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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.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Douma CW Massacre: The Witnesses Who Don't Blame Assad

Douma CW Massacre:
The Witnesses Who Don't Blame Assad
April 22, 2018
(rough, incomplete)

A New Trend in Witnesses to Regime Crimes?
Many times over the years we've heard opposition supporters almost exclusively interviewed to support claims of a Syrian government atrocity. Rarely do we hear from people denying these stories, or lodging counter-claims against the opposition's Islamist forces (unless it's Islamic State/Daesh). But in the weeks after the April 7 alleged chemical attack in Douma, we've heard now from three kinds of people to the usual one kind.

Type 1: Assad CW Attack: first came the usual, White Helmets types, activists, alleged survivors, other locals clearly blaming the government for a chemical attack. Some even saw the "barrel bombs" falling from helicopters, already pouring green smoke into the dark night sky as they fell. No one on the rebel side has helicopters, so the blame is just as easy as usual here. They know where people died (basements, hiding), what it smelled like, why you couldn't save people, and should expect a high death toll, etc. and they're clear it's part of Assad's obvious and continuing CW genocide.

Type 2: No CW Attack: In this case, unlike most, the ruling Islamists surrendered and left, for the most part, within a couple days of the incident. Investigators and media thus had unusual access, and soon we heard from others claiming there was no CW attack. One is the soon-to-be famous boy Hassan Diab, shown in clinic videos used to claim a government CW attack, but later interviewed on RT with his father about how he was pressed into the performance. (The Russians promise to show this at the UN, and some will surely just walk out.) We've also heard from the medical staff, many residents (for example Robert Fisk's helpful report from Douma in the Independent, April 17), all swearing they saw no signs of toxic gas released in the open. They couldn't be certain none was released in some basement somewhere, but no open release of anything they saw or smelled, or heard anything credible about from anyone else.

There are varied inclusions of something that might cause confusion - the bombing may have cause cases of smoke inhalation and suffocation. But either way, many people rushed the clinic, and then as they recount someone shouted chlorine, sparking a panic about the chemicals was staged around them. But they say, or think, there was nothing real to panic about, and it was a fake scene staged by White Helmets types.

But I don't mean to dwell on the details of the cases for or against. Instead let's look at an unexpected third kind of witnesses, arriving on the scene in the last few days, at about the same time Fisk and others were breaking the type 2 version. These may be coming out in reaction to that, but the order isn't entirely clear. These people claim there was in fact a chemical attack, but they re-phrase it. Now it's not a clear regime crime. Helicopters are not mentioned. Some issues with the evidence are acknowledged. In fact, the (now-defunct?) Army of Islam group (Jaish Al-Silam, JaI) is tentatively blamed for the real CW attack - by some people, whose opinion on that point may not matter in the end.

But they maintain that toxic chemicals were released, and some of these people also have stories claiming some of those killed as family, which in context is always dubious. Aside from the witnesses, the best evidence so far suggests the blamed gas canister(s) were plated, not dropped or launched - accounts of no open chemical release - signs of staging, and the past precedent with some signs here; the victims were likely people held hostage by the Islamists, property they'd rather cash in for propaganda points then set free as they agreed to close shop and take the bus to Idlib. Everyone can see which side motive favors.

And we have two classes of witness not blaming Assad but still basically calling each other liars. One of them fits with the best evidence, and one contradicts a lot of it.

Is this a different take on activist claims? For once don't blame Assad, acknowledge a problem with the presented evidence, etc. Find ways to appeal to "the other side." But then use that to maintain, to a wider audience, the key elements of what will still go down as a regime crime in the end. Here, that gas was released, from a canister that was dropped or fired, by just who is clearly debatable (but we know who would lose the blame game at the OPCW and UN, etc.).

And most importantly, they remind us that people died, they know details, and those prove that this gas some people deny killed innocents ... who were not hostages of the ruling terrorists, just random victims of their weapons. Or, as it will turn out later, of Assad's weapons after all. If so, it's clearly that second half about who the victims are they're most afraid of having stick. Gas bombs: in. Gas chambers: out. 

