Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Daraya Sarin Attack, Feb. 15, 2015

November 20, 2017

Toxic chemicals were launched in Syria near the Damascus front-lines on Feb 15, 2015, leading to suffocation cases. No one died in the incident, but it seems one victim came perilously close - sarin was later confirmed as the poison, supposedly given up by the regime, and not publicly used since August, 2013's Ghouta massacre.

But the opposition never announced it. The victims were Syrian soldiers, apparently attacked by Islamist fighters they were closing in on. It's not a unique case - Soldiers have been killed by terrorists' chemicals from December 22, 2012 (also in Daraya) to at least August, 2016.

A December, 2015 OPCW report relates allegations brought to their attention by the Syrian government, and the OPCW's own findings upon review. (PDF via Jean Pascal Zanders' blog The Trench, and now via ACLOS, since the UN and OPCW don't make it available, for some reason...) Some attacks also targeted or affected civilians, but the incidents lodged and assessed (12 in total, between April 2014 and February, 2015) primarily used caustic choking agents on soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army, in 4 locations around Damascus, with some seriously affected and a few deaths.

But this unusual incident of February 15, at least, involved sarin, of a kind that local terrorists had. 

It was in Daraya, southwestern Damascus suburbs, near the Sayida Soukayna Shrine. A group of soldiers was spread out near the front-line here, with some inside a certain blasted building around noon. A mysterious munition landed inside one of the rooms and caused noxious smoke with a smell "like burning nylon." Rats died, "shivering and screaming" as the soldiers succumbed to varying degrees and retreated to a medical center some distance away.

As the report says:
"The  affected  soldiers  assisted  one  another  in  retreating  from  the  impact  area  and  received  general  supportive  care  at  a  forward  medical  point  before  being  evacuated  by  ambulance  to  a  military  hospital some distance away (Hospital 601)." 
The path as reported to them is shown on a map in the report (cropped here). They took that red path north, probably on foot, for a total distance of about 880 meters before reaching any help. Considering the extreme exposure (see below), it's likely some couldn't walk, at least needed assistance. In fact, the most heavily-exposed soldier was unconscious and had to be carried. Perhaps they did have a vehicle and drove.  

At least 4 soldiers suffered notable exposure, with symptoms including,  as the OPCW report lists: "blurred  vision, teary   eyes,   runny   nose,   dizziness, headache, breathing difficulties, mild fatigue, and nausea." One badly Original Syrian blood tests at Military Hospital 601 suggested sarin exposure or similar, and the OPCW was later called to have a look.

The OPCW reviewed documents, interviewed the affected soldiers, and obtained DNA samples from each. The DNA analysis "established a link between the blood samples collected and casualties for this incident." Then they sent that preserved blood to a single laboratory on November 9 (transferred  to  a  designated  laboratory (as selected by the Director-General) for analysis), with results back on Nov. 27 "The results of the biomedical testing indicate evidence of sarin (or sarin-like agent, for example, chlorosarin) intoxication." 

So they were exposed, and have this consistent story of how, But the OPCW stops short of confirming that's actually how; they were unable to verify the chain of custody for samples at every step, and were "unable to link the analysis results to the incident described" and note a lack of "immediate notification to the OPCW," hampering their ability to get fuller detail. The pieces are all there, but who knows? It's left open for someone to suggest, and others to blandly accept, that the results were engineered, just to smear the opposition and try to blame them for other uses of sarin.

There's no mention of the delivery device - it's as if they never found it, which is possible for a few legitimate reasons.

The report also spends some time relating discrepancies in hospital admittance records, and questioning the value of some treatments given. The point of this hardly seems worth the space taken up.

Daraya Sarin Results, in (Partial) Detail

The UN-OPCW investigating team (FFM) selected 18 samples from 4 patients (labeled A-D) plus one control sample (E, an unaffected lab worker). Apparently blood samples (frozen or somehow preserved, to be sure) are able to yield results of use at least this span (about 9 months) months after the event.  "The laboratory analysed the blood samples (using) two different liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry techniques ... Then) fluoride regeneration, followed by gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry." That's a lot of testing.

The samples "displayed inhibition of AChE activity." A more-detailed Annex 8 of the report the table says this is normally in the range of 5.17-9.15 U/ml blood.* Control person E showed 6.54 (normal), while patients A-D all had lower levels.

*(it actually says U/min/ml, causing some confusion, As Pmr9 helped me understand, U (unit) is already a per-minute measure. (Wikipedia: enzyme unit) This one instance of U/min seems like a mistake - it makes as much sense as mph/hour. So until I learn otherwise, I'll ignore /min and consider this U/ml.

Samples from different "AntiC" (H and E), and different tests on Feb. 15, 18, and 24, showed the following lowest vs. highest levels of AchE activity for each casualty (The lower this number for AchE activity, generally, the higher the sarin exposure was.):
  • patient A 0.83-1.61
  • patient B 1.19-1.66
  • patient C 4.34-5.29
  • patient D 0.48-1.19
The differences over time for the 4 are also graphed at right (from the report). To me, this is surprising: nine days later, all the badly effected soldiers are still recovering and far below normal levels. Patient C with secondary exposure has the effects worsen after three days. That could be less-than-ideal treatment at work.

According to the report, most samples were tested with 3 methods: "MPA adduct (2 techniques), and Fl regen." That's the fluoride ion regeneration test, which now seems standard. The low-exposure patient C had this skipped in most tests, but all other tests (13 of the 18) give this method in addition to the 2 MPA adduct tests.With that, they found as clearly as anywhere "evidence of sarin (or sarin-like agent, for example, chlorosarin) intoxication in all tested samples collected from casualties."

In an interesting Annex 9 of the report, this is correlated to reported locations at the time of the incident. Patient D said he was "in  the  same  room  as  the  impact of the chemical device," while  A  "located himself  on  the  same  floor  as  person  D," while "B was in the same building but on a different floor to the impact zone." "Interviewee A [meaning patent C -ed] testified that he  was  in  another  building  away  from  the  rest  of  the  group  and  helped  affected  persons  to  evacuate." He suffered secondary exposure, as sarin is known to cause. His AchE is the highest among them, close to normal at its lowest. "Moreover,  some  of  the  interviewees  mentioned  that  persons  D  and A were the most affected within the group." (D alone lost consciousness)

Pmr9 tells me "The enzyme activity would be a better measurement to report if you are trying to quantify whether the inhibition is complete, or whether 10% of activity (perhaps enough to keep you alive) remains." That level - an informed guess - is in fact higher than one case here: soldier D, who was closest to the impact,  the level of activity in the first blood sample was only about 7.5% of the normal level (0.48 compared to 6.54 for the lab worker). By this anyway, he seems like a good candidate for dying, but with the help of comrades, he managed to live and recover, as graphed above.

Why This Glimpse?

Why is this freely published while some other cases are not? For one,  as noted, its availability has been quite limited. But to the extent they did this qualitative analysis, which they normally seem to skip ... why? Well, for one difference there's no rebel false-flag with token doses to cover up. Rebels apparently have no story at all about the incident and weren't asked. If there's an issue with high or low or weird sarin levels, for example, it's on the government, who maintained access to its own soldiers and who might stand to benefit from blaming their opponents. There is some room left to wonder that in all the qualifiers the OPCW include and the minor discrepancies they point out.

But if we suppose the government side might fake a sarin attack, then couldn't the same work in reverse in all the other cases? Depending... and don't they hide the details like AchE activity, in  all those cases? Indeed. Hm.

But in the meantime, there's an implied opposition use of sarin nerve agent. There's no good reason a pro-rebel OPCW like this to want to cover this case, but professionally they're supposed to, and did, and they let Zanders at least have a view that perhaps accidentally lets us get a view. But no governments, human rights groups, or corporate-controlled news outlets heralded this report full of other well-illustrated rebel CW attacks. Unlike reports blaming the Syrian "regime," these findings remain buried and barely-known. So in the end, there was little harm to the prevailing narrative in the OPCW simply doing its job here. It doesn't reflect much on the overarching pattern of silence under consideration.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Idlib Chemical Massacre: Early Hospital Admissions?

