town is said to die in Moadamiya, Western Ghouta. Bitar is a fairly common name, but...

12c Jamil Mohammad Beetar #91999 - Civilian - Adult - Male, from Lattakia (Alawite majority but with plenty of Sunnis), he was in Damascus for some reason. Died 2013-08-21- Chemical and toxic gases. Martyrdom location: Damascus Suburbs: Mouadamiyeh. Photo: not saved, prob. portrait, not showing him dead.  

A similar-named Gamel (Jamil) al-Betar, middle name Mahmoud (not Mohammed), age 33, from Rankus, died a month later. That may be the same man, considering listing differences, but presumably not. He was among some 15 men and boys in Rankus named Bitar killed in a supposed mosque bombing a month later, listed differently between 9/27, 9/29 and 9/30/2013. 46 total killed, and 1/3 are named Bitar. It wouldn't be surprising if the other 2/3 were all intermarried with them. http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013/Victims_Analysis#Al-Bitar

Hussam Ismael al-Bitar Adult male 9/27 9/29 "explosion" "indiscriminate shelling" From Aljoulan , Altelawia clan" - apparently  the largest clan in the Golan Heights (Jolani). Otherwise, all "Rankus," no more Latakia people listed. 


More Details on Possible Liwa al-Islam Volcano Launch Site

Ghouta Chemical Massacre(s) - More Details on Possible Liwa al-Islam Volcano Launch Site

April 18, 2021

Following on the findings related in the recent-ish post "Do Videos Show Liwa Al-Islam Launching the 2013 Ghouta Sarin Attack?" - I've been revisiting and improving our explanation of the rocket flight paths. Some further details that seemed too much to include in full relate to the possible launch spot we found so close to where predicted. This will take a blog post, but in quick form as I wrap up that report. The exact launcher-firing spot within the identified field is still in consideration, with analysis and modeling I'm not involved with. But here are some thoughts to enter into the record.

First, a preview of the findings in a new crossover areas map: green marks the crossover of all eight impacts' broad estimate flight paths (some of them are very broad, but "site 4" keeps them all on a fairly tight leash), and they're allowed to run up to a possible 2.25km (which isn't all that far, including "wall 2").  A small red triangle marks the crossover of all 8 "most-likely center" estimates, up to 2km. "Wall 2" - magenta path - ends here, so a magenta bar (exact distance a bit fuzzy). Suggesting ranges a bit past 2km are plausible, a longer red area to the NW seems like a best place to look in (and near). White-outline = best-suggested field. The big one just north has interesting clues. But the exclamation mark just outside the red zone on the west side is the place we've been wondering about. 

From the videos, a quick Field-of-View study lining up trees between 2 views - just approximate. A blue box for rocket ignition fireball as seen (center line based on optical effects - the pole there happens to line up). Light/glare involved hugely, the actual fireball will be probably a bit smaller than it appears here, but then may have expanded a bit wider than seen as well. Wherever this firing occurred, the grass under this should be burned in a consistent area along consistent lines of sight. Red = actual launcher within that blue zone, just to the right of the rocket tails and ignition center - small white triangle.

Next I set these 2 views scaled and rotated, set at an approximate angle across the line of sight, matching lines to those objects at each. It's not quite right, but I adjust the following lines to improve that. The full wide tree 1 is seen just to the right of the launcher, with the smaller #2 just slightly overlapping - that seems the best view guide here - pretty much the only usable one. 

This is the approximate angle of view then, perhaps some degrees different in reality, and maybe a bit closer or further back. As established, the camera moves 44 steps/20-25m from the launcher (in one video - similar in the other) and gets on hard pavement before the launches. Next, the third image adds orange for basic fireball scorch area, as suggested by the satellite view (a bit unclear over bare earth). It nicely fills most of the blue span. Launcher line of sight in red - placement along the line: center of the orange. Considering the rest, this circle is probably set a meter or two too far south, but the graphic is good enough. Note how the remaining burned grass, outlined in yellow, runs to the north/northeast from the orange zone. Wind is most likely to explain that. Wind in the rocket launch videos, as seen with the smoke plume: away from the camera and a bit to the right: north-northeast. Now isn't that uncanny?