Anyone following the information war could have advised this subtler approach - if governments and agencies like the OPCW are bound to blame the government in the end, you don't need every witness affirming it from the start. In fact by placing some more flexible points as coming from what seems to be "the other side" could make it seem like "people from both sides" agree on X and Y facts at least, helping to steer the eventual "balanced" decision the agencies and the mainstream are to arrive at. They might blame the rebels, make some dig at the White Helmets, something to score points with those doubting the Islamist narrative - maybe just as bait to get them believing their account, and accepting that there really was a chemical *attack* someone needs to investigate and punish, and it used those stupid yellow tanks...
.

Khaled Nuseir and Company
First the chlorine, then chaos and death in Syria attack - Sarah el Deeb, Associated Press, April 18, 2018 - http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/chlorine-chaos-death-syria-attack-54550403

This hears from Khaled Nuseir, 25, vegetable vendor, in Douma. He says he saw the leaking gas cylinder and "said it didn't appear that it was dropped from the air because it still looked intact. "There was no sound of explosion," he said... "If we are standing here and something falls from an aircraft, doesn't it explode? The cylinder was intact when we found it and it was leaking." So he claims he was exposed to, close to, or witnessed the same gas twice. He does have some odd appearance, tired or hooded eyelids, etc. But he never did die. FWIW the name Khaled means immortal.

The report adds: "He and two other residents accused the rebel Army of Islam, which controlled Douma until the militants surrendered it, of carrying out the attack. As they spoke, government troops were nearby, but out of earshot." So we're to gather they aren't coerced, and might be telling the truth. After all, most people can realize, Jaish al-Islam had the better motive to do such a thing. 

Nusair and two other unnamed "residents" are cited, and an attached photo shows three men, presumably the same. Mr. Nuseir is most likely the one talking, shown here in a crop.

photo credits: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, Monday, April 16, 2018.  "Kahled Mahmoud Nuseir, 25, center, ... in front of a hospital that locals referred as Point One, background, just meters away from where in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, ...The survivors blamed the attack on the Army of Islam ... although they did not offer evidence to back up their claims."

He also claims here his wife, 9-months pregnant, and his two infant girls all died in the attack. The names he gives for his wife and daughters all appear, a bit differently, in opposition lists (see ACLOS for details).  That could be a good sign or a bad one, depending.

Another appearance at about the same time was run on April 17 from German reporter Dirk Emmerich with NTV News:
https://www.n-tv.de/mediathek/videos/politik/Was-sagen-Bewohner-zum-moeglichen-Einsatz-von-Giftgas-article20388782.html
with Translated subtitles:
https://twitter.com/FriedemannWo/status/987053678954729477

The man in the middle of the photo (same face, hair and clothing, but not named) speaks briefly as other watch intently. He says he smelled something "strange", but it soon faded. He drank water and felt better. If any family members died, he doesn't mention it here. It doesn't seem he addresses blame here.

Then, Emmerich heard from a crowd disagreeing with that. They didn't see or smell or feel anything suggesting toxic chemicals were released. They're emphatic, and seem amused at the absurdity of the claim, sometimes smiling.

Then he hears from an older man with a gray beard presented to confirm what the other guy said - he too definitely smelled chlorine. But he adds that it's not clear who might have deployed it, blaming neither side explicitly. Strange that this needs to come up, and wind up not blaming Assad. 






That disagreement is very interesting, and forms part of my doubts about this guy Khaled Nuseir and the others agreeing with him, as first outlined here:
https://twitter.com/CL4Syr/status/986920977769553920)

Just because he blames terrorists instead of Assad or Russia doesn't mean his story is true. His given case is not convincing. If the canister had fallen from a helicopter, it won't make an "explosion sound," but it would probably be far more damaged if it really fell that far, and would clearly rupture. Here, it's not visually clear if either tank did rupture. They don't seem damaged enough to have. But he swears it was that damaged and leaking, he saw it, other questions aside. As for his theory Jaish Al-Islam did it: if that's his basis, it wouldn't go far towards convincing those trained to blame "animal Assad" for everything.