Idlib Chemical Massacre
The When and Where
Early Hospital Admissions?
November 12, 2017
(rough, incomplete)

A very important point, or possible point, of evidence against the opposition's narrative of the April 4 Khan Sheikhoun chemical massacre has emerged in recent days. It seems many victims were gassed before the alleged attack, as shown by hospital admission records with patients admitted with symptoms up to nearly an hour before the incident, and continuing over time up to and past the incident. 

This, at least, is a logical reading of the curious findings related by the UN-OPCW joint investigative mechanism in its 7th and perhaps final report of October 26 (see my review here). Recall the opposition narrative has been and remains: jets overflew and attacks at about 6:37 and 6:46 am, by most accounts dropping the sarin bomb first, but in some version in the second run, or in an only run at some other time in about that range (the range for which there's radar evidence for jets nearby but not close enough). So the story is a bit wiggly, but not enough to squirm out of this problem, if the problem proves to be genuine.

What the JIM says: 7th report, final version, Oct 26 (PDF link)
77. Certain irregularities were observed in elements of the information analysed. For example, several hospitals appeared to have begun admitting casualties of the attack between 0640 and 0645 hours. The Mechanism received the medical records of 247 patients from Khan Shaykhun who had been admitted to various health-care facilities, including survivors and a number of victims who eventually died from exposure to a chemical agent. The admission times noted in the records range from 0600 to 1600 hours. Analysis of the records revealed that in 57 cases, patients had been admitted to five hospitals before the incident (at 0600, 0620 and 0640 hours). In 10 of those cases, patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours, while another 42 patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 30 km away at 0700 hours. The Mechanism did not investigate those discrepancies and cannot determine whether they are linked to any possible staging scenario, or to poor record-keeping in chaotic conditions
Intriguingly, they acknowledge a possible "staging scenario" (a faked CW attack, as I suspect), for which these too-early victims could be evidence. But then, it could be an honest mix-up. Between too-early admissions and admission after the attack but too far to have traveled, there are 109 cases in trouble. (they say the other 10 are "of those," suggesting of the 57, but they can't be - the 57 were all admitted by 6:40 and these 10 and 42 are coming in at 7. That's "of those" 247, nearly half have implausible times. 

This would be a real seam showing, if true - another among many already known. It seems to stand out as the clearest new twist from this latest report, highlighted as a key counter-evidence by Robert Parry, for example. But such evidence takes extra care that seems in short order on all sides. People get rushed, etc.

Consider the given times: 6:00, 6:20, 6:40 am, and others who must have set out long before 7:00 to reach hospitals 125 km away. 109 victims total, all sent out too early? That would be a sign of a clear and strangely inept conspiracy. I have doubts from the get-go.

First, these times all seem rounded off, perhaps to the nearest 20-minute mark. So that earliest 6:00 am could be anywhere from 5:50 to 6:10, using standard rounding logic.

Next, I notice the times tend to be just about one hour off from reasonable admission times, which might be important. With an attack at 6:37-46 or so, swift first admissions might be expected by around 7am, and possibly even before, depending. 7:20 and 7:40 (rounded) seem like good times for the main crush of victims to be admitted. Exact victim locales, response details, receiving clinics all unknown, this is just a guess.  8:00 at further points makes sense, but they got there an hour early?

So if they started gassing people or admitting fake patients too early for the attack, they did it quite a bit, kept doing it over a span of time and not in one fluke slip-up, with 7 medical facilities involved, and did it just about one hour early for a realistic span of admissions. In fact, if this is the case, it seems a majority and perhaps all of the victims were gassed too early. To me, that seems possible but very questionable. Isn't there a more logical explanation?


Daylight savings time had just set in 4 days earlier (observed March 31 in Syria). That's long enough most people and certainly a normal hospital will have "sprung forward" by then. But for what it's worth, anyone who didn't would have clocks saying 6:00 when it's actually 7. But If this is a clock error, it's shared by several facilities in the area.

And then there's Turkey time: no changes this year, nor last fall - they sprang forward in 2016, but the next scheduled change is Spring 2019 - in the meantime, it seems, they're on a 3-year trial run of staying on summer time all year round. (Charles Wood on Twitter)

There are a few different ways either or both of these facts could combine to cause regional confusion of about an hour.

Possibility: a script hatched in Turkey before DST, and some forgot to adjust? Turkey-based groups supply most info (Qoppa999) The plan may have been set before 3-31 DST change "and the timing was misunderstood/differently implemented ....?"(Qoppa999)
THE SCRIPT was set in Turkey. And then by main actors in KS implemented according to local time. But the hospitals got orders from Turkey only after March 31, and didn't realise the time difference ...Qoppa999

When would this plan be hatched? Likely before March 25, when mixed chlorine/sarin attack claims in the area began at a cave hospital - see whole campaign considered here at ACLOS.

And other less interesting possibilities also exist. 

So as exciting as this revelation seems or seemed... 
This might be the genuine huge clue it's been taken for, but its resemblance to a time error spoils any kind of certainty. So as I see it, it can't be the kind of clear evidence we need to help over-prove the case against the opposition's story. That's okay. It's over-proved enough as it is. It might be worth pursuing some supporting information for possibility of genuine too-early admissions. But in the meantime, it should be considered a possible and likely time mix-up. 

In fact, it's almost certain the JIM considered this option, but for some reason they chose not to mention that. This leaves it seeming like a good clue that might prove to be false lead. That is, it might be an informational trap we should avoid falling into. Note, they say "records revealed" that 57 "had been admitted to five hospitals before the incident". I wouldn't write it like that, on a good day. Someone at, say, Veterans Today would. I'd say records suggested. But here... the JIM wants us to perceive them as "revealing" something? I mean, why else would they use that word right in the text? When just below that they say it could be mix-up and not a revelation? And they also fail to explain how logical and likely a mix-up would be? Hm...

My suspicion: the wording of this "revelation" like "had been admitted" was bait in a deliberate act of messing with our heads to keep us asking the wrong questions. Would they do that? I don't know. Would they make up a wrong impact angle just to point at the government, or ignore radar records and the true wind and shift the attack site anyway just to keep the blame on the government? They did those things and more in their investigations so far...knowing their reports get mined by people looking for such things, might such shifty people include tainted tidbits like this?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Black Sarin?

November 7, 2017
edits Nov. 8

With some if not all alleged sarin attacks in Syria, there's been a strange dark fluid  associated with it. From reports, it seems this is the sarin itself, splashing out of rockets and bombs delivered by Syrian government forces. Of course, pure, military-grade sarin is a colorless, odorless liquid, but this stuff is said to smell foul and appear black. That's now an accepted feature of "Assad's" sarin, as used in several attacks since 2013 that, on review, tend to be false-flag events launched by terrorists. French inteligence analysis of samples from Saraqeb, 4-29-2013 found the air-dropped hand-grenades contained sarin of only 60% purity. They don't mention a color, but witnesses there described a "horrible, suffocating smell." 

To start, there are 4 incidents I can list where possible black liquid sarin appears, and on review I may be able to add more. That's not many, but there have only been so many sarin attacks, and a few specifically don't seem to involve the kind of area-splashing that lets us see the color of it. Maybe in comparing this fluid as seen and reported there are clues, patterns, inconsistencies to discover.

Ateibah 3-19-2013
Adra 8-5-2013
Latamnah 3-30-2017
Khan Sheikhoun, 4-4-2017

Note: this black fluid aspect is something I've seen liot Higgins cover as a likely clue (see here for one example). I'm not sure it is, but there's enough of a case to assemble this post to lay it out and see.

Ateibah 3-19-2013:  a black fluid was said (not seen) to come out of a rocket, have a foul smell, and to cause direct health problems including lung damage. I don't know of any imagery from the site to support that, but given the following, it could be. It may not be what killed seven people. (ACLOS)

The area was under control of Saudi-backed  Jaish Al-Islam, who seem likely suspects in two even earlier alleged CW incidents in November, 2012, that killed one "displaced" child each. This Ateibah attack killed one displaced infant, and 5 civilian men, three of who seem to be from a Christian family, by their rare, Aramaic name. Also, the attack coincided with a sarin attack on Syrian soldioers and largely Shi'ite civilians in Aleppo, and apparently a planned CW attack in Homs cit that was barely reported then forgotten. It was a big day, March 19. There are clues that Jaish al-Islam's sponsors in Saudi Arabia ordered it up.