Color enhancement of the burned area: unusually consistent blue-purple south of the suggested launcher spot, and purple-magenta coloration centered just north of it. The trees just E-SE of that might also have too much purple and magenta shading right there. (note: I put a faint white mask over everything but the green field in the right-hand image) The same colors pop out at random in the shadows all over, but that patch on the trees might be a clue, and the patches on the field almost certainly are.

The scorched area might be roughly circular whatever the angle of fire, or it might be elongated in that direction. And if it's the latter, numerous directions will create a circular arc between them. For comparison, I drew in the 2 most extreme reported angles coming from this spot: 110° to impact HRW9 and 334° to LCC1/HRW1 (both unverified). All others verified and reported would have angles falling into the range between those.  The orange area just seems circular, as far as we can tell - consistent with these lines and ones in between, but not exclusively. 

What's really neat about this spot is how all the mapped and analyzed impacts line-up. Its proximity to our red area already hinted at that, but here's a table from the upcoming report to compile readings from here to all those impacts, based on the spots I have pinned. 

If this were the firing spot - and it just might be - that is abut how far off our estimates would be. "Barn" at least could use a little better set-up than it's getting even now. We thought 301 would suffice to within 2 degrees, but that would be 2.7 degrees off. Set aside in red, it was the only one to exceed our most-likely center estimate by more than the predicted deviation. It had the greatest role in limiting crossover to just avoid the "green field" and on review had some set-up limitations (a building skew to the east vs. exact ground placement, possible deflection on first impact, inclusion of secondary wall impact on the same exact trajectory, when it might have included 2 deflections) that are most likely to have shifted the estimate CCW, and thus more in line, if I had taken the time. The issue is noted but not corrected in the new report. First order of business for any next version is to re-visit the exact set-up of impact "barn."


Monday, April 5, 2021

A Remote Corner: the Al-Jazeera Mystery Spot

 Ghouta Chemical Massacre(s): Firing Directions: A Remote Corner: the Al-Jazeera Mystery Spot

April 5, 2021

The Al-Jazeera video used to locate the "pool" impact also shows a second rocket, and similar analysis in a few different scenes, that correlate to one spot. The rocket smashed a concrete canopy on the eastern edge or SE corner of one building, then moving down to the south and east, broke through a ground level wall, then through a recessed-level wall or window. Finally, it came to rest in a corner, tail-up and fairly intact, in an unclear space used for storage, and with a fruit tree. 

This is the one visual rocket or impact - of nine total - that's not definitively placed. That's not happening at this post.  I've got a report to finish, and it already had the pool site added during the process; I don't need any more. But I could give it a blog post anyway.

The pool impact could have been found by a shortcut. I had follow Al-Jazeera's 307° line from the burned field (that may have hosted the "Liwa al-Islam volcano videos") and, 2km out, it brought me close to a marked impact (LCC5/HRW6). If I had been looking for a swimming pool or any of the distinctive features seen nearby, the exact location would have popped right out, but I wasn't trying for that at the time. 

The same trick might work with the other angle they reported, 290°; its  reverse110° traces from the field 2km out even more exactly to a reported impact: HRW9, not reported by LCC.  Here the app. center of their glowing orb is pinned, probably not where the impact actually was, just nearby. Note this view is turned sideways, facing east.

But even with that area narrowed down and knowing what to look for, it seems near impossible; small homes clustered with narrow spaces in shadow, and only small, generic features to match - a classic hard to identify spot. There are several areas here with similar homes (under the yellow line, to the right, ahead and to the left), at which I had a cursory look. Here are some features coded on a rough sketch "map" for anyone willing to try juggling those details.

Local north orientation is 13° CCW from true north, similar to in many other areas, but ... the rough sketch's red angle would be 108°/288° at this rotation. That was meant to be very approximate, bound to vary and perhaps a lot, depending on actual distances involved. But that 288 is almost exactly the 290° reported for what must be this impact.  It wasn't supposed to be, but sometimes I'm just that good even on accident.