Other than those surface-level twists, Khaled Nuseir's account displays a familiar and dubious pattern - He asserts that gas was released from a canister deployed as a weapon, in contrast to what many credible others say.. He says "I lost my children," like Abdelhamid Al-Yousef did, and others before and since.
http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/04/abdelhamid-al-yousef-proof-man.html
He escaped the house and made it to a clinic, but passed out there, while his wife and children died in the shelter, developing "white foam" before he saw them again just after waking up. (see Yousef's version of this story here)
https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/09/abdelhamid-al-yousef-speedy-recovery.html

Mr. Nuseir also says in the el Deeb AP report that his shelter held 51 people, and Only 5 of those survived, including him and, by usual patterns, we might guess four other fighting age men, for 46 dead there. Two distinct sites are claimed in that same report. He adds that the bodies from his shelter, apparently including his wife and girls, were collected the next day and buried in a mass grave near the zoo. That's an unusual bit of information to add, like a leak that also makes it seems like rebels might be covering something up. But he knows where the OPCW can find them... he may have well-informed sources that have him saying all this.

.

How Many People Make these Claims?

So, in this class of unusual witness accounts refusing to blame Assad but stil disagreeing with most accounts and evidence, is at least:
- Khaled Nuseir,
- his two unnamed agreeing residents,
- the older man, and perhaps that slick little guy staring so intently at him, then seeming to broadcast agreement towards everyone else, like: "I know a truth-teller, and this guy for sure smelled chlorine like he says. Right, guys?"

4+ noted there, and there's also Nasser Amer Hanan/Hanen, perhaps the episode's star witness, who spoke to CBS News' reporter Seth Doan (footage also used by the BBC).
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/syria-inside-douma-the-site-of-apparent-chemical-attack-2018-04-16/

and separately he was interviewed by Stefan Borg of Sweden's TV4 News, and others.
https://www.tv4play.se/program/nyheterna/3966948

From the second interview, subtitles translated via Petri Krohn (ACLOS), Naser says he and many others were all sitting segregated in the basement when the "bomb" hit 4 floors above, and "Suddenly there was a sound like a valve on a gas pipe was opened." He heard it down there. Perhaps realizing how stupid this is, he immediately explains "It is difficult to explain. I cannot explain. I do not know what to say." Then he remembers it's about emotion, not logic, and continues so: "The situation makes me cry. Children and toddlers, around 25 children."

He says his mother and his wife died, besides his "brothers." But that could be a translation issue, singular read as plural; Opposition lists have just one brother, the same name he gives, Hamzeh. His wife and mother are unclear - they would retain "maiden names," usually - three females with the same Hanan name are listed and apparently unexplained. (see ACLOS link above)  Or is this a Christian family? A modern/secular tradition-shunning family? As some note, he doesn't look jihadist, and never says Allah anything. The same seems to apply for Mr. Nuseir above.

He says his brother Hamzeh tried to wash himself at the sink, but died, while Naser watched, and then fled while Hamzeh died... or... whatever. As for his beloved wife, and mother ... He cannot explain. He doesn't know what to say. He might forget what they told him to say. It was all so very sad, he cannot remember clearly...
https://twitter.com/Deus_Abscondis/status/987654625762336769


Okay, this guy ... it's not in the video reports, but after the fact, the reporter Stefan Borg adds that Mr. Hanan blamed the rebel side for doing this and also he blamed the White Helmets for not coming to rescue them. (from this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcjbsRh2c34 - fuller exact translation later)

Well that certainly doesn't sound like bait to embrace an unlikely story, does it?

Other examples will likely emerge when I dig for them, but at 5+ it's clear enough to call out. After this post, there's a good chance the trend will stop - maybe because it was just a localized fluke that already played its short course, maybe because I just called the strategy of smarter propaganda they were hoping to expand. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Douma CW Massacre: See-Sawing Death Toll Reports

Douma CW Massacre: See-Sawing Death Toll Reports
April 19, 2018
updates 4/20,21

Why the Confusion?
Many reasons have been given for the unclear death toll in the alleged chemical attack in Douma on April 7. An April 18 AP report notes "Much ... remains unknown, including the exact death toll, because of the lack of an independent investigation." http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/chlorine-chaos-death-syria-attack-54550403