Adra 8-5-2013: In Adra, East Ghouta Damascus suburbs, a sain rocket attack was blamed for a plume said sicken hundreds, but to kill no humans (Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses) discusses it here). AN ITV News report (August 5, 10:43 PM) explains "Syrian rebel fighters have alleged that the Assad regime launched "a series of chemical attacks" on the Damascus suburbs of Adra and Douma yesterday morning. Residents reported that the attack took place during morning prayers yesterday, and approximately 400 people were showing "signs of exposure to chemical toxic gases." (Yesterday will be Syria time, hours ahead and already in "tomorrow.")

Adra is a large area, some of which was rebel-occupied at the time. Other parts were government-secured and sheltered many minorities, whom rebels murdered and abducted in a huge raid and massacre in December, 2013. Adra is next to Douma, and any "liberated" parts would be under control of the same Jaish Al-Islam mentioned above. They would lead the December massacre, who may have been behind the prior CW incidents mentioned above, and who may well have committed the Ghouta massacre a few weeks later. That incident would use several rockets of the kind that used for this prelude incident.

The alleged sarin apparently splashed all over a wet dog, who already appears abandoned and under-nourished. It's not clear of this fluid is black, at this relative thinness. It appears colorless, but... The poor creature starts  out still as their video begins, but quickly starts twitching and then in seconds, convulsing and kicking about as fast and violently as physically possible. It's quite hard to watch.  With the warning: Adra 5 8 2013 A rocket that was carrying chemical materials and shows around the animals died after the chemical

I've never seen any human victim convulsing remotely like this. The people filming it, breathing the same area (or are they wearing gas masks?) seem to be completely unaffected. That and the apparent sequence suggests the poison was splashed right on this dog well after any rocket impact, and just for this video. Possibly sarin but likely some other liquid nerve agent, it's quite deadly, like what they say came out of the rocket nearby, but here the guys with the cameras seem to have it to splash around at will. 

The video cuts at severe convulsion, perhaps before it got even uglier. Next we see after the animal is dead, and has been moved for some reason to a spot in the middle of an intersection (or it might be a different dog). The supposed sarin rocket laying there, as if just laid there, and a dead cat also laying nearby. The pavement is black here, if not wet-seeming (foreground: dead dog - left distance: a dead cat - left off-frame: the rocket). 
Looking the other way from over by the cat: the dog and the rocket over by the curb. 

The color enhanced composite view above shows that black has a blue-ish hue, but there are also patches with red, and areas where it mixes into purple ... in fact, a strange damage area (seems old, unrelated to the attack) seems to be the reddest. This is over by the dead cat. I don't know what to make of this.
Brown Mosess: "In the case of the 3 videos from Adra on August 5th, they are linked directly to an attack that took place on the same day, with videos of the victims of the attack showing the same kinds of symptoms.  I spoke to a doctor in Damascus who claims to have treated victims from both the August 21st attack and August 5th attack, and he claimed the symptoms where the same in both attacks."

One of his 3 videos is the one with the dog being poisoned. Per the other 2, there were apparently 3 or more rockets used, all of the same "volcano" or "UMLACA" style famously used for the Ghouta attack. The one next to the dog and cat seems pretty straight. Two others are badly bent: #138 and 15x (bad still for that - it's obviously 155 as shown here). Both shown on videos dated August 5, The bent portion of tube that's discolored: that will be inside the chemical tanks. One looks a bit like its stained by motor oil, something greasy and dark. The other looks sort of rusty. It may have landed similarly,  with this being the original down side. How it got what looks like drizzles of chocolate syrup is unclear, but might be the remaining fluid running down the sides and pooling along this bottom edge. A similar case of dark drizzle is examined in this Brown Moses post, that also shows a better view of the rocket by the dead dog: it has the same dark/greasy-looking metal as these in the same area, forward of the payload tank end-plate. As Higgins described it "the tube of metal where the payload would have been looks black and shiny, possibly covered in a black liquid." I tend to agree on that point.

Ghouta 8-21-2013: not an example?
The Ghouta attack a few weeks later and not far away had an alleged 12 such rockets used, with at least 8 or 9 seen manged afterwards. These sites tend to have a clear blackening of the ground with each rocket hit. But it never looks wet, and usually appears scorched as if by fire (see right). A close-up on grass at one impact site is clear on that point (below). 

Besides at the famous field impact 1 (UN-OPCW visit) and 2 (rocket #197), similar burn rings can be seen with a rooftop where rocket landed, and there are circular scorch-marks near the pile of dead sheep and goats. It might even be part of why they're burnt and why some of them seem torn up. Whatever caused that fire, by the way, would destroy any sarin it might have carried. The damage and burn ring patterns suggest these were fuel-air explosive weapons, not sarin rockets. That's still a minority view but I hold to it. The fuel used in those - not sure, but it might be black and oily, like what the Adra rockets held. The Ghouta rockets and dirt tested positive for sarin days later, but that could be after it was splashed there, like it might have been splashed on that poor dog, by some well-connected Islamists from Douma. So this doesn't count. (So does Adra 8-5 count?)

So 2 possible cases in 2013, not so clear. Phase II in 2017, it's clearer. Is it new, or just newly seen?

Latamnah 3-30-2017: When an alleged sarin bomb was dropped in a gully between orchards, some 170 militants and farm workers hanging out nearby claimed sarin exposure, but none died. The blamed device is an air-dropped bomb with some scraps left - one laying in the bomb crater has the same kind of filler cap seen on a scrap in the crater in Khan Sheikhoun days later. (ACLOS, Bellingcat) The alleged jet-dropped bomb caused vegetation to become strangely flattened and blackened over a wide area, but not seeming burnt - as if by a tsunami of black water that was flowing strongly to the north. (below: the area was also coated with dirt afterwards, apparently from a follow-up explosive bomb or shell) Any inherent hue to this black stuff refuses to pop out under enhancement. Below is just contrast-adjusted to clarify the scene.

Khan Sheikhoun, 4-4-2017:
After this alleged jet bombing with sarin killed nearly 100, there's a strange black fluid splash all around the supposed release. Here an enhanced view shows it has a blue-ish hue, like ink, here seeming blue green or cyan. These densest patches are along the south edge of the crater (note one small patch of the same blue on the other side, but mainly it's this thick only on the south side, extending south and southeast, or towards the camera). Here's an enhanced view from the other side. That long thin streak to the south was probably a fatter shape until someone apparently drove right through that spot.

Those blues spots here appear wet, meaning the sarin has not evaporated yet? That would mean it would still be drifting up in molecules - uite a few of them - into the air. But it might be light enough a paper mask and not staying long would suffice to not die. Some reporters and others who visited the site report falling ill. Is this blue stuff something else added later? No. Its splash pattern goes with the general black, with the same directions of greater spread, because it's all from inside the same rocket (see below).

Reporter and propagandist Hadi Abdullah filmed the area with a drone, providing a nice overview of the scene for a clearer than usual reading of the size and shape of this black splash. From an enhanced view, note the shape of the darkest patch around the crater; it extends most to the lower right and least the opposite way. The denser scatter of displaced road fill goes the same way, more or less to the southeast.

Below is a larger view, also enhanced. The broader dark patch extends much further south thatn north. The other directions are less clear: on the left, we can see where it's splashed across the concrete island at a certain angle, across both levels. From there, it's less clear. On the right it surely extends into the soil, perhaps making it look redder? It's hard to say how far it extends - it just doesn't show up as clearly as it does on the asphalt.

The longest direction of spread will be the direction of travel of the delivery device, if it were traveling. That's not clear yet - it could be from right up the highway, from a bit from the right of that or, more likely, a bit or two to the left (note again the darker patch around the crater).

The highway runs about 19 degrees N-NE on the compass, so the firing direction suggested for this sarin rocket is, basically, from the north. It was said to be a non-propelled gravity bomb that fell from a jet, but the radar shows the nearest jet was, at the best moment, about 4km to the south, passing on an east-west flight path. Even if it were possible for that bomb to drift so far on the wind before hitting, it clearly would come in with a northerly heading on a slant from the south. But all that black sarin clearly splashes in roughly the opposite direction. Huh.

In Review

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Did the Saudis Order a 3-City CW Attack in March, 2013?

