The alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun led rapidly and directly to the attack by the US on a Syrian airbase, shared with the Russians, so it is important to look at the evidence in order to discover the truth of what happened.
The accusation is that a Syrian air force plane dropped chemical weapons on the town and the US have reportedly backed this up with evidence showing the flight track of a plane which put it over Khan Sheikhoun at 0333
7Z and 0346Z, corresponding to 06.37 and 06.46 local Syrian time, that morning:
The photo above is not featured on the Department of Defense web site but was featured on ABC who say:
“Officials decided to declassify the photo to prove that Syria’s Shayrat air base was linked to the chemical attack, Capt. Jeff Davis, a Defense Department spokesperson said Thursday night.”
Now, a video uploaded to YouTube at 4:59am UTC (7.59 Syrian time) by an anti-Syrian government source claims to show the airstrike during which the alleged chemical attack occurred:
The video shows no aircraft but four plumes – three of which appear to be conventional explosions.
It is worth noting that the third plume in the series panning left to right appears different to the others and hugs the ground more closely whilst it does not seem to be creating a mushroom type cloud.
A Sarin bomb would include high explosive only as a detonator in order not to destroy the substance and in order to distribute the Sarin droplets over the area.
The Syrian Arab News Agency reports Syria’s foreign minister Walid al-Moallem denying Syrian involvement saying:
The Foreign Minister explained that the campaign of accusing the Syrian army of using chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun started at 06:00 am, while the first air raid carried out by the Syrian army was at 11:30 am of the same day targeting an ammunition store of Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists that included chemical weapons.
The question of what type of chemical was released in Khan Sheikhoun, by whom and under what circumstances remains open and should be the subject of an impartial international investigation.
So, can the account of the Syrian Foreign Minister and the US flight map and the video evidence be reconciled? Perhaps only if we posit a theory in which a Syrian jet does indeed fly over Khan Sheikhoun but does not release any weapons, whilst jihadists time their explosions (including one which at least mimics a chemical release) to dovetail with the overflight, making sure to release a video which makes the process look like an airstrike.
(Article substantially revised 10/04/2017)
Update on developments of 12 April 2017
The White House published an “intelligence report” aiming to justify their belief Syria was responsible for the chemical weapons attack.
The report was quickly answered by Professor Theodor Postol of MIT who in a quick assessment described the report as amateurish and argued the crater and rocket used in evidence point “to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft.”
On 13 April Postol wrote an Addendum to his earlier assessment, including the photographic evidence which proved that the alleged site of the chemical attack had been tampered with.
Update on Human Rights Watch report
Human Rights Watch published a report on 1 May 2017 arguing that the Syrian air force dropped a Soviet era bomb (The KhAB-250) containing Sarin. In a footnote, the report says
“The similarities between the remnants in the crater and the KhAB-250 bomb were first identified by the twitter accounts @elemcee69 and @Mortis_Banned. See e.g., tweet from @elemcee69 on April 14, 2017, https://twitter.com/elemcee69/status/852809433570615296 “
In fact this particular tweet by elemcee69 appears to be missing from the Twitter timeline.
If we look at earlier tweets on his timeline we find this from 9 April:
@Mortis_Banned replied to this tweet saying:
@Mortis_Banned then adds:
It therefore appears that @Mortis_Banned somehow discovered the unsure link to the old Soviet era bomb.
In any case, according to his Twitter profile @Mortis_Banned is a Ukraine-based researcher at the Conflict Intelligence Team – a group of Russian speakers fiercely opposed to Putin’s administration (cf this article on Khordorkovsky.com ).
Whilst HRW accepts the apparent evidence the bomb in the crater was a Soviet air-dropped munition (coupled with the testimony of pro-rebel witnesses in a rebel-dominated part of Syria) is powerful evidence the Syrian air force was responsible for the chemical weapon attack, if this were to have been a properly planned false flag attack, it would be surprising if some kind of Soviet/Russian munition wasn’t produced to back up the claim.
Update 4th May
The Russian MOD have rebutted HRW’s claim about the alleged munition, saying the munition HRW used for comparison was a museum mock-up, that all stocks had been destroyed, that it was never exported and was designed to explode in the air, not on the ground.
An article in the New York Times by Malachy Browne goes over old ground in geo-locating the explosions in Khan Sheikhoun and focuses on discrediting the early Russian and Syrian responses to the events. Browne’s article appears to have somehow completely missed that there is lots of evidence of a separate strike on a facility to the east of the town later in the day.