But tallies by the opposition parties would be handed to investigators, and likely repeated with no verification. The problem seems to be a lack of consensus within the opposition camp, with varying numbers supplied by different parties and at different times. The main reason they give for the uncertainty is regime things making it hard to count, in at least two specified ways floated the day after the incident:
"The continued assaults made it hard for rescue workers to look for victims, he said, meaning that it was difficult to establish a comprehensive death toll.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/08/world/middleeast/syria-chemical-attack-ghouta.html
"The Syrian Civil Defense group [White Helmets] documented 42 fatalities but was impeded from searching further by strong odors that gave rescuers difficulties breathing, said Siraj Mahmoud, a spokesman for the group."
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/syria-chemical-weapon-attack-douma-leaves-dozens-dead-opposition-says-04-08-2018/
Even equipped with gas masks they could go no further, and had to stick with that count for days and up to now, 12 days later we hear no one can verify any more than this.

https://www.uossm.us/42_confirmed_dead_in_massive_chemical_attack_in_ghouta?recruiter_id=659
"due to conflicting reports, and difficulty gathering data," the UOSSM had thought 70 or more died, but then by April 9 decided could only confirm the White Helmets' 42. There would be more, but it seemed unclear how many.

But instead of the usual slow creep of confirmed deaths, we have a span running from 35 up to about 200, reported alternately from the start, almost as if someone had a full, very large count, and was trying to conceal that, and leave the impression of unclear but rising toll

The Reports
The earliest reports had low tolls for chemical victims. Ferocious or "hysterical" regular bombing had killed dozens, but the chlorine drops were a side-issue.
http://www.france24.com/en/20180407-air-strikes-pound-syria-rebel-douma-ghouta-assad
about 70 people killed that day in regular bombing attacks, and "eleven people also suffered breathing problems" from "poisonous chlorine gas," with no mention of deaths.
(April 10: "A Syrian family of 11 died heaped together in the bathroom.The parents had tried in vain to wash the toxic gas off their kids'skin. On stairwell rescuers found a trail of foam,coughed up from lungs, which led to another dead mother & her daughters #Douma"
https://twitter.com/shaml_coalition/status/983631507452514305
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/syria-family-of-11-clung-together-in-death-9gqmzmdjv)
Soon, reports of deaths:
The medical relief organization Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) meanwhile also said that a chlorine bomb hit Douma hospital, killing six people, and that a second attack with "mixed agents" including nerve agents had hit a building nearby.
http://www.dw.com/en/dozens-dead-in-suspected-chemical-weapons-attack-in-syria/a-43296814
(Otherwise, little reports mention CW deaths in the early attacks)
"Mohammed Marhoum, a medical worker saw around 70 chlorine victims "and said six of them died."
April 12 http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/04/what-really-happened-in-the-syria-chemical-attack.html

I'm still looking for the smallest and earliest entries, but side from six, I see nothing yet - it pretty quickly jumped to 40 dead, as widely reported, via the White Helmets.
https://twitter.com/SyriaCivilDef/status/982735364518567937
April 8 1:42 am (local time)
At 20:22 on Saturday 7th April a helicopter dropped a barrel bomb that contained a chemical agent in Douma, an enclave in Eastern Ghouta. 40 people, largely children and women, have been killed with hundreds being treated at medical centers. #Noimpunity.
Note: this is just over 3 hours after the attack, by their time.

In the following days, a confirmed "35+" was widely reported, and then largely settled round 42 or 43 killed. Most just say "dozens." Usually, it's claimed these were mostly women and children. One count gave 11 children and 2 women among the 35 confirmed (and thus 22 men).
Others have brought us up to 70 or so, along with hints that it's really quite a bit higher.
April 8: ""Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds still suffocating," Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets, told Al Jazeera, ... Abu Jaafar says at least 85 people were killed ..."
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/suspected-chemical-attack-kills-dozens-syria-douma-180407202906316.html

April 9, 11:55 PM
"Rescue workers and medical staff have said that the death toll from Syria’s chlorine chemical attack that struck the Damascus suburb of Douma at midnight on Saturday has risen to 85."
https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180409-death-toll-rises-to-85-in-syria-east-ghouta-chemical-attack/
April 8: "The Syrian Civil Defense group documented 42 fatalities ...The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a higher death toll, saying at least 80 people were killed in Douma, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside them."
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/syria-chemical-weapon-attack-douma-leaves-dozens-dead-opposition-says-04-08-2018/