November 2, 2017
(rough, incomplete)
edits Nov. 3, 11

March 18's Saudi-Commanded Attacks 
The Intercept recently published a leaked NSA document from March, 2013 showing Saudi royal family orchestration of military events in Syria: NSA Document Says Saudi Prince Directly Ordered Coordinated Attack By Syrian Rebels On Damascus (by Murtaza Hussain, October 24 2017, 7:30 a.m.)

The document in question seems to be a bullet-point slide (presented with the article, shown below) describing a particular opposition military attack of March 18, 2013, with several rockets fired into central Damascus. As Hussain describes it, "The attack was a brazen show of force by rebels under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, targeting the presidential palace, Damascus International Airport, and a government security compound. It sent a chilling message to the regime about its increasingly shaky hold on the country, two years after an uprising against its rule began."

Aaron Lund told Hussain, based on video analysis, several rebel groups were involved in the attack, "all identifying themselves as different factions of the ‘Free Syrian Army,’ and all apparently linking back to the same sponsor.”  That would be Saudi Arabia, specifically now-king (Crown Prince Mohamed Bin) Salman (oops), then running Saudi Arabia's operations in Syria. As the article puts the main point:
Behind the attacks, the influence of a foreign power loomed. According to a top-secret National Security Agency document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the March 2013 rocket attacks were directly ordered by a member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Salman bin Sultan, to help mark the second anniversary of the Syrian revolution. Salman had provided 120 tons of explosives and other weaponry to opposition forces, giving them instructions to “light up Damascus” and “flatten” the airport, the document, produced by U.S. government surveillance on Syrian opposition factions, shows.
Here's the slide in question, as shared in the article. Note: The U.S. was warned three days in advance (that is, on the anniversary on the 15th - the attack didn't mark it exactly.)

It sounded good, but apparently didn't cause much thunder. Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya could only report "A statement posted on an opposition Facebook page said rebels groups had fired “a number of 120 mm heavy caliber mortars... in a joint operation coordinated with battalions operating in Damascus.” To mark two years of "revolution of freedom and dignity against the despotic regime of the criminal Bashar al-Assad." They claimed to hit the airport and the presidential palace, but that wasn't confirmed. State TV and the SOHR agreed at least five shells landed, but no deaths or even injuries were immediately reported. 

The NSA noted "Saudis "very pleased" with outcome" of the attack.  But it seems fairly weak considering the occasion and the large investment. It's worth wondering if there was a second motive involved. 

As for the rest of the article, it's standard fare. Hussain follows the revelation with a lot of ill-informed context about the Syrian government's supposed brutal crackdown on dissent, etc. Unwisely, he chooses to highlight  salafist defector and FSA godfather Hussein Harmoush "who had denounced the Syrian dictator after a wave of massacres in 2011." It seems Harmoush personally led the bloodiest massacre yet, in June, 2011, against more than 100 "refusenik soldiers" in Jisr al-Shughour. Some of the executed soldiers were beheaded. It was done with Turkish assistance and oversight. Harmoush was apparently kidnapped and sent back to Syria, by his own Turkish intelligence case officer who was sickened by the crime. That officer was arrested for treason, but is said to have escaped later. Harmoush was probably executed by firing squad, but it was never announced and rumors of other deaths or still being alive persist. I sense no injustice in this case, except that the guy maybe got off too light. (see on-site profile, for Harmoush).

But the main point is this leaked NSA document that adds some intrigue among those battling the brutal dictator. Qatari former Prime Minister Hamad al-Thani, who oversaw Qatar's Syria operations until 2013, recently revealed in an interview how his nation worked with the Saudis and the US. As Zero Hedge explains it, Al-Thani says Qatar was placed in overall charge of which Islamists to arm, and was later left holding the bag as it were, as Saudi Arabia now blames Qatar alone for supporting terrorists in Syria, and maybe of doing it in collusion with Iran and Al-Shaytan himself. But some things were run by the Saudis themselves, like this March 18 attack.

This detail was a little late coming; Julian Assange notes on Twitter the Intercept have been sitting on this information since late 2013, raising questions about the 4-year delay in publishing it. But now we have one more glimpse at the reality behind the desperate peoples' uprising. And I'd like to add a interesting feature that pops out to me, and would have on first  at any time. So I'm asking this question about 4 years later than I might have.

The Following Day's CW Plot and Attacks

On seeing Saudi-directed actions on 3-18-13, it clicks that on the following morning there was an unusually bold chemical attack - no, there were two - no, there were apparently three attacks planned, for one in each of Syria's three main cities: Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs. Wouldn't that sound like some epic, out-sized revenge for an attack on the president's Palace and his possible escape route at the airport? It would cross Obama's red line in a big way, and might require a "no fly zone" over all three cities and everything between.

The three locales are mapped at right. The middle one in Homs apparently didn't come together right and was barely even reported, but the other two seemingly-synchronized attacks  are known and studied, and each claimed Syrian lives (~20 in Aleppo, 7 in Ateibah). Was this Assad's revenge? Done by Scud missile perhaps, from Damascus, risking bad aim as far out as Aleppo? (Syria was daily accused of random scud attacks in these days).

Or was it something else? Of the deadly two attacks, one was small-scale and dubious, and the deadliest one looked kind of like an obvious attack by anti-government forces.

This is explained in fuller detail in this post, but here in some review to re-consider what I've learned in light of this new information and the possibility the Saudis may have ordered this next-day "revenge" campaign as well.

Aleppo Attack in Review
The Aleppo attack is somewhat well-known. The Syrian government announced it first, claiming outrage that terrorists had launched toxic gas into a government-held area near an Army checkpoint, sickening and killing soldiers and civilians alike. This was in Khan Al-Assal, as Alex Thomson of UK Channel 4 News reported, a Shia-majority district rebels had overrun and been pushed back out. Thomson reported Khan al-Assal was “in government hands since 17 March.” They were gassed there around 7:00 or more likely 7:30 am on the 19th. Civilians were just starting to return.

Bashair 3 rocket (non-CW, pres.), fired in Feb. 2013
According to Syrian officials, the attackers – reportedly with Jabhat al-Nusra, although no one claimed responsibility - were about 5km to the north, in Kafr Dael. They used a certain rocket, locally made and dubbed Bashair-3, loaded with chemicals. It landed about 300 meters from an SAA checkpoint, with a deadly plume drifting on the wind into nearby homes to the south, as UN investigators found.
The death toll has been reported differently, but it seems only one soldier died along with a total of 19 civilians, as a UN report issued in December found, with another 124 people seriously effected. (see UN report and ACLOS page for more details and sources)
Syria demanded a UN investigation, but this was complicated and stalled by Western powers (see here) so the work was only done by the December report. In the interim, Rebels overran Khan al-Assal all over again in June and committed a massacre of soldiers and civilians, perhaps emphasizing witnesses to the CW attack, and complicating any visit by UN-OPCW inspectors. Khan al-Assal remains rebel-held into 2017. Also in the meantime, Russian scientific tests showed sarin was used in the Khan al-Assal attack, a "cottage industry" kind, in line with the delivery method. 

Rebels still held somewhat-nearby positions, like the police academy, and the US and allies are clear Syrian military hit themselves on accident while aiming for those fighters. Rebel activists said this at the time, with some claiming to witness a scud missile attack, and others seeing a fighter jet fire a missile or drop a bomb. Do we really buy this?

Noting the issues with blaming Syria for this incident, I earlier wrote "most importantly, Khan al-Assal was not the only alleged attack of the day. It was, and was perhaps meant as, just one part of a bigger picture. And in that bigger picture we might see a more workable logic to the the allegation." In fact, it seems the original plan was three attacks.

Damascus area, Ateibah
fighters recover from and describe the Ateibah attack
One other CW incident on the morning of March 19 is known: Al-Ateibah (alt. Otaybah, etc. - Arabic: العتيبة ) is a ways east of the capitol, at the southeast corner of East Ghouta. It's quite near the airport stricken on the 18th, for what that's worth. It was then occupied by opposition forces, some of whom were affected, they say, when a government rocket or missile landed near their position. It emitted “something like water, but it was dark. It emitted a very foul smell,” and caused serious medical problems. One "martyr" is seen in this clinic, apparently a fighter. (see new ACLOS page).

US-based "Syrian Support Group" claimed early on this and the Aleppo attack both were by the regime, using  pesticide-related Echothiophate, in scud missiles fired from Damascus (one with not very far to fly and the other missing its target). (statement via Twitter) But the US quickly clarified they saw no signs of scuds being fired at the time. (CNN). I forget if I've ever seen a revised version of what happened here. As for Khan Al-Assal, opposition claims shifted onto a regime fighter jet dropping a sarin bomb.

