The Syrian Foreign Ministry has slammed a report by the OPCW on the alleged chemical attack in the city of Douma on 7 April 2018 as containing distorted facts and being prepared by biased experts who failed to take into account the possession of chemical weapons by terrorists.
The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media has obtained what they say is an unpublished report by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission on the alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Douma on 7 April 2018, indicating that the entire incident was staged.
In the wake of the purported attack, an Engineering Assessment of two chlorine cylinders observed at the scene, a document which was allegedly excluded from the final report, was conducted in order to evaluate the possible means by which they could have been delivered at the locations.
While the final report said that engineering experts had been asked to assess the trajectory of each of the two cylinders, the newly-unveiled findings lay out competing hypotheses to determine whether the holes in the roof and the positions of the cylinders could be “accounted for by anything other than cylinders being dropped from the sky”.
For the location of the first cylinder on a roof terrace, experts set out two hypotheses:
- the cylinder filled with liquid chlorine was dropped from an aircraft, made a hole in the roof, and the impact fractured the valve, which caused release of the chemical weapon;
- the cylinder was in the possession of the people who placed it on the terrace next to a pre-existing crater.
For the location of the second cylinder on a bed, they stated the following hypotheses:
- it was fitted with frame and fins, and was most likely dropped from a helicopter to fall into the concrete roof of the bedroom. The cylinder pierced the roof and ended up on the bed, but the valve remained intact;
- the cylinder landed on the floor of the room, and was subsequently picked up and placed on the bed by people at the scene;
- the deformed cylinder was in the possession of the people who placed it on the bed, while the hole in the roof was made either prior to or after the object was placed on the bed.
Having conducted modelling studies, experts consulted to evaluate the crater, saying that it could have occurred from a blast rather than from the impact of a falling object; similar holes were seen on the roofs of nearby buildings, the report notes.
“It was not possible to establish a set of circumstances where the post-deformation cylinder could fit through the crater with the valve still intact (whether or not an end-cap was assumed to have been fitted at the front of the cylinder), and the fins deformed in the manner observed”, experts wrote.
Engineering experts came to the conclusion that observations at the scene of both locations suggest that the chances are high that both cylinders were manually placed rather than being dropped from aircraft.
“The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft. In each case the alternative hypothesis produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene”.
In March, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a report by its fact-finding mission on the results of the investigation into the Douma incident that claimed that a toxic chemical, most likely chlorine, was used in the alleged attack.
Last year, a number of Syrian opposition media outlets reported, citing militant sources, that Syrian government forces had launched a chemical attack on Douma, while the Jaysh al-Islam terrorist group claimed that the army had dropped a chemical bomb on the city.
The reports were quickly picked up by the so-called White Helmets, an NGO which has repeatedly been busted using false videos of their daily rescue operations, started publishing clips and photos, showing the alleged aftermath of the chemical attack.Responding to the claims, Damascus argued that such allegations were being made by terrorists to halt the advance of Syrian forces and insisted that it did not need such measures to fight militants.
The alleged attack prompted France, the US and the UK, all of whom blamed Damascus for using toxic substances against civilians, to fire over 100 missiles on what they described as the Syrian government’s chemical weapons sites.
Weeks prior to the purported incident, both Syria and Russia repeatedly warned of the upcoming false flag chemical attacks on Douma, saying that such disinformation campaigns were aimed at covering up terrorists and justifying military action.
Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Piers Robinson
Members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media
In our Briefing note on the Final Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission on the Douma incident, we noted that the FFM had sought assessments in October 2018 from unidentified engineering experts on the “the trajectory and damage to the cylinders found at Locations 2 and 4”. The Final Report provided no explanation for why the FFM had not sought engineering assessments in April 2018, when the experts could have inspected the sites with cylinders in position, rather than six months later when inspection of the sites with cylinders in position was no longer possible and the assessments had to rely on images and measurements obtained by others. We raised this as an obvious anomaly.
OPCW staff members have communicated with the Working Group. We have learned that an investigation was undertaken by an engineering sub-team of the FFM, beginning with on-site inspections in April-May 2018, followed by a detailed engineering analysis including collaboration on computer modelling studies with two European universities. The report of this investigation was excluded from the published Final Report of the Fact-Finding Mission, which referred only to assessments sought from unidentified “engineering experts” commissioned in October 2018 and obtained in December 2018.