To the SOHR, there were no chemical deaths reported, from about 80 total dead. Strange. The VDC's martyrs database has 99 total Douma civilians killed on April 7, 85 from gas, just 14 from bombing. This number started smaller with hardly any identified, but grew and got more names over the following days. But with no further changes, this 85 might be their final number. 35 are listed as men, so 50 (most) are women and children, and 49 total remain unidentified) All 14 bombing deaths are unidentified, listed as men (which can also mean blank, no gender entered)
http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/martyrs/1/c29ydGJ5PWEua2lsbGVkX2RhdGV8c29ydGRpcj1ERVNDfGFwcHJvdmVkPXZpc2libGV8ZXh0cmFkaXNwbGF5PTB8c3RhdHVzPTF8dGhpc0RhdGU9MjAxOC0wNC0wN3wzPURvdW1hfA==

Recall first reports of 70 dead from bombing and none yet from chemicals but 11 choking (81 total), or SOHR's 80 total dead split half-and-half, with the chemical deaths just suffocation cases. The same basic number (80, 81, 85), gets divided up three different ways. Likely coincidence, but possibly a clue.

But three tallies from just 5-6 hours after the event already cited numbers over 100:
3:14 AM April 8: White Helmets say over 100 died: https://twitter.com/TRTWorldNow/status/982773649227767808
2:43 AM April 8: Anonymous hears 115+  https://twitter.com/YourAnonCentral/status/982765850141786112
2:12 am @LawkGhafuri
"Death toll reported to be more than 120 people and 100 others injured" (poss. 220 expected?)
https://twitter.com/LawkGhafuri/status/982758142323953664

Bigger yet and as early as any, but it was just an "estimate":
2:14 am: Zaher Sahloul, SAMS chief, already heard "Latest estimate of death ...is 180 mostly women and Children." No mention of an expected rise past that.
https://twitter.com/sahloul/status/982758520738205696
Also, he heard a helicopter took off at exactly 8:30 from Dirka 427 airfield to launch the sarin attack at 9pm, not 7:30 as others say, or 10:22 as others say. (note tweet is just 5 hours after the attack, by his time) 

A little later, 5:19 am in Syria:
https://twitter.com/saudiNew_s/status/982805218533441536
Civil defense in Douma: The high number of deaths of the regime's toxic gas shelling has risen to 150.

April 8 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-chemical-weapons-attack-latest-sarin-douma-eastern-ghouta-nerve-agent-chlorine-russia-us-uk-a8294741.html
SAMS and White Helmets agree at least 49 confirmed dead from the gas part. But Tawfik Chamaa, UOSSM "said 150 people were confirmed dead and the number was growing. “The majority were civilians, women and children trapped in underground shelters,” he said."

11:06 pm April 8 UOSSM predicts it will be "well over 100"
https://twitter.com/adpaw13/status/983073738727088128
8:08 pm in Syria @RamiSafadi93 tweets LCC: Death toll ... is at 190.
https://twitter.com/ RamiSafadi93/status/983028855077302273

5:13 PM April 8: "The death toll is still increasing After more families were found suffocated in their homes after yesterday’s chemical attack So far about 200 martyrs and more than a thousand injuries"  https://twitter.com/hadialbahra/status/982984896003100672

8:12 pm April 8, Al Bawab news: "Syrian activists announced the death toll from the bombing of the eastern city of Duma to more than 200 people. ... the bombardment included chemical gases such as sarin and nerve gas, not chlorine gas. ... the death toll is likely to rise significantly, and that civil defense teams are still pulling the bodies of the victims from the rubble."
http://www.albawabhnews.com/3039246

(these may be taking 180/190 and rounding it up, then turning "about" to "more than")

UOSSM April 9:
"42 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds affected by the chemical attack
*Earlier, UOSSM reported 70 confirmed dead, but due to conflicting reports, and difficulty gathering data we are confident that at least 42 are confirmed dead, those numbers are expected to rise."
symptoms: cyanosis, foaming of the mouth, cornea irritation, and the strong odor of a chlorine like substance.
https://www.uossm.us/42_confirmed_dead_in_massive_chemical_attack_in_ghouta?recruiter_id=659