Opposition records eventually reflected seven people killed: the man who looks like a fighter, five civilian men, and an infant boy. Records suggest two of the civilian men men were teenage brothers, and the other three men were also brothers or relatives, with a rare, Aramaic name, suggesting they were from a Christian family. The baby, listed late, seems unrelated, but is said to be from an internally displaced (IDP) family from Harasta.

Saudi Backed Liwa al-Islam, based in the Damascus suburb of Douma but expanding its power over all of East Ghouta, would likely be behind it. They're suspects in two earlier low-key CW attacks in November 2012. These were reportedly in JaI turf and each killed one person, a displaced child from Douma in both cases. 3-19's displaced baby was from Harasta, next to Douma. The dark possibility is these families fled Islamist control in Douma/Harasta, only to have it expand and catch up with them in other areas. Along with the Aramaic name, these odd details support the possibility all these people were  hostages of the Islamists.

Liwa Al-Islam would wind up well-implicated in the August 2013 Ghouta massacre, where there's evidence they fired the associated rockets, and where the victims appear to be several hundred hostages gassed in confined spaces, at several locations across the area dominated by the group. (best sources...) Under their new name Jaish al-Islam, the same group is known to have been behind the genocidal December, 2013 Adra Massacre and mass abduction (ACLOS). They later opened branches outside Damascus, one of which in Aleppo in 2016 admitted some of its weaponized chlorine gas was used (without authorization, charges pending) against Kurdish fighters, killing several. (ACLOS)

Note: Liwa/Jaish Al-Islam (banner, then army of Islam) was founded by Zahran Alloush, who openly espoused stern Saudi-style Islamism, and genocidal rhetoric against Syrians of the Shia and Alawi faith. He was the son of an exiled Salafi preacher living in Saudi Arabia, and enjoyed support from the kingdom. They of all groups would be the ones to approach for any secret plans like this. (Zahran Alloush was later killed in a later Syrian airstrike, but his brother Mohamed Alloush remains the group's political leader and was even chosen to run the Saudi-backed opposition side for "peace talks" in Geneva.)

Homs, Baba Amr
So we have two likely coordinated chemical attacks in one day. The missing link that makes it both bigger and clearer, unfortunately, is not very clear. At an unknown time on the 19th, a third CW allegation was lodged, this time in in the central city of Homs. This has subsequently been missed or ignored by everyone, but was caught and noted here at ACLOS at the time.

The opposition Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) reported for March 19: “Homs: Several cases of asphyxia were reported in Baba Amr due to releasing toxic gases by the regime’s forces on the neighborhood." No further details were given. This could be the same poison as in one or both of the other cases, or not, by the vague description. No one else ever reported any more that I know of.  

The Baba Amr district, at the southwest corner of the city, was the prime rebel hotbed in Homs, but under heavy attack and about to fall. Reports were already calling it a ghost town by March 11. By the 19th, soldiers would have been holding some areas, and rebels others, so both sides were present and either side could have been the targets here. This is somewhat similar to the Khan al-Assal situation.
A same-day Debkafile report cited "extensive preparations" for more chemical use by the Syrian army in Homs city. They cited "Western intelligence agencies" for telling them about a boosted military presence, with forces "issued in the last few hours with chemical warfare gear." These “preparations” quite likely came after the incident reported by the LCC. There's no mention of that from Debka, but this “gear” is quite likely gas masks. The SAA might have just been taking precautions against more terrorist incidents like the one in Aleppo, or that plus an actual gas release in Homs. There were no further toxic gas releases reported, once these "extensive preparations" were in place. There's still only the one faint report from just before...
Otherwise that I've seen, there's no report mentioning such an incident in Homs on this day, either in the following weeks or in the intervening years. It's not clear why it was briefly reported and then never repeated. Quite possibly, something went wrong with this false-flag plan, or with some other plan it was a part of.
Side-stuff to cover elsewhere: fleeing rebels and CW allegations in Baba Amr, rebel retreat and discovery of massacres around Abel to the south ... raising questions if those people had been meant to die in the CW attacks back in Baba Amr, but they couldn't swing that... this exact pattern plays out twice, in the Feb. 2012 and March 2013 government offensives to re-take Baba Amr. The CW link is new to me (2012 claims I didn't know brings this together and raises the possibility of a cennection in 2013 as well). The similarities even carry over to that, with extremely unclear or failed CW allegations in both cases.

The 3-19 Incidents In Review
Where: in or near each of Syria's 3 main cities, as each entry is listed below for simplicity: Aleppo, Damascus, Homs (in order of incident clarity)

Aleppo: ~7-7:30 am (UN report  0700, Syrian government says 0730 in same report. Both sound rounded-off. 7:30 is preferable).
Damascus: ~7:30-8:00 am? (first videos appear at 8:11 am).
Homs: unclear.

So note Damascus was likely after Aleppo incident, but not by much, or better yet - they came at about the same time. The vague range so far allows they could be up to an hour apart, but even then "within minutes" is accurate enough, and they might have been coordinated to the minute, say 7:35. Is this a Coincidence? No. Both events will require some planning. The planners will be on the same side, whichever that is.

what (the poison):
Aleppo: impure sarin. Damascus: unclear, likely the same. Homs: unclear, possibly the same. In more detail:

Aleppo: "The  munition  released gas on its impact. The air stood still and witnesses described a yellowish-green mist in the air and a pungent and strong sulfur-like smell." (see UN report) By reports, some people dropped dead or paralyzed instantly, while other suffered difficult breathing, heart problems, foaming at the mouth, confusion, pupil constriction and vision problems, and loss of consciousness, besides a strange itching.
Damascus: “something like water, but it was dark. It emitted a very foul smell,” and caused serious breathing problems, and others listed by James Miller as "bradycardia, vasodilation, nausea and vomiting, and bronchoconstriction." It seems likely the civilian fatalities were not killed by the rocket that affected those fighters, but instead gassed separately at the same time with  an unclear poison. One man has yellow fluid from the mouth, and possible cyanosis. The fighter seems to have yellow fluid as well. It's been reported or implied that biomedical or environmental samples from the Ateibah incident tested positive for sarin, but the details remain a little unclear, and any number of shell games are possible.

Homs: it caused suffocation is the only related detail we've found so far (could stand more digging, especially in Arabic-language reports, from years ago now...)

The UN "independent commission of inquiry" lists the Aleppo incident as entry #1 here, where the chemical agent "bore same unique hallmarks as in AlGhouta" - which they acknowledge was sarin (so they confirm the Russians in that regard), but from the Syrian military CW stockpile. By extension, the same was perhaps used in Ateibah (same source has no info, but lists it as incident #2 blamed on the government). Ghouta sarin is also linked to Khan Sheikhoun's sarin, and that to Saraqeb's sarin. It all seems the same: nasty, impure (60% purity, France says), with a foul organic decay-like odor, that burns the lungs and eyes ... it tends to be a dark or even black fluid (seen in Ateibah, in later attacks in Adra, and at least the 3-30 and 4-4 attacks this year), but the gas it puts off tends to be pale yellow or yellow-green, maybe appearing white, or usually not noticed (this part seems less clear). It also tends to have hexamine as some fixate on. 

Western experts first verified this sarin as killing someone in Saraqeb, weeks later on April 29. In that case it was neither a scud nor a jet, but some Jabhat al-Namechange hand grenades full of this stuff ... dropped from a regime helicopter, in glowing cinderblocks - or so the videos and reports claimed. This is what was in the Bashair 3 rocket fired on likely Shia civilians and SAA soldiers on March 19. This is what they mean by the stuff used in 2017 matching with the kind Syria has used before, and not with the kind actually known to be made by the government.  

How (delivery): 
Aleppo: locally made Bashair 3 rocket (vs. scud missile, jet bombing). Damascus: rocket/missile (not scud or anything that shows on radar). Homs: unclear.

Who (if not the regime side as alleged in each case):
Aleppo: Jabhat al-Nusra (Syria blames them)
Damascus: Jaish Al-Islam (educated guess)
Homs: unclear, perhaps Jabhat AL-Nusra, unless the Saudis have a special contact in Homs akin to Alloush on the Damascus front.