HRW’s narrative about a KhAB-250 Soviet bomb receives another blow as 3D reconstruction by @Timmi_Allen indicates the cap is of a different size and shape:
It remains to be seen if HRW withdraw their report or stick with it as they did with their false Ghouta analysis.
Update May 5th – the Khan Sheikhoun crater
The Human Rights Watch report rather ridiculously suggests that:
Based on photos and videos, Forensic Architecture, an organization specializing in spatial analysis, created a three-dimensional model of the crater. Based on the model, the organization calculated that the crater was about 1.60 centimeters wide and 0.42 centimeters deep. Since there is no public information about how much explosive is contained in the bursting charge for KhAB-250 and KhAB-500 bombs, it is not possible to assess whether the size of the crater is consistent with the use of these bombs. The lack of blast and fragmentation damage on nearby objects as shown in the photos and videos is consistent with the use of a low-blast, non-fragmenting munition like a chemical bomb.
In fact Forensic Architecture have built a 3-D model of the crater which can be seen here and which provides measurements of the width of the crater as 1.61m in one direction and 1.45m in another and depths of 0.49m and 0.42m.
By rough calculations this would represent a volume of something in the region of 0.8m cubed which would also indicate several hundred kilograms of soil should have been deposited around the edges of the crater, above ground level as debris. However, when we look at the photos and video of the crater, there is almost no debris.
(Crater with liquid at 1:57)
This is even the case with the photo which HRW was taken by first responders at the scene and which they claim shows liquid Sarin around the hole. It would be interesting if anyone could explain how the theory of an air-launched bomb can be reconciled with lack of debris around the crater given the size of the crater and the explosive force which would have been required to create it..
Update 8 May
Adam Larson has put together an article summing up much of the work on Khan Sheikhoun by the Closer Look at Syria group which can be read on this link.
New York Time journalist Malachy Browne has predictably failed to respond to a Twitter enquiry as to how he managed to overlook the afternoon strike on the facility to the east of Khan Sheikhoun which renders most of his analysis of Syrian and Russian explanations of what happened on 4th April nonsensical.
Forensic Architecture have responded to queries regarding the lack of debris around the crater saying:
“The hole has also been cleaned up and covered so that could also be a possibility for why you don’t see obvious mounds.”
This will probably form part of an article examining the Human Rights Watch report in more depth. Regular readers won’t need reminding that HRW have a history of providing pseudo-scientific reports, subsequently debunked, in support of their regime change agenda. It is to be hoped that other human rights organisations and journalists stop pretending that HRW is an objective or competent investigative body.
Update 9 May
Michael Kobs has found what appears to be a match for the bomb fragments in the Khan Sheikhoun hole in the ODAB-500.
Update 11 May – Close up video of Khan Sheikhoun hole.
Former weapons inspector, Scott Ritter argued in an article published on 12 May that, “geospacial analysis of the crater in question, with the impact points recorded on the video by activists, clearly shows that the crater cited by the White House was not affiliated with the strike carried out by the Syrian Air Force on the morning of April 4. Either the White House (and the U.S. intelligence community) has published a hasty and incorrect analysis, or the passage in question was deliberately released in an effort to mislead the American public. Again, one must wonder who is driving the White House narrative, given that so much of the assessment contained in the four-page memorandum was being driven by information released by Tahrir al-Sham.”
From the video above, the lack of ejecta around the “crater” is clear, as is the fact the edges of the hole bend inwards. These characteristics are very difficult to reconcile with either the KhAB bomb claimed by HRW or the ODAB-500 which more closely correlates with the fragments allegedly found in the hole.
It seems increasingly likely this hole and the fragments supposedly found inside it were staged – possibly as part of a deliberate ploy. This takes us back to the Syrian government claim that no munitions were fired on that morning, leading us to question if the flights over Khan Sheikhoun were surveillance flights and the very interesting prospect that the imagery they took could reveal some very interesting clues about what happened that morning.
Update 28 May
The OPCW Fact-Finding Team, reluctant to venture themselves into an Al Qaeda controlled area, have analysed samples they were told were gathered by “NGOs” operating in that area as well as samples from victims of the incident and published the results which show Sarin in some of the biological and environmental samples including from what they call in their update soil from the “crater.”