SAMS Apr 9 7:38 pm in Syria
https://twitter.com/sams_usa/status/983383540992798721
"Updated death toll ...SAMS has verified 43 people killed in the attack, including 35 identified, and 8 unidentified."
(note: VDC has 36 identified, 49 not)

And After That...
April 11:
"The World Health Organization said on Wednesday around 500 people had been treated for “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals” ... WHO also said that more than 70 people sheltering from bombardment in basements were reported to have died.
It said 43 of those deaths were “related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals,” citing reports from its local health partners.
Note: "more than 70" compares well with the variously split 80/81/85 tallies most commonly reached, here divided about half CW, half suffocation, but all basement-type cases and non-violent.
Symptoms: “In particular, there were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed,” it said in a statement issued in Geneva.
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-ghouta-who/who-500-syrian-patients-show-symptoms-pointing-to-toxic-weapons-exposure-idUSKBN1HI18D?il=0

April 20, Kyodo News "The total number of dead reached around 50, the residents said." (seeming to refer to a single site)
https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2018/04/f8e37dcb92f7-questions-over-gas-cylinder-remain-after-syria-attack.html

April 18 AP report: "More than 40 people were killed, many of them children, according to medics and opposition activists in the town." But they also "spoke of at least two buildings with people sheltering in the basements" who died. And the same story hears about one site where 46 died. The only site we've seen has 34-35 seen bodies. Is this the same site, with more than seen, or the other site?
http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/chlorine-chaos-death-syria-attack-54550403

(Independent 8 April)  "Basel Termanini, the US-based vice president of SAMS, said a further 35 people had been killed at a nearby apartment building, most of them women and children."
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-chemical-weapons-attack-latest-sarin-douma-eastern-ghouta-nerve-agent-chlorine-russia-us-uk-a8294741.html
That shouldn't be the site with 46, but the one with about 35. Or they missed 11 bodies? Suggested total might be 35 + 46 = 81, or about what the VDC lists and others have reported, split-up different ways. Here' all basement-type cases, non-violent, and all CW deaths, no simple suffocation.

And still floating out there are the numerous prophecies of 100-150-180-200+ killed. It would be strange to produce the reminder as verified dead this late in the game, but it remains quite possible in this unusual case among such highly mysterious events.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Douma CW Massacre: The "CW Barrel Bomb" That Wasn't There

Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, April 7, 2018:
The "CW Barrel Bomb" That Wasn't There
(rough, incomplete)
April 14, 2018
edits/updates 4/16, 4/17, 4/21+22...


So now president Donald Trump has attacked Syria for a second time, based on accepted claims of an illogical chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government. Some people, if not the bulk of the Western public, will wonder how firmly this decision was based in fact. 

This time the story was lodged in Douma, Damascus east Ghouta suburbs, on the night of April 7, as victory for the Syrian army was only held up by some strange delays by the ruling Islamists. Jaish al-Islam refused full surrender, then launched provocative artillery attacks on Damascus, prompting alleged counter-strikes including the destruction of a hospital, and two chemical attacks. JaI fully surrendered the next day after getting this story lodged before the world as what supposedly finally broke their will. Some more thinking may be in order on how this all adds up.

The apparently desperate act was first reported as a chlorine gas attack, and everyone agrees that's what they smelled. But the death toll was always too high, seemed to sudden (judging by the way they were piled up, like they were all crowded together and dropped suddenly, or just tossed in piles...). There were enormous amounts of foam from the victims' mouths and noses, which 'everyone knows' is caused by pretty much any chemical weapon. But miosis was reported, and secondary contamination...

Soon opposition groups and western agencies and governments had concluded there was an unidentified nerve agent mixed with the chlorine. In the age of sudden "Novichok fears," for some reason they won't specify sarin like usual. They claim it came from a "barrel bomb" as they call it, or a slightly modified chlorine gas cylinder, 44-liter, as allegedly used by the government before since 2014 to deliver chlorine gas. One was said to be dropped from a helicopter to fall on an apartment building, killing dozens. Maybe others landed somewhere else, affecting hundreds (700-1,000 total, including an earlier attack with just chlorine). 35-40 up to 85, over 100, 150, and even 180 have been reported or estimated to have died from the chemical. (this is basics overview - sources and details on all that elsewhere).