A copy of a 15-page Executive Summary of this report with the title “Engineering Assessment of two cylinders observed at the Douma incident” has been passed to us and we have posted it here. Please download and share this document via your own server if you link to it, so as not to overload our server.
We are studying this document, and encourage others with relevant expertise to contribute. We provide some initial comments below:-
3 Implications of the Engineering Assessment combined with other findings
The conclusion of the Engineering Assessment is unequivocal: the â€œalternative hypothesisâ€ that the cylinders were manually placed in position is “the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene”.
Our last Briefing Note listed two other key findings:
- It is no longer seriously disputed that the hospital scene was staged: there are multiple eyewitness reports supported by video evidence
- The case fatality rate of 100%, with no attempt by the victims to escape, is unlike any recorded chlorine attack.
Taken together, these findings establish beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 was staged.
This raises the question of where and how did the 35 victims seen in the images recorded at location 2 die? The images show signs of acute inhalation injury with blood and mucus flowing from the nose and mouth of most victims. Even though faces had apparently been washed to remove most of the mucus, yellow staining of the skin remained.
A few weeks before the release of the Final Report, two journalists appeared to suggest that there had been an earlier chemical attack somewhere else in Douma, perhaps attempting to prepare a fallback position in case the Final Report were to indicate that the scenes at Location 2 and 4 had been staged. This is to say the least an implausible explanation of the staging at Locations 2 and 4 – why move the bodies of the victims to Location 2 for a staged scene, rather than show the real chemical attack scene if there was one?
As emphasized above, in a real chemical attack with chlorine or any other irritant gas, most victims would try to escape and non-fatal cases requiring prolonged hospital treatment would far outnumber fatal cases. The images of the victims seen at Location 2 show that they were evidently exposed to an irritant gas but were unable to escape. A careful examination of these images leaves little doubt that the victims were murdered as captives. The staining of the victims’ faces by mucus flowing from their noses and mouths shows in at least some cases the mucus flowed up their faces towards the eyes. This implies that they were hung upside down while exposed to the agent. Bizarrely, the eyes of most victims appear to have been masked so that the eyes were not affected by gas or mucus. In a few victims there are visible strap marks suggesting that the eyes were protected by something like swimming goggles. A possible motive for masking the eyes may have been to make it less obvious that the victims had suffered prolonged exposure to an irritant gas.
We conclude that the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of at least 35 civilians to provide the bodies at Location 2. It follows from this that people dressed as White Helmets and endorsed by the leadership of that organization had a key role in this murder.
We note that the Douma incident was the first alleged chemical attack in Syria where OPCW investigators were able to carry out an unimpeded on-site inspection. Since 2014, OPCW Fact-Finding Missions investigating alleged chemical attacks in opposition-held territory have relied for evidence on witnesses and materials collected by opposition-linked NGOs of doubtful provenance, including the CBRN Task Force, the Chemical Violations Documentation Centre Syria, and the White Helmets. Even for the investigation of the Ghouta incident in 2013, the OPCW-WHO mission was able to visit the the alleged attack sites for only a few hours, and was under the close supervision of the armed opposition. For those who until now have been prepared to accept the findings of OPCW Fact-Finding Missions that did not include on-site inspections, the finding that the Douma incident was staged, based on a careful on-site inspection, should cast doubt on the findings of these earlier Missions.
4 The hijacking of OPCW
In our last Briefing Note, we concluded by asserting that “It is doubtful whether [OPCW’s] reputation as an impartial monitor of compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention can be restored without radical reform of its governance and working practices”. The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.
The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder. We think that in most jurisdictions the legal duty to disclose the cover-up of such a crime would override any confidentiality agreement with an employer. We would welcome legal opinions on this, given publicly, by those with relevant expertise. OPCW employees have to sign a strict confidentiality agreement, and face instant dismissal and loss of pension rights if they breach this agreement. We would welcome any initiative to set up a legal defence fund for OPCW staff members who come forward publicly as whistleblowers.
We thank the OPCW staff members who have communicated with us at considerable personal risk. We undertake to protect the identities of any sources who communicate with us. Emails to our protonmail addresses, if sent from another protonmail account (free to set up), are secure. We thank also the other open-source investigators and journalists who publicly questioned the official line on the Douma incident and thus created the climate for OPCW staff members to come forward.