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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Douma Toxicology: Erasing and Replacing the Correct Answers

December 29, 2019

The leaks from a corrupt OPCW continue, to the point one could feel a bit sorry for those trying to managed their secretive system. Recently a draft version of the FFM's interim report, dated June, 2018, was added to the leak list. Comparing this to the published version of that report from early July, and to the final report of March, 2019, reveals what had been included but was then removed (see my sprawling overview here). Prior to scrubbing, that report contained surprisingly specific and widespread doubts about the impact sites, the reliability of witnesses lodging contradictory claims, the correlation between chlorine gas and observed symptoms, and more. Major exclusions regarding epidemiology and toxicology were perhaps the most marked difference, and it's to these misleading changes the recent leaks - and we - now turn.

https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/#OPCW-DOUMA - Release Part 4
Four new documents are included in this latest release from Wikileaks: "removal of engineering report" (Feb. 2019)  and "exclusion of Douma FFM team (July, 2018) both play in at the end of this article, but more to the point are "actual toxicology meeting" and (correctly redacted) "emails re: toxicology minutes." Between these and the prior comparison work, another clear view emerges of the distortion of the Douma probe. And here they obscure key details about how those children, women and men - accepted as 43 in number but with strangely credible claims of 187 - might have actually been killed.


June, 2018: FFM is told chlorine not to blame for Douma deaths  
It was on 6 June, 2018 that a one-hour meeting was held between four OPCW FFM staff members and three "toxicologists/clinical pharmacologists" and one "bioanalytical and toxicological chemist," all noted as "specialists in CW" or chemical weapons (see header below). It says they met at an OPCW "designated lab" in an unnamed state party. Related communications (see below) suggest there was also a lunch involved.

Most nations on Earth are state parties to the CWC and the OPCW, but this was probably somewhere in Western Europe. Germany would be a good guess. Peter Hitchens has become quite well-informed, and says it was Germany. (It's likely that someone has or was about to argue that some mole in the OPCW booked this visit in Russia, and it was just Putinian lies that were subsequently removed.)


Document:
https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/document/actual_toxicology_meeting_redacted/

Two main issues were raised during the 6 June meeting, with the minor one being exhumation of bodies. The experts advised digging up the corpses at this time - a full two months after the event - was not worth the hassle. This is partly based on presuming the search would only be for clues of a chlorine attack (lung tissue is the central clue that was probably too decayed, and it wasn't known if anyone had ever shown chlorine exposure from an exhumed body). This may not apply with all possible agents, in a case where it seemed another agent must be responsible. And either way, DNA testing could be done to help confirm or deny the lodged stories of who the victims were. So they were thinking inside a box on this point, but the rest of what they say seems entirely sound, so let's consider the FFM may have provided the "box" by narrowing the presumptions.

The main issue was "whether the symptoms observed in victims were consistent with exposure to chlorine or other reactive chlorine gas." The answer was a clear and resounding no. "The experts were conclusive in their statements that there was no correlation between symptoms and chlorine exposure. In particular, they stated that the onset of excessive frothing …. would not occur in the short time period" of 3-4 hours after the alleged attack, or more like 2.5 hours for the earliest images - especially considering they should have been dead for part of that time.

More detail was provided on this that came through in the draft interim report assembled soon after. These details and their treatment are related in the next section, but that's about it from the minutes. What's new and interesting there are the following points: the FFM team leader's efforts to insert dubious claims (to improve his odds of a "right" answer?) and the consulted experts' own impromptu "conspiracy theory."

"The head of the FFM team for the investigation in Douma" stepped in, the leaked minutes explain, with his own point "that a second canister, not witnessed by the FFM team, had landed in front of the building" and might have added some deadly chemical. That should be FFM team leader Sami Barrek, the only person present whose name isn't redacted. It was actually reported 50-60 meters away from location 2 - outside some other peoples' home on another street - that a third device was sad to land. There were never any images of this, nor clear reports at the time, and alleged survivors from this mystery basement disagree on whether 1 or 6 people died there. This story was likely invented after the fact, and rather poorly, but it was included in the final report as unverified but likely, for readers to latch onto as they saw fit. And here we can see it's a point favored by the team leader.

Responding to Barrek's suggestion, the experts at the time could only postulate "some highly experimental and toxic carbamates that they described as reversible cholinesterase inhibitors." They added that these were unlikely to be used, however, as they would be in a solid form and thus difficult to disperse. That's especially the case if they had to disperse 50-60 meters around a couple of buildings to even play in, a detail which Barrek probably left out.

The experts were asked about the symptoms, not necessarily the deaths. Nonetheless, "the experts were also of the opinion that it was highly unlikely that victims would have gathered in piles at the centre of the respective apartments at such a short distance from an escape" to fresh air, and then just lay there and die, if they had simply been exposed to chlorine. This suggests they became piled like that in some other way, which might be troubling.

In fact, having seen numerous images, the "chief expert summed up his conclusions by offering two possibilities that included on the one hand a real chemical attack and on the other, the possibility of the event being a propaganda exercise. He elaborated on the possibilities." The elaborations are not included in this summary, but sound interesting. Of course, outside observers including myself have reached the same conclusion - the victims were killed somewhere else and had their corpses arranged at the scene of the alleged chlorine attack.

But those were side-issues to the FFM team, whose "key take-away message" was agreed as "the symptoms observed were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine, and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified." This message was relayed to the Chief of Cabinet (at the time, British diplomat Bob Fairweather). He would probably be unhappy to read it.

Document: e-mails regarding toxicology meeting minutes

The format of the minutes seems improvised, lacking any OPCW logo, etc. But this is explained well-enough in follow-up e-mails from 20-30 August, addressing the comments of the toxicology experts, and a suggested desire to remove them. Someone first compiled the minutes from "what I recall and had jotted in my notes," checked against "an accurate record" I'd love to see or hear. But there were concerns that the experts had suggested "real chemical attack or staged" were both possible, when "all we "gave" the experts were open-source videos and photos so their insight was (and had to remain) limited." That unsolicited theorizing was, in one employee's opinion, "fueled by" by how the deaths "do not match chlorine rather than corpses arranged for propaganda purposes." That chilling realization might spur someone to offer a note to that effect, even if no one asked for it.

This was all well after the interim report came out absent these points. It seems some were urging they be included in the final, with someone re-wording the possibilities offered by the chief expert, and also tweaking the words from an exclusion of all "known toxic gasses" to "no obvious candidate" as seen in the leaked minutes. But that wasn't enough, and of course the points were entirely removed for good, and then replaced with the acknowledged set of experts in September and October.

Omissions summarized 
The points raised collectively by the experts on 6 June are related in more detail in the draft report compiled sometime in June. Their opinions conform with my own research, looking at literature, case studies, and considering finer details (see does chlorine make you pass out? - Bhatti critique). The final report in March, 2019, was terrible in that regard; only its self-defeating vagueness prevented it being grossly dishonest. It's never said outright that chlorine could reasonably explain the deaths at Douma, but it is left open to the casual reader who lacks the scientific background to know otherwise. And so one could easily presume, as many have, that a caustic choking agent like chlorine WAS the same incapacitating one that caused all that foam and 43 dead people.

And that's because the FFM, in the end, omitted these rather logical and seemingly correct points that were briefly "in the opinion of the FFM team." It was an informed opinion, based on "observations, expert opinions of toxicologists specialised in chemical weapons exposure, and published scientific knowledge in this area." But all of these points - here summarized - were later deemed wrong, irrelevant, or inconvenient, and never included in a public report:

* "chlorine gas or other reactive chlorine-containing toxic agents such as phosgene or cyanogen chloride would not have resulted in the severe and rapid frothing symptoms reported by witnesses and observed in video footage and photos," at least not considering the details of this case.
* "to cause the rapid onset of symptoms" alleged, especially the sudden and copious foam or froth, the "large numbers of decedents" and their varied arrangement (suggesting sudden death or paralysis), is unlikely for a simple choking agent like chlorine, and would probably require "a highly debilitating agent" like sarin or another "highly toxic nerve agent," which they remind did not turn up in samples, environmental or biological.
* Lodged claims that "that victims ran from the basement towards the upper floors of the building, and therefore counter to the direction of dissemination of the toxic gas," or deeper into the cloud, was unusual (and thus perhaps untrue). "It should be expected that on encountering the irritant gas, victims would instinctively have retreated and exited the building."
* "such rapid incapacitation that victims would be unable to escape the toxic gas" is not likely to result from "a respiratory irritant such as chlorine or phosgene" unless perhaps it "rapidly accumulated to very high concentrations." (on "perhaps" - my research suggests this might cause sudden and severe enough damage many people would go into shock, suffer sudden respiratory arrest, and maybe persistent laryngospasm, or just pass out, and then they would die at a fast, suffocation speed without moving. PERHAPS.) But that was "considered unlikely, given the location of the suspected source of the toxic chemical as well as the configuration and condition of the building."
* This dispersion aspect was explained in a fairly detailed discussion 1 of the draft report, using three images from a 3-D model of the apartment building. As noted in my fuller analysis, this discussion had all important parts and 2 images removed for the final report that managed to avoid the issue of gas concentration.
* In the case of high concentrations and swift effects, which again was unlikely, "asphyxiation would have been the likely cause of death before pulmonary edema and frothing could develop," but of course we see a lot of foam.
* "the white or light-cream colour of the froth presented by victims is not in keeping with exposure to choking agents, where secretions are characteristically pinkish in colour when frothing does occur." (this is from the blood content resulting from serious tissue damage. They may overstate its universality, but maybe not, and it's a handy point).

There's a marked ambiguity in the final report that's obvious after comparing it to the leaked draft; every chance that arises to describe the chemical that might explain the deaths and/or the symptoms (seen or described), the report fails to specify even a general class of agents, and keep descriptors to a bare minimum. Is this all just out of professional caution?
- can be related to a wide scope of chemicals
- exposure to a chemical substance
- toxic exposure
- a rapidly incapacitating or a highly toxic substance
- an agent capable of quickly killing or immobilising
- an inhalational irritant or toxic substance
- based on the information reviewed and in the absence of biomedical samples from the dead bodies or any autopsy records, it is currently not possible to precisely link the cause of the signs and symptoms to a specific chemical.

They couldn't or wouldn't even specify a broader class of chemical agents! That seems pretty weak to me. There are specifics in there too, just not very many. In review, what's in the final vs. the draft on the differences between one class or another:

Nerve agent, draft: Several repetitions of the finding of "No organophosphorous nerve agents, their degradation products or synthesis impurities" found in their study - 6.9 noted how that lack inspired the desire to leave bodies in the ground and thus avoid testing that underpinned their inability to be more clear - rapid foaming suggested "a highly toxic nerve agent" more than it did what the choking agent they found some indication of - the opposition chemical facility didn't seem capable of producing nerve agents (which doesn't seem to matter - they could make all kinds of choking agents and had chlorine) - Several mentions in Annex 4 considering methods of sampling and analysis.

Nerve agent, final: the same few reiterations of no nerve aggent traces at the alleged attack sites - the same notes that the opposition chemical facility didn't seem capable of producing nerve agents - nothing else to note, for example, if that's a better or worse explanation than any other kind of agent they don't even specify.

Choking/blood agent, irritant, etc.:  The draft report includes 7 mentions of "choking or blood agents" + 1 misspelled "chocking" + 2 of "respiratory irritant" = 10 uses, and all to note inconsistencies with what seen in the Douma incident. Improvements to the final report include: No mentions of choking OR blood agents. The related "irritant" occurs once, describing the likely agent as "irritant or toxic." 1/10 the former mention, 0/10 the former relevance comes through.

Concentration: the only factor cited by the June experts to possible bridge the symptoms gap is the possibility of a swift accumulation of gas in a strong concentration. The draft report included many mentions as being relevant to the choking agent option, under the heading "plausibility" and in a whole discussion 1 dedicated to explaining the massive dissipation that would be involved made this unlikely (and that didn't even consider the very slow average rate of release). The final report has gutted the core of discussion 1 so it's pointless, and the whole report includes no mention of "concentration" in this context at all. The closest it gets is the note how the victims failing to escape indicated "a very rapid or instant onset," but the rest of the evidence still argues against that. The final report skipped another chance to get specific to show how the opposition story might make sense, maybe because it was impossible.

The replacement experts
6 June, 2018 "The opinion of a number of toxicologists, specialists in chemical-weapons-related intoxication supported this assessment" in the draft report that all the signs pointed away from the one type of chemical that could show at all. That's awkward. The public interim report of 6 July makes no mention of toxicology or toxicologists (it was really vague on most things).

But the final report had to address that. Its timeline (annex 1) says it was only in September that the FFM had "consultations with toxicologists," not mentioned as being a second round. Then in October were "consultations with toxicologists and engineering experts." This must be when "The FFM consulted with four toxicologists and one toxicologist and medical doctor, all versed in chemical weapons or toxic industrial chemical exposure."

Comparing to the June experts as described (3 Toxicologists/Clinical pharmacologists, 1 bioanalytical and toxicological chemist (all specialists in CW)), this clearly refers to a different sets of people, presumably with different findings. The set of five won out over the set of four, perhaps in a majority rules sense. But of course the second set wouldn't likely be sought unless the first set was not already ruled the loser. The losers and their opinions were never publicly mentioned, while the winners just had their identities kept confidential, in line with OPCW protocol and/or to conceal what known hacks they are; for all we know they were sourced from OSINT allies, Bellingcat, HRW, etc. and might even include Tariq Bhatti AND Keith Ward (see here), or just people who operate like they do.

Consider how the word expert appears - in the ballistics/engineering context - 12 times in the main body (7 just to note and re-note that experts were consulted, 5 times to specify what they did or added), and then there's a whole annex 12 on "Experts’ Analyses for Industrial Cylinders." That details why their work was so good and credible - they had relevant education, for example, and came from three different nations. (But so did the missiles launched on Syria their work could justify or fail to justify.)

"The independent analyses results" made the highly dubious chlorine bomb attack scenes at locations 2 and 4 come out as real airdrops somehow, with unclear assumptions and illogical results that were "complementary and, as such, presented in the main body of the report." At right is one image of the cylinder fitting at location 4 - it's absurd. And someone among these experts was cited with "an explanation" for what seems to be the impact point and primary fragmentation marks of the weapon that actually created the roof hole at location 2: that was taken as "a large impact on the roof and walls above the balcony" caused by the non-explosive cylinder, and "the experts" felt this might explain how it hit the balcony "causing a hole in it, but without sufficient energy to fall through it." A moment's clear visualization should reveal how hard that would be to truly explain. If nothing can explain it but you just have to try, you may as well grab anything.

Now let's compare this proud advertising of a clearly sub-par engineering team B with the final report's handling of the replacement toxicologists. The word "expert" appears in their context just 6 times in the body, all just to re-state that they had been consulted. Related points are included, but none credited explicitly to the experts, as they had been in the draft report. And some points seem to be copied over from the earlier draft they had nothing to do with.

So it's not clear what the replacement experts added. But just from the above, I'm guessing their advice largely corroborated what the others said, but it was delivered in a different, more "competent" spirit. For example:

"I can't help you with specifics here - it really doesn't add up. There a few maybe we could consider, like that third device someone reported - play that up. But first, the main thing … What I can do is suggest you skip all those clumsy details. Stick to this simple formula: dead people, a chemical of some toxic kind, Assad, and obviously it must add up somehow. If anyone disagrees with that or raises questions, you just stand firm. You have faith in the findings. Tab your bible here if you have one. If they persist, that just proves they're an Assad apologist or Putin troll. They can't be allowed to dictate the narrative. Just delete their comments, fire them if needed, smear them, whatever works. But they can't be heard AND believed if they don't share our faith." 

Such a meeting might close with a silent, implied "amen."

The following graphic shows and corrects the exclusion of the toxicologists that made sense. At the bottom is the result of and the probable reason for this suppression of the correct answers.



Conclusion: two second tries  
Another newly published doc has e-mails including one from Chief of Cabinet Sebastien Braha (Fairweather's replacement as the effective boss of the OPCW, formerly the deputy French Permanent Representative to the OPCW, and reportedly "frequently in the building" even before that, "giving instructions on expectations from his capital to the Technical Secretariat." (WGSPM)) In this e-mail, Braha apparently calls Ian Henderson "someone who was not part of the FFM" and whose engineering report was "outside FFM authority." He wanted to know who had approved it and why it was in their secure system, and demanded all signs of it be scrubbed. It was 28 February, 2019. The FFM's final report on the Douma incident was set to come out in days, and the "expanded rev. 1" of Ian Henderson's EST report was dated 27 February, marked for circulated by hand to team members. It seems to be the first time Braha had seen it, so how much did he really know as he seemingly asked for it to be scrubbed a second time?

All else suggests Henderson was in there, as the only team member well-qualified for the task, and was approved to work with others in the FFM's own "engineering sub-team." The draft interim report suggests it had been the singular effort of the FFM to that point, so that after its rejection, they briefly "had insufficient information" to say just how the gas cylinder and building damage lined up at either of the two locations. The EST report had explained how they did NOT correlate with an aerial attack, and almost had to be staged by people on the ground (the same ones who would have arranged the corpses of people killed in unknown circumstances). But the FFM were not allowed to use this, and here they were left with nothing.

Then the public report in July dropped that negative past-tense to announce "work is in progress" to secure a "competent" assessment. To this end, "independent" experts were consulted in September and October and worked with into December. The result, as we've seen, was an apparent scientific victory for the claims lodged by "Army of Islam" and their allies.

Publicly, there was no explanation for the long delay in seeking a first-and-only engineering study. We're to accept that they just took some five months to bother trying, for some unexplained reason other than waiting for and then rejecting that EST report with the disapproved answers. I don't think many of us are accepting that.

And the other of 4 new documents seems to show Henderson (among several others) was excluded from active FFM work as of 30 July, 2018. FFM team leader Sami Barrek instructed, in an e-mail of this date, that all relevant discussions should be directed to "FFM Alpha team," and a list of approved people recently sent out. Anyone not on that list, he stressed, "should not be involved in this matter." This came amid e-mails between Henderson and someone else on investigation matters. (And all of this might have been genuinely unknown to Chief of Cabinet Braha).

The details related in this article suggests the same basic process played out on the toxicologist track. Outside experts were called on, rather than FFM team members, and it was only done in early June, a bit late in the process. But in a similar way, this consultation failed to connect the claims and the science. The "chief expert" even offered his own theories about the whole thing failing to add up because it was an arranged  propaganda effort. The details of each track and the dual search for fresh views in both areas over the fall suggest both lines of inquiry had similarly failed to produce the acceptable answers so far, and were on a second try at this point. If the FFM was working with two B teams, they would be carefully selected to avoid the need for any C teams. And it does seem their answers were acceptable, allowing the FFM chief Barrek and his allies to make or suggest the desired connections, prior to showing their works to the global public they seek to deceive.

13 comments:

  1. "more like 2.5 hours for the earliest images"

    Not even that, 1.5 hours - FFM 8.63 "shortly after 21:00" "bodies had copious secretions from the mouth"

    So ironically, Beliingcat's incredulous professor saying "the onset of pulmonary edema can be quick, and can easily occur within 2-4 hours" unintentionally agrees that "excessive frothing, as a result of pulmonary edema ... reported by witnesses would not occur in the short time period".

    I think instead they should have asked how quickly death and pulmonary edema can occur in chlorine victims. Victims supposedly died immediately, not 2 hours later.

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  2. The other Henderson scale diagram with intact fins doesn't seem to match Bellingcat's attempt either (I've tried a bit harder here to line up the FFM diagram, doesn't need to be exact to see the cylinder is in proportion and the fin size. Whether it is accurate.. but all we have to refer to)

    https://imgur.com/dkoO0O4

    So not sure where BC fin dimensions are from? They match no other diagram I can think of. Or reality.