This all seems like a unified plan, with different sub-contracted actors using varied means based on their local situation.

Could That Be More Saudi Orders?
Chemical rockets on Damascus and Aleppo, and maybe Homs, just to to blame the regime for crossing the red line on a  nationwide scale - it's got some appeal as a plan. If this was all one plan, it wasn't a very good one, on the implementation end. In fact, it wound up a twisted flop. Opposition supporters has managed to use this, but barely. The US and others claim Syria deployed Sarin on two fronts this day, but it's not their proudest or clearest claim.

But it seems pretty likely, if not proven, this was all one plan. At least the core of incidents that did happen already strain the possibility of a coincidence. That unusual report that bubbled out of Homs just adds to it. It was som eone's badly executed plan. Not-so-good plans are the kinds the Saudis hatch up. "remember that "red line" thing? Yeah. Use the chemicals Turkey will be forwarding..." 

There's no direct and conclusive evidence I know of that this plan came from the House of Saud, but I deem them capable, and it seems possible. If so, it was apparently done by a different and non-monitored channels. Either no such orders were intercepted by the NSA - there are still ways to do that - or the intercept wasn't shared at the same level as this one. It's interesting in fact how the were seen conspicuously ordering the 3-18 attacks that might provoke part 2, but not the other part. It could suggest they didn't order the other part, as no orders were intercepted. 

If this were a unified package with each parts ordered separately, we would see the provocation, and that could be seen as reckless, questionable, but not seeing the other part, the main issue would be the escalation by the regime - gassing a few fighters and hundreds of innocents in every major city in response, especially in Homs, where entire families suffocated in their basement shelters?  Well, that part I imagined, but it might have been planned. But the Christian brothers, displaced babies, Syrian soldiers and likely Shia citizens were all killed, some on accident, with various improvised weapons and impure kitchen-grade sarin, all according to somebody's unified plan.

Motive re-considered: As noted, these events came a few days after the 2 year anniversary of the conflict. That was marked in the US, UK, and France by easing restrictions on financing rebels by individuals and nations. An American from Texas (Ghassan Hitto) was on the 18th elected the head of the Syrian National Coalition (Syria's legitimate government, according to the US). As CNN reported the council "said the decision should assuage the Obama administration's concerns about who would lead Syria should President Bashar al-Assad be deposed." Further, the top U.S. military commander in Europe - Adm. James Stavridis - said that NATO was laying out plans for possible military attacks on Syria, if an adequate reason should surface. Of course, president Obama had already offered one clear-sounding path to make this happen. As I noted in the earlier post:
Considering confluence of other people's decisions, it's clear that the morning of March 19 was an especially poor time for Damascus to cross Obama's red line of its own accord. Conversely, it would be a very opportune moment for any rebel provocateurs to do it for them.
I wasn't aware before that the day before had seen such provocative strikes in Damascus that could help explain the planned "revenge," charging across Obama's Red Line into a trap. That this materialized only makes sense, and that Saudi Arabia made it happen is no surprise. So it's worth wondering if they ordered up the fake revenge as well. I can't prove and don't even believe  that all this and the CW incidents are part of one unified package. But suddenly I can see that possibility, it seems plausible and logical, and it seemed worth sharing at least.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A "Confident" Final Failure of the UN-OPCW Joint Mechanism?

October 28, 2017
(rough, incomplete (as usual))
edits 10/29, 11/3

A "Confident" Finale
The UN-OPCW "joint investigative mechanism" into Syria chemical weapons allegations is now at either a turning point or at its end. It may just be the sharpness of the turn that caused it, but the sword they've fallen on here suggests anything they say now will be among their last words. But only time will tell.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism (I've used JIM, they're now calling themselves "the Mechanism") was first formed in August 2015 to re-investigate Syrian CW incidents and this time ascribe blame. I sent them some important information and suggestion at the time (per formal submission guidelines and just ahead of deadline, so it should have been considered - see here). They apparently ignored it all. Through two years and six question-riddled and inconsistent reports, the Western-controlled panel again and again heaped blame on the Syrian government at every chance. They accept some evidence with no skepticism, dismiss some on dubious grounds, and ignore other key pieces of evidence altogether, in whatever combination best makes the case for blaming Syria.  From that, it's only logical to wonder if the blame was decided first and the supposed reasoning constructed later.

The Russians have had enough of their politicized distortions and voted against extending the Mechanism's mandate on October 24 (AP via Business Insider). The idea may not be to end it, but to rein it in an approve a modified and more balanced formula, which the West can then be framed as blocking, which they would.  For the time being, as its mandate expires shortly, the panel won't exist any more. Many in the West lament the loss of an "independent" panel, and the only one investigating chemical weapons allegations in Syria, allowing the Syrian government to get away with more murder. (see UK criticism of Russia's move).(note: of 15 security council members, 11 voted to extend the mandate, and 4 nation refused to vote yes. China and Kazakhstan abstained. Russia and Bolivia voted against.)

But on their way out, someone leaked an unfinished copy of their last report again accusing Syria of the alleged sarin airstrike of April 4 that was blamed for nearly 100 civilian deaths in the Islamist-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. An unofficial copy was made available (primary source and details and possible final version TBA).
<add 11/3>Final version is released. .doc file available for reading and download here. If that doesn't work, or for reference, the document is S/2017/904 Seventh report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism. Distr.: General. 26 October 2017. Original: English. On quick review, the main points at least seem unchanged from draft used for this review.<end 11/3>

The version I'm reviewing is dated October xx, has formatting issues, no formal document ID number (it's #xx in the sequence), but otherwise seems legitimate and in line with their previous poor-quality work. Eliot Higgins at Bellingcat provides this PDF link in his fawning review. As Higgins puts it, the mechanism's report  "shows that, despite Russian and Syrian protests, there’s now clear evidence that Syria was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun Sarin attack, and alternative versions of events presented by Russia and Syria are fabrications." Now clear evidence? There wasn't any before, and there's none added here, so what the hell is he talking about?

As this made the news, I noted a BBC report emphasizing - as most do -the "confidence" expressed by the investigators. This seems to be the main news; they're now extremely confident in their Syria-blame. Citing that BBC report, I tweeted:
"The panel is confident" #Syria dropped #sarin and killed people April 4. That's central for confidence artists. 
I put that out with visual reminder of problems they won't and can't have good answers for, which I'll show again below.

On findings already found ...
The rebuttals here aren't full and complete - the same I've recycled now several times, put best in my September Indicter article. The citations are copied at random, with no paragraph numbers yet to cite. They're from the document (subject to change in final). Most citations are not from the report main body but from the more detailed "Annex II: Khan Shaykhun."

Note 10/29: this was a quick review, looking for their take on my main questions. There are a lot of other issues, strange claims, and revealed clues I didn't cover here. Others bring some up in comments here and in other places.

Victim Questions
All questions about the victims and how and where they really died are as ignored as ever. the wounds to many victims suggesting they were executed, and perhaps hostages, and the lack of evidence for field rescues or in-situ poisoning. These gaps in the evidence leave open the possibility - which has emerged in most other alleged chemical attacks - that the victims were hostages held by local terrorists, and were gassed deliberately in some confined space before being loaded onto truck and finally shown during token visits to a supposed hospital. All we can see is they appear there suddenly, after being loaded in trucks somewhere they don't show us. 

There's no mention in this report or any preceding it of claims that some 250 civilians were kidnapped by Islamist rebels in overrun villages in Hama in late March, taken to Khan Sheikhoun, and killed and shown off as victims of the attack. Their Joint Investigative Mechanism's answer to this possibility doesn't exist. They've accepted the handed-in story with no apparent questions. There might be evidence that puts this and other hostage possibilities to bed, bit simply ignoring the question does nothing to help in that, and in fact underlines how maybe there was no good answer, and these might be those captives, or if not, then perhaps others who were kidnapped under less public circumstances. 

The Jet Attack   
"Forensic analysis of the videos found that, at a certain point in each video, the sound of an aircraft could be heard in the background along with an explosion."
I always thought so. We don't get to see it drop any bombs, and in fact the evidence suggests it didn't. But there may have been a jet or even two flying by at the same time.