So far two related munitions have been shown. The first one we saw came in a bizarre scene covered for now at the main article, to be refined and moved sometime. The second one we were shown is more interesting and of clearer (alleged) relevance - it was seemingly directly above the 30 or so people found dead and shown widely on the Internet. But as I'll show, it seems:'
- the thing wasn't there when its alleged impact occurred before April 7
- it was likely there but seeming staged atop prior damage on the night of the alleged attack
- it remained a strangely intermittent piece of evidence thereafter.


The When and Where
The location is somewhat disputed. Open-source investigator/propagandists, Bellingcat picked a spot for their analysis. The opposition Violations Documentation Center (VDC) gave a different spot in their report, but seems to have just marked the mosque it was reportedly near; they didn't have an exact location. That's odd, as the VDC is, or was originally, based right in Douma. This image uses their graphic, with Bellincat's spot added, and notes. 

Michael Kobs for a moment thought the scenery matched the spot VDC gave, but it doesn't really, I think we all agree now. (see comparison images here and note Kobs had somewhat led the public investigation of this incident, generally very well but with this one error anyway) I'm not sure, but the Bellingcat spots seems like a good  fit. 

Wherever it is, the site visited by the oddly victorious Russians on April 9 is the same that held the bodies (see comparisons at Bellingcat). They and Kobs agree on where the gas cylinder is seen, at least roughly, from the view to the north. I didn't bother verifying that part. Whether the tank is on that same roof and truly above all those bodies is less clear, but seems most likely to me. The relevance of the following rests on that connection, so any doubts will merit some further attention.


Two Views of the Gas Cylinder
So here's the canister, most common view from a White Helmets tweet of April 10:

The cameraman shows a phone with the time 7:02 pm given in Eastern Arabic numerals (and Araic letter m for PM). The video is clearly filmed at about that time - it's visibly just after sunset, and that was 6:59, according to the NOAA solar calculator. The date is less clear in itself, and it could be on the 8th, but I see no good reason to doubt that it's the 9th. The logic of showing it and the time and place is strongest after the Russian visit of that day, where the Russians denied seeing it, or where the activists expected them to announce that

From the start we can see this tank has no collar to hold the fins so it falls right, as we see with the first tank that landed on a bed. Maybe it fell off? It still seems to have come in nose-down like it's supposed to. It allegedly punched a hole about big enough to pass though, but then strangely it just came to rest there. There's an odd dark color at the front, with an angle that seems like a clue. In the presence of chlorine gas, these tanks seem to rust corrosively, but this doesn't appear rust colored.  I don't know of any sure cause for this blackening, but looks like perhaps smoke residue from a fire. And there are no obvious ruptures anywhere, not that we can see it very well from different angles (such tank bombs usually release the gas by splitting open crudely on impact). It's possible the curved valve end is broken and  that the cylinder released gas here. But it's also entirely possible it didn't.

Now, we also have a less-seen view of this tank filmed in full sunlight at mid-day. Here's a tweet Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins posted (on the 9th at 0400 (Twitter time) or 3 PM in Syria). and then deleted. The right view is of canister 1, covered elsewhere. The left view is clearly a video still, but a different one (shown in full below). That video is apparently private, not released, Higgins says, for fear it could identify the guy filming, and open him to harassment (Qoppa 999). He might say that's why he deleted the tweet with one still including ... those unique shoes? But it's not an issue for the guy holding his damaged phone up to the screen in the other video? (not that he made the call to release that one - the White Helmets did, on the 10th, but didn't seem worried about the issue). Or is there a different reason he zapped this?

Michael Kobs caught this with the screen capture, and noted: "The tweet deleted by Eliot Higgins proves some serious manipulation of the chlorine cylinder. Probably this is the reason why he deleted it. Compare the deleted version to the later White Helmet version." I think this is true. White Helmets sunset video:


Higgins mid-day scene (note also a video still):


Higgins also says "I saw photos of the same scene at 6:12pm Syrian time on April 8th. Photos, not screenshots of the video." Taking that, the scene was set up on the 8th, even if this video was taken on the 9th. I'd like to see these photos someday.

But with just these two views, filmed from the same angle, we can see the cylinder has been rotated at least. There's less black coating visible and more white dust, one of the holes in the base is visible in the mid-day shot, and different rusty scratches