It seems likely one of the “NGOs” involved is the White Helmets, who are UK government funded and recently received an award for their work from Al Qaeda. That the OPCW is now prepared to publish data based on “evidence” whose provenance includes this organisation in the chain of custody suggests the OPCW has come increasingly under the thumb of those powers supporting the regime change effort in Syria.
Unsurprisingly, Russia has some major issues with the way the investigation is being conducted, in particular the delay in visiting either the alleged attack site or the airfield the US has claimed the attack was launched from.
With the OPCW apparently willing to accept evidence including Al Qaeda friendly organisations in the chain of custody and apparently willing to accept testimony from witnesses whose credibility is in doubt (to say the least), the major constraint on the OPCW producing a report implicitly or explicitly laying the blame for this incident on the Syrian government is probably less professional integrity and more the worry incontrovertible evidence the event was staged may still come to light.
Update 2 June
Theodore Postol has published a paper demolishing the New York Times video analysis on the events in Khan Sheikhoun, explaining how the forensic evidence they cite fails to provide evidence of any of their conclusions. With regards to the New York Times, Postol correctly points out that:
On September 17, 2013 the New York Times published on its front page a totally bogus false claim based on an alleged analysis produced by Bellingcat that concluded using untrue assumptions about the excessively long range of a sarin-carrying munition that the nerve agent attack on August 21, 2013 had originated from a site deep inside Syrian government controlled territory. My colleague, Richard Lloyd, and I produced analysis and reported to Times management that that the munition could travel could only travel two kilometers or less nearly, not the 10 km range that formed the foundation of the conclusions published by the Times. Yet in spite of the uncontested accuracy of this science-based fact, the New York Times stuck to its rhetoric and did not make any effort to re-examine the foundations of the narrative it knew had
to be false in the face of these facts.
This history of New York Times publishing of inaccurate information and then sticking by it when solid science-based forensic evidence disproves the original narrative cannot be explained in terms of simple error. The facts overwhelmingly point to a New York Times management that is unconcerned about the accuracy of its reporting.”
In our view exactly the same criticism falls upon Human Rights Watch who failed to reexamine their false analysis of the Ghouta attack, proving the HRW management, including Ken Roth, also do not care about the accuracy of their reporting.
Update 25 June
Seymour Hersh article in Die Welt about Khan Sheikhoun argues intelligence officials knew there was no Syrian Sarin bomb and warns against further false flag attacks by jihadis in Syria.
Update 30 June
An article by Scott Ritter in the American Conservative argues against the Syria-did-it narrative, stressing the lack of physical evidence of an actual chemical weapon, the role of the “White helmets” and the question of motive. Meanwhile the OPCW has officially confirmed its finding that Sarin was used in Khan Sheikhoun.
Update 9 September
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared at the beginning of June that “We are absolutely convinced that it was a provocation. Assad didn’t use the weapons. It was done by people who wanted to blame him for that.”
Vladimir Putin is, of course, the highest Russian official and his words can be said to constitute Russia’s definitive view on the issue.
It therefore comes as a surprise that the UN’s “Independent International Commission of Inquiry in the Syrian Arab Republic” chooses to ignore this statement and instead focus its attention on early statements made by Russian and Syrian officials in the immediate aftermath of the event in its Inquiry into the events at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017.
The report is in the names of Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chairperson) (Brazil), Chair Karen Koning AbuZayd (United States) and Carla del Ponte (Switzerland) but can be seen as something of a co-production with the Al Qaeda propagandists who constitute the first link in a new kind of “chain of evidence,” with what constitutes a “standard of proof” redefined saying that, “The standard of proof was met when the Commission obtained a reliable body of information to conclude that there were reasonable grounds to believe the incidents occurred as described, and that violations were committed by the warring party identified.”
A short examination of this “independent committee’s” work already argues the members of the commission could be held guilty of war crimes for producing war propaganda.
Update 10 September
Two articles by Professor Paul McKeigue published on Professor Tim Hayward’s blog, demonstrate an advanced methodology for analyzing incidents such as the alleged chemical attacks at Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun and a concrete application of those principles to the cases in question.
Update 28 October
The leaked UN OPCW JIM report in which the panel says they are “confident” the sarin attack was by the Syrian government forces.
The initial Russian response is that Russia’s input into the investigation was largely ignored. It seems likely that Russia will (and should) insist on some major changes to the JIM if its mandate is to be renewed.
Update 16th November
Russian responses to JIM report:
Additional Assessment (important)