The mechanism was shown copies of flight logs from Shayrat airbase, and saw originals when finally visiting there. The log showed no missions at the time specifying Khan Sheikhoun as a target. However:
"Two entries in the log book provide details of the “time of execution” of missions that correspond with the time frame that sarin was released at Khan Shaykhun. The operations relating to those particular flights are logged as aerial attacks using conventional munitions targeting non-State armed groups in the vicinity of Kafr Zita and Tal Hawash, situated approximately 8 km southwest and 18 km west of Khan Shaykhun, respectively."
So Syria's first attack of the day at 11:30 claim meant first attack in the Khan Sheikhoun area. This was a dawn attack flight, not reconnaissance as I had suspected until now. But the records say its attacks were elsewhere. The lead pilot with call sign Quds1 was interviewed and said the same. Exact locations were given for two bomb drops. The mechanism confirmed one site at least was damaged, though they didn't find out if it was damaged on April 4. The other isn't mentioned further. It might be these two attacks would use up all the bombs he had (?), leaving none or too little for Khan Sheikhoun. (Did he ("Quds1") drop the explosive bombs, or the sarin? That's still confused.) Perhaps carefully, the investigators' lack of findings here leaves open the option that he used zero of his weapons before going towards KS.

"The Governments of France and the United States publicly provided information that [two] SAAF Su-22 took off from Al-Shayrat airbase on 4 April 2017, were “over” Khan Shaykhun at 0637 and 0646 hours, and launched up to six attacks “around” Khan Shaykhun."
Note the use of quotes. There are problems with this the Mechanism is trying to dance around.
On 7 April 2017, United States authorities publicly released a statement and a map depicting a flight path of an aircraft originating from Al-Shayrat airbase that “was over Khan Shaykhun” at approximately 0637 and 0646 hours.The flight is depicted as conducting a circular loop in the vicinity of Kafr Zita and the north-east of Khan Shaykhun. The map indicated that the closest point that the aircraft was to Khan Shaykhun was approximately 5 km away.
I think it's closer than that, but still too far away to have dropped any of the alleged gravity bombs on any of the alleged spots. As shown below, the red line I drew is probably fudged a bit north (to be overly fair to the opposition story) By that, it's only about 1 km south of the edge of town, 1.5 from blast plume 3, and about 3km south of even the sarin crater. The true position is surely further out, maybe 3.5km or more, but I doubt it's a full 5 as they say, but maybe. And this is the closest pass that appears, out of two needed for the opposition story line (one jet dropped 3 explosive bombs, the other dropped the sarin bomb - but neither pass was recorded on this radar system.

One of the pilots they interviewed said he "was within 7 to 9 km of Khan Shaykhun at the relevant time." 7-9 km might mean the nearest dropped bomb (said to be ~8km), not the nearest flight pass, and not necessarily at the exact bombing time. But everyone agrees, the jets never flew directly over any of the bomb sites. Well, everyone except maybe the people who swore they witnessed both jets right above...

The flight track is not in error, and has confirmation:
"Additional information provided to the Mechanism referred to two aircraft having taken off from Al-Shayrat airbase at around the same time as indicated above, ten minutes apart, following the same flight path."
I thought so. The confirmed path illustrated, to them, "that air activity had taken place around Khan Shaykhun at about the time of the sarin incident." Put that the other way around and you'll see why that's the whole point - the incident was made to happen as jets were nearby. It's harder to blame your false-flag attack on jets if you don't time it with an overflight, on near-pass. 

To be fair, they usually don't bother. Activists claim jets/helicopter/etc., show no proof, and get no radar tracks shown as support. And still the accusation universally passes. But in this case, the stakes are higher than usual and, as it happens, they took the extra effort to have their events and claims timed with an actual jet pass. Now they can match it to radar records ... which was actually a bad idea, as the tracks were shown, and they prove the jets could not have launched the attack. While bombs fell on those dark blue dots, one jet was perhaps on that red line, or was somewhere else on its path, depending. The other one was even further away at all times. So the jets have an unusually specific alibi here.

Everything about the wording here shows the panel is aware that the jets were never in fact "over" Khan Sheikhoun.

"The Mechanism compared the flight times of SAAF aircraft taking off from Al-Shayrat airbase as provided by the Syrian Government with other flight information received. Both the Syrian and other accounts are consistent that SAAF aircraft were in the air at the relevant time. Where the accounts diverge is with respect to whether or not the aircraft flew over or in the immediate vicinity of Khan Shaykhun."
The original source for the claim it was over the bomb sites is from terrorist groups and their sympathizers. One of the "accounts" diverging from that is a radar track. Compared to witnesses, this is hard to ignore, and in fact the Mechanism cites it as sort-of support for their decision to blame Syria, proving a single Syrian jet did pass kind of nearby.

"To date the Mechanism has not found specific information confirming whether or not an SAAF Su-22 operating from Al-Shayrat airbase launched an aerial attack against Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017."

Lack of confirmation means the pieces of the story didn't come together right. To a reasonable investigator, that would mean the story didn't pan out. Here... they decided there was "sufficient credible and reliable evidence" for findings including:
  • "Aircraft dropped munitions over Khan Shaykhun between 0630 and 0700 hours..."
  • "Aircraft of the Syrian Arab Republic was in the immediate vicinity" at the same time.
Whose jet was actually over the bomb sites at attack time .. is the same. Vicinity = over, or close enough, or at least it might possibly be. They have at least one possible new twist they seem to think might save the claims. Do they now claim missiles fired over a distance were used, as a few sources have claimed? No. They still cite gravity-driven bombs, and just pulled this trick:
The Mechanism consulted with a weapons expert to ascertain the confluence of distance and altitude from which it may be possible to hit Khan Shaykhun with an aerial bomb. The expert concluded that, depending on a number of variables such as altitude, speed and flight path taken, it would be possible for such an aerial bomb to be deployed on the town from the aforementioned distances.
Bombs could be dropped on the town, perhaps, but it would be the south edge - perhaps to blast plume 3, but not to blast plumes 1 and 2 or the pivotal sarin crater in the north of town. For a straight down bomb to do that, the jet would have to be almost in outer space, or lower, depending on winds at the altitudes it would fall through.... and you wouldn't hear its engine then, not to mention targeting problems from so high.

Also, why is this "depending on ... flight path" Why not explain to the expert that this is an east-west flight path and we need a drift about 3-5 km to the north? Probably because that's how you get a "no" answer, and they didn't want that. So they settled for this extremely weak "possibly."

<add 10-29>Explaining: If the target were on the same line as the flight path, and out ahead, the jet's trajectory would add to the bomb's drift towards the target. But in this case the flight path is east-west, and the drift needed to hit the target is north, so this helps none. On that axis, only wind can alter this direction from straight down. By how much? That's debatable and I don't know how to get a best answer. But can anyone really disagree with this?

I'm not a weaponry expert, but this source explains traditional SU-22 maximum bomb drop altitude is 2 km, up to 5km with modernization. It seems likely Syria flies the non-modernized version, but let's consider both. And let's be fair and put the bakery crater 3.5 km, not 5 km, from beneath the jet. From each altitiude, I draw a gray line (arbitrary) to represent what seems like a realistic drop angle, if we had optimal winds (to the north prevailing strongly) Optimal winds could exist; I've established the wind near ground was to the northeast, at a moderate speed. At higher altitude it would be higher speed, and likely the same direction prevailing. If parachutes were used (hasn't been mentioned), this angle might be even shallower with more drift, but otherwise, the real lines might be steeper yet. 

From 5km, we could have bombs landing around the 1km mark by this. What we'd need to fit the crater with a bomb from this closest jet pass is marked in red for each altitude. It's bad enough 5km up, but at the more likely 2km ... this is more how a fluttering phone book would fall than a streamlined 250-500 kg bomb. This is what I mean, and if there is a realistic way for this to line up, it will take some illustration. The Mechanism's simple "it could happen... depending" doesn't suffice. We know what it depends on, so we should have a clear answer based on that.<end 10-29>

Side-note: "The Mechanism did not interview the pilot associated with the second entry" in the Shayrat log book (is this the accompanying jet marked Quds 6?) "The Syrian Arab Republic informed the Mechanism that the pilot was later shot down and is currently missing in action." As the linked source above explains, the point of getting the 5km modernization is it helps you stay above enemy defensive fire while engaging in bombing runs. Sounds like he wasn't.