With the exact spot not located, we could try using the one HRW indicated. 290 traces back to the burned field just as approximately as it led here. Seems 288 or 289 might have been better readings; coupled with the pool rocket's trajectory estimate based on Al-Jazeera's 307, their two angles did an uncanny job of identifying a "second" firing spot - just not the one they meant. And of course that first firing spot indicated by the UN-OPCW never existed - all of the volcano rockets point to just this one spot the influential people all managed to point away from.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Ghouta Placed Impact #8: The Dead Pool

Ghouta Chemical Massacre(s) : Firing Directions : Placed Impact #8: The Dead Pool

March 28, 2021

updates April 6

Mapping the Spot

I recently started a discussion on Twitter regarding an interesting video report made by Al-Jazeera, posted Nov. 12, 2013. I didn't find a written report to go with it, in English or Arabic. So I've been piecing together what the Arabic video says and, especially, what it shows - several locations, including at least two with otherwise unplaced "volcano" rockets, analyzed by on-site by well-equipped people who would provide estimated trajectories that might even be accurate.

As I had hoped, someone with more spark made good use of the visuals. Chris Kabusk located this half of their unique rocket impacts from the scene at 5:47 in the video, as shown at right. Note reference map is flipped south up in this. Distinct building ahead (to the south), aqua-blue line marks a wall with trees behind, a roof marked yellow on the left, open space beneath that, open space between, and a guy's leg. If you were the yellow pin on his map, that would be your view. The red line to off-frame is Kabusk's rocket trajectory estimate. We'll come back to trajectory.

I agreed to his detail matches and added a few more (below, also with map flipped south, but exactly 180). Notably the open pavement with railing, a lip, then some recess to match the satellite view of a large, drained swimming pool. The rocket apparently hit a roofed area behind us there,  just east of the pool's shallow north end. Finally, looking northeast from the impact hole, a matching set of distinctive buildings (purple outline, blue for balconies/windows) further cements the match. Also another view out the impact hole, unclear direction, fills an empty space I had.

Coordinates: 33.312049° 36.213243°

This was (or just included) a big, seemingly public swimming pool until it was drained, app. in late 2012. On August 23, 2013, there's a big hole in the roof at the red arrow that wasn't there before but remains after. That must be the impact point for the rocket.

This location is roughly where the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) had somewhere pegged as impact #5 - I should to track down where I ever got that. As I re-plotted them anyway, they've usually been close but inexact. Human Rights Watch also has inexact or unverified plottings, including an impact reported here - #6 as assigned, on the updated map at right. Green numbers for verified by us = a group including me, as I took note and agreed, by which this dead pool impact is #8.

Impact Analysis

April 6 note: This goes on a bit, and then had further work and final-for-now estimates at the end.

The rocket was seen in an odd tiled room with  a checkered wall and railing. It's not another part of that deck area, nor down in the pool, and should be near that punctured roof, having a rocket there and much of the roof in the wrong place. Here is Al-Jazeera's investigator looking down at the rocket near that wall. He's also near a slanting metal bar that bisects his body in our view.

The frame below is roughly his view there, looking right down that same bar at the rocket (lime outline) in its  trench with its implied trajectory (red) relative to that checkered wall with its base now marked yellow. 

In the big detail-matching graphic above, a view to the northeast has afternoon sun lighting up up both faces of those matching buildings marked in purple. To be lit in these afternoon views, this checkered wall must face roughly south or west, besides avoid all the complex shadows. If it faced south, the trajectory is from the E-SE, which is unknown. If west, then it's from the north-northwest. which there's plenty of precedent for. So it must be the eastern (west-facing) wall. Some more complex sunlight details suggest the same. Michael Kobs agrees: "I think, in order to catch some late sun light the rocket motor should be along the yellow dotted wall" (yellow solid line here). And he suggests not reading final angle too literally, as the rocket might "bounce" between walls and so on.

Important point: after it passes the roofed area, views on hand aren't clear if it passed through another wall or door or nothing before entering this room we see. So far I think it's all open space, only metal roof torn through. All debris is sheeting, insulation, ceiling panels and bars, a few pipes, wires in tubing - hardly a single brick or any concrete rubble. I think this is still the right call.

By satellite views, such walls here run 345/165° for north-south. There is some foreshortening, but the angle of the red line I traced above seems like roughly 20-25 degrees from parallel. That would mean a trajectory somewhere around 135-125° (reverse azimuth 315-325) - pretty well due northwest.  Michael Kobs or someone may offer a better reading on this in time.

So it looks like it came in close to parallel to this wall, or mostly from the north. But it did punch a hole in the roof some distance west of here. That seems to require a different trajectory at that point, one aimed a bit more into the wall and less along it. 

The rocket changing direction like that, to me, seems quite plausible; on impact, it would lose much force into that spot, bursting the tile up to the wall. Then it might find more resistance near the wall that would deflect it to the right. In the image above, see how a whole span of tile to the left was ground up, compared to a clean scrape on the right. The weak tile would give for a while before stopping the spent tube, letting that new angle get really etched in. That red arrow above should probably curve a bit to reflect the reality.  

Here's another view: red damage starts sharp, angled as if into the wall - the damage that way continues, but wider than it should, as the other side keeps going, curving towards the camera. And the curved tube at the front shows its own resistance curve. That will be partly vertical difference, and partly this curved trench effect, whatever its current rotation,

Other things aimed into the wall, coming from the west: a number of ... explosive fragments? That might raise questions I've already been asking. Either way, it needs to factor in. These mostly uniform chips span the whole west wall, with some heavy clustering north at the entrance doors, and many lighter ones clustered south. See here and further below, marked with orange shapes and dots (and gold dots for poss. lighter chips).

This wall runs for some 10-11m as visible from above. The rocket is 1.34m long to start, the trench a bit longer, so close to what I drew here.  From punched roof to near-the-wall, it had to travel 5-10 meters east to southeast, depending on the heading - which must have been different from the angle of that trench. Variables I tried to account for here: exact size and scale of the area, skewed roofline in the satellite view, uncertain center of first contact with that roof, any mild deflection then, and slightly unclear impact point with the ground where the trench begins. Each of these might be - or seems to be - a little bit off in my modeling here, but good enough for this exercise. 

Considering all those details, the original angle is hard to say for sure. A whole lot of lower angles for the roof-to-ground path are possible, but it shouldn't be very far from the final ~320. So I focused on the upper end, tracing a line with plenty of north origin. An angle like 308 or 311 seems plausible at start, but not much higher. 

At 308 it hits northeast of center in that impact zone, would deflect only a tiny bit, and needs only this 306 to land where it did. If we passed it through another spot more south or west, we'd need a lower angle to land where it did, and thus a greater deflection in the end. But I should have maybe de-skewed the roof a bit more to the left, and/or had floor impact a hair closer to the wall, so a bit smaller angle like 304/305?  

I consider these factors squeeze us to conclude an original reverse azimuth between 300 and 313°, trajectory 120-133. All considered and by what they report, Al-Jazeera's confident 307°/127° - if it even referred to this spot - might be a best center, Margin of error? +/- 3° might be reasonable.

April 6: I measured the space better - still ambiguous at the north end, but seemingly smaller - 4.8m x 8.4m - doorway 1.5m, yellow-marked wall 6.9m. I tried a tile-based measure for impact spot, that at first went poorly - taking the man's estimated height 1.75m and found tiles 0.5m wide fit and made sense. But the impact looked too close to the doors, and was wrong - he was too much closer to the camera to compare like that - the tiles were much bigger. 

Then I used the rocket motor/tube, given as 155 cm per HRW, from Higgins. That made the tiles about 80cm wide and put impact 5.6m from the doors, almost in the roofed area.  The better result is shown here: we can say a rough minimum and maximum angles. A best fit hard to call except closer to the maximum, with 307 looking as good as anything, and already offered. We could add a 5 degree give-or-take to that as a likely center from the roof. At the roof there would also be deflection - say +/- 3° or 5° if it hit a concrete edge. That's +/-10 all told - not very specific. I favor a middle 307 to the roof, and see a small deflection, to the right making more sense, so a similar and likely lower angle from the roof back to launcher. 

And then I found that was wrong - 155cm motor was not clearly measured, I guess deduced from the larger HE variant. The UN-OPCW give a more reliable 134cm for the same - 86% the size I used.
that makes the the tiles 70, maybe 75cm, so the same 7 tiles over is 35-70 cm closer to the doors than shown. That's not worth re-doing that last graphic, but could allow maybe a degree less for reverse azimuth (312 max) and would force the 307 closer to that upper end. Also I got a better final resting angle for the tube - only 15° from parallel to the wall, worsening the case for the lower angles. (but not as much as the 8 shown - it angles ~20cm closer to the wall over 134cm, not over 155cm)

Analysis back in context:

It seems Al-Jazeera's findings were of a second government-run firing spot. As Amin25 helped me understand the narration and visuals, and as I follow their lines on the map (as blur-matchingly exact as possible) on Google Maps, this is their case: they set a pin called "Zamalka" used to measure all impacts from. The spot corresponds to no impacts, exactly, but is close to both "impact site 5" and closer to an unseen "LCC1," by far the nearest one to their suspected launch spots. Note how much further out the rest of them range. (this predates finding #8 - that dot is still red in this picture)

Next, they presume the UN-OPCW's 285° - read as running to the 104th brigade base on Mt. Qassioun 9.6 km away - was correct in angle and implications for the "Assad regime." That's not to their credit, nor is it a surprise. Oddly, they map that here as running about 280 to the actual peak of Mt. Qassioun, a ways south of where the UN-OPCW had incorrectly pointed. Their tweaked triangle suggests this as just over 5km out (barely into that white span to 10km), but it's nearly 7.2 km, as I measure it, to the matching features on Google Maps. Here's their fancy map with my measures traced on, for this and the rest. Feel free to double check me here.

It doesn't seem they found any angles to confirm the UN-OPCW one they defer to. They did finds a similar 290, but then plot 285 as 280, as if divorcing them. Their other angle, 307, is no fit. And they only mention identifying a new firing direction pointing to a second attack vector. Maybe just the one impact does that, while the 290 confirms the other line?

Either way, they clearly identify the Syrian Scientific Research Center (SSRC, or CERS in French) at Barzeh, just under 5km distant. This is the same one bombed by Donald Trump in 2018 over bogus sarin claims, just weeks after it was cleared - by the biased OPCW - of producing any such thing (CBS). No one even mentioned it was also a site used in 2013 for military attacks with giant sarin-filled rockets, as suggested here by Al-Jazeera.

First, range: they mean here that 330mm volcano rockets were fired from both spots and landed in Zamalka. This has been universally regarded as nonsense almost since this video came out. Foreshadowing: they're proud to show a max 10km range for the shells that hit Moadamiya as they animate 9.5km ... actually 8.6km here. They do the same animation for the volcanos that hit Zamalka, but can't offer a range to support this 9.6km flight. Instead as we've seen, they moved the launch spot to 7.2 km out on a different bearing, then mapped it to look like ~6km, and paired it with another launch from just under 5km. 

Everyone knows aerodynamic reality limits these to 2, maybe 2.5km range, not 4.9, or 7.2, or 9.6 km. However, tracing Al-Jazeera's lines to a plausible 2.25km or so, even from that arbitrary dot, is a bit useful. We'll come right back to that.

Next, from the "Zamalka" pin, neither green line points towards SSRC, let alone has any hope of reaching it. It's 316/317° from that spot. But spots vary, and their 307° might originate at this dead pool. However, from the pool impact, it's about 315 degrees to SSRC, not 307. 

They never did map this out, but now we can. In fact I already did it, roughly, a couple weeks ago. Recently we identified the likely firing spot best indicated by out 7 trajectories. That plus freshly burned grass pointed right to a field matching the one in which the "Liwa al-Islam volcano videos" were filmed. I decided to try tracing Al-Jazeera's angles from there, in a quick take. 307 seemed to trace out to just a bit west of LCC5 - not as exactly as the 290 pointed to HRW9, but close enough to suggest we really had the basic spot. Now it seems that LCC5 dot was set a bit east of the true impact, added here as "pool," which splits the difference and suggests maybe ~306 is better in the end. 

Or put the other way - the angle they give from here points - more or less - right to that field that was NOT under regime control, is within actual range, at the intersection of 8 trajectories now, was freshly burned, and probably hosted that video of these rockets being fired. As if we needed more evidence at this point. 

So 307, or 306. Or even lower? Yeah - I had placed the black circle pretty crudely too. Re-measuring it now with both ends pinned more exactly, I get about 305.5° from where my green line had ended to the "exact approximate" launcher spot - not the 307 I meant. And  from the impacted roof by the pool to our possible launcher is just one degree less, 304.5° (almost zero difference between hitting here vs. here on that roof, more possible variation at the launcher end).  Maybe 307 just wasn't that exact?

FWIW Distance: 1.989 km from that suspect field. Long range = shallow landing, likely enough to travel ~10m between roof and floor.