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    Replies
    1. I didn't check what they did for fins. It'll be a little harder to be sure the relevant ones' original shape with certainty. Even the actual cylinder size isn't certain. Dimensions given by FFM in text vs. images vary by 13 cm, and Henderson's size fall right in the span, so …

      further discussion will be more useful at the new post: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2020/01/and-lets-continue-that-discussion-about.html

      Delete
  3. Re. toxicologists, just to note WG added:

    "6 June 2018 at the Bundeswehr Research Institute for Protective Technologies and NBC Protection (WIS) in Munster. The “chief expert” can be identified as Colonel Dr Franz Worek, the leading medical expert on chemical defence in the Bundeswehr."

    http://syriapropagandamedia.org/update-on-the-opcws-investigation-of-the-douma-incident#suppression-of-the-consultation-with-medical-experts-in-june-2018

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    Replies
    1. I should finally reply to say cool, I'm glad that was publicized. Colonel Dr Franz Worek, the leading medical expert on chemical defense in the Bundeswehr had to be ignored when he said plain chlorine exposure couldn't have killed those people. I'd still like to see how he "elaborated" on the real possibilities.

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    2. Yes - unfortunately it would need someone to do a proper investigation with some sincerity.

      Instead we are left with people like Hilsman + BC sycophants claiming the victims bleached their own clothes, saying the hospital footage 'isn't relevant' (he still doesn't appear to know who Diaa Mohammed/Amani/twins are) and seemingly not understanding pulmonary edema-foam vs suffocation. But they have to bat for Islamic extremists for whatever reason, I can only imagine how badly wrong their lives must have gone to get to that point.

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    3. And still arguing about reaction when the immediate neighbours "self-extricated" (8.63) and the White Helmets found it so unbearable they were "unable to stay inside for more than a few minutes" (8.64). Plus Nasr Hanan "sat in a daze on the ground" outside- dodging all that bombing of course.

      Hassan Diab's family was "hilarious" too apparently.

      Anyway, searching for updates on the friends or relatives of all those people. Likely already have, but Diaa Mohammed again:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88A4iQZ_mxc


      TRT other witnesses - 25 families in the basement...

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVSgxTkXXXo


      Interesting new one, Abo Yassin White Helmet:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9UiGNiKF2I

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    4. Now the victims broke down the door to their own ground floor apartment (well.. where they supposedly live) and put the door in the stairwell "to reach high ground". Much easier and quicker than carrying on up the stairs or finding their own key! Incredible.

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    5. ..and then right back to channelling Lucas with the 'evil Syria and Russia' allowing inspectors to visit everything bar the 2 apartments (one visibly cleaned up when Nasr Hanan was still there giving interviews and the other apartment likely washed as the White Helmets' hose is seen going into the building in videos of the next morning, water pouring out of the entrance etc.) as opposed to JaI in control and being unable to access anything.. and reportedly JaI who 'blocked access'.

      As "no one heard their screams" and the White Helmets didn't enter the building until 9pm (or before 8:30 depending on whose timing is right), curious as to when and how it was determined that people's friends and relatives inside were in fact dead and beyond saving- that they shouldn't try to reach or rescue them.

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    6. As the common thread in the Douma wood samples is water and the White Helmets deal with e.g. filling water tanks, it would be interesting to see which water treatment chemicals were sent to/used in Douma over the years, sent to the White Helmets, sent to areas outside of government control etc. Plus expert non-partisan non-Bellingcat chemistry analysis.

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    7. I didn't comment on the door-breaking claim, as it hit we there could be fresher air behind it - and the sinks - and not sure whose home that was supposed to be (you might?), if it might be locked - it's not just that they have stupid ideas, but that they act like it's an obvious fact ANYONE should know.

      Water treatment if any - could be a few AFAIK, chlorine most likely. I still don't see it explaining much. Still just puzzled about those trace level readings, and holding it okay. I'd rather not be puzzled, but no one's explained any better.

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    8. Hanan supposedly lives upstairs while the people in the ground floor apartment were displaced, moving from place to place according to the activist tweets linked to by CNN. But someone must have lived in that apartment for the 'running to a water source' theory to make any sense- unless they pile into a random apartment on the off chance there is any water.

      Perhaps that works in the same way that the White Helmets knew they didn't need to check any of the other apartments for survivors, activists couldn't find any of the hundreds of genuine victims to film -instead having hose unaffected kids etc.

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  4. I should stress it isn't my theory that the victims were breaking down the door - recalling initial FFM wording in 7.17 "the front door of this apartment was seen to be unhinged".

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