Sarin Bomb
The alleged sarin bomb is not one of my core issues, but the report manages to say some stupid things about it I had to respond to.
"According to information obtained by the Mechanism, the filler cap, with two closure plugs, is uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs."

This claim isn't explained with reference to any models or images, and seems very dubious. It's inconsistent with the soviet-made WWII-era CW bomb cited by Human Rights Watch, who were looking at the scrap inside-out (as I explained at the Indicter). It seems consistent with several larger bombs using standard explosives - a filler hole cap (or perhaps “charge well plug”?) on something like the Russian-made OFZAB-500. Several similar kinds use these two little holes for the opening tool.

Here, the scrap with this cap that could be from many non-CW weapons happens to be almost the only surviving piece anyone can show. That's the case now in two alleged sarin attacks - this, and one a week earlier, on March 30, near Latamnah to the south. In both cases, this scrap also happens to land right in the crater, and happens to have one opening hole covered with dirt and one visible. (see Bellingcat) These strange coincidences don't seem to raise any red flags for the Mechanism. They think this is some special Syrian design that, along with the special Syrian hexamine method of making sarin, serve as a double-fingerprint ID of the regime culprits. It's preposterous, transparent, and just embarrassing to watch.
"The Mechanism was provided with an assessment of the filler cap and with chemical analysis showing sarin and a reaction product of sarin with hexamine that can only be formed under very high heat."
Very high heat also tends to destroy sarin, so it's not clear what they're getting at here. Perhaps heat = impact, meaning it must be a dropped bomb?
"Information was also received that additional metal fragments collected from the crater may possibly correspond to parts of Syrian aerial chemical munitions."
 But no one sent any proof to help clarify if these extra claims have any validity.

Sarin Spread: SW Wind, not Topography
As my research so far suggests, sarin nerve agent was legitimately in some of the biomedical and environmental samples tested by various parties (including he Syrian government). How exactly it got in each sample and what that says about the overall events is not so clear and really can't be known.

Everyone on and sympathizing with the opposition side, from first reports to this latest, agree sarin was released from one bomb only, dropped in the road near the central bakery. From there, the JIM explain:
Sarin of an undefined purity was disseminated from the crater in a direction that was defined by local air movements. The Mechanism noted that the wind speed in the area that day was <0.5 m/s, which would normally result in a considerable variation in the direction of the air movement. The Mechanism also noted that the location of victims, as described in the report of the Fact-Finding Mission, serves as an indicator of prevailing air movements west to south-west of the location of the crater during the early morning of 4 April 2017. 
Huh. Of course where people were actually poisoned should tell you what the wind was. But here, we don't really know where anyone was poisoned. There are many, and elaborate claims about where, all agreeing on a basic area. But they're just claims.

And the same video record the Mechanism otherwise cites tells a different story. A careful estimation using several videos from different angles is clear that smoke plumes drift to the northeast. The exact direction and speed are debatable, but not the basic northeast direction. Wind speeds at higher altitudes are estimated around 6mph, lower at ground level. There, two fields of fog are also seen (seeming to be man-made and attack related, at least for a visual effect. But neither is from the claimed area). Both  fields of this fog also seem to spread in the same direction - northeast. (see as needed the detailed wind direction explainer)

That's what the video says. Other sources (chattering Islamists) think the released sarin cloud must have drifted - no, pushed, violently - against the wind in this case, just about exactly the opposite of the true direction.

The "mechanism" chose their southwest wind based only where activists said it spread. And they do have it carefully mapped. Different sources have given the same area, in an unusually confident show of specificity. Several alleged survivors take camera crews back to the scene, always in that same area when location can be determined. But that could all be done by an agreed script, with an attached script map, and - if so - it seems like someone did that mapping backwards. This actually can happen quite easily; someone reports the wind properly (direction it blows from) as southwest, even giving a correct compass heading. Without clarifying or double-checking, someone then might decide that meant blowing to the southwest, and would place the alleged victim homes along this flipped path. Everyone else would have to follow that basic error without correcting it along the way. That could happen, and might be just what happened. Even if they caught the mistake early on, it might be too far in to be altered without appearing to change their story, which would also look bad. So, it seems, they stuck to the first version and hoped no one noticed the true wind.

But however it happened, they imply a wind opposite of the real one. The Mechanism chose to accept their implied wind. This then forms an important plank in their "confident" decision that a sarin bomb dropped there did in fact poison and kill people over here. Well, physical reality disagrees. 

How they decided the wind speed was low is unexplained, but they probably are citing the OPCW's earlier report. This did conclude very low wind speeds, explaining that activists told them about it. They did no video analysis either. They decided the supposed lack of wind (not one to the southwest) left local topography as the mover, and there was a down-slope to the southwest that killed everybody. However, they placed the crater wrong in the graphic showing this; the bakery area is indicated instead, helping that explanation look plausible. If it were placed right, we can see the down slope from there is to the northwest - another wrong direction. (See OPCW's No Wind Theory)

The mechanism does not repeat this argument, saying "air movement" (aka wind) was the main driver. They must have some good reason to reject the finding of the OPCW in this regard, when normally their readings on such CW-related things are seen as superior to all else. 

Note: The area in question, where sarin was allegedly released, is not seen on immediate post-attack videos. But as noted, two other areas of fog are seen and appear to spread northeast. By topographic maps, that spread is mainly uphill. By these precedents, any plume of gas or vapor released at this crater should also drift northeast and uphill on the same surface-level wind, but perhaps more slowly, as the grade is steeper in this area.

So, considering both observed wind and topography, the activist-supplied narrative still clashes 180 degrees with reality. If they claimed sarin was released in either of the areas that fog is seen pouring from, they might have a case. But they and all subordinate investigators, like the Mechanism here, continue to ignore all of that and insist on this stupid bakery crater lone-release point story that was ruined from the start.

"The irregularities described in this annex are not of such a nature as to call into question the aforementioned findings" that Syria was probably pretty much to blame for this thing. Well, the best irregularities, of course, aren't presented in "this annex." Based on the crap in there, "the Leadership Panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017." No doubt a lot of people are taken in by and share that confidence, but they really shouldn't be. 

Recall those children seen dying on video inhabited the physical world you and I do, not any made-up place on paper or transmitted digital files or in any propaganda-laced myth narrated by lightly-bearded jihadists. 

In the made-up world of neck-tied hand-shakes UN "international community" consensus, it's verging on scientific fact worth shaming anyone who disagrees. It might be worth bombing them to death, if they're Syrian and disagree militarily, or live in the wrong house under the wrong bomb ... never forget the disastrous Iraq and Libya scenarios, and the slim-to-no basis in truth each one's moral pretexts wound up having. Would it really be a shock that Syria could be the same?
But in the reality those children physically passed through... it's where we live too, though far away in space and well-insulated. Are we really that confident these UN and OPCW people have been feeding us the truth? Isn't it at least worth another look from a different viewpoint to see if the picture remains this clear or turns out to be an illusion? We need to be extra careful in issues of war and peace, right and wrong, and on proper ways forward towards a just peace in line with the needs and rights of people inhabiting this physical world? Yes, we do. 

Not such a Great Call-to-Action but hey, here's one
Now this is no complex case - the opposition story is especially shoddy - it's almost as if they wanted a worst case to put their foot down over, to emphasize the effect of their Owellian demands: these lies are truth, the proposed unjust punishments are justice, and all decent people must stand behind this basic truth or become traitors to justice for the innocent people of Syria. Dissenters will be flagged as part of the global bad-guy axis, Russian agents and so on.

The fact is, this case presents a great chance to bring truth to power, to show the extra-important claims are unusually well-illustrated as being false. This would be a big step towards unlocking the mystery of why all our help has only made things worse. It could be this same kind of deception is behind all the other accepted crimes providing the running precedent to keep accepting more. Wrong diagnosis, over and over.
For "the Russians," for everyone, and especially the actual Syrian people, and for the victims of the next planned and ongoing wars based on similar systemic lies ... this idiotic story being on such a grand stage is a golden opportunity. Maybe with the right pressure, placed on the right questions, a new probe capable of reaching the actual truth could be muscled into existence. It may not be at the UN, but it could have a lot of real credibility and influence if it were set up right. It might use lots of volunteers all over the world mainly working "open source intelligence." I'd volunteer to be one of those, of course. Someone, please, get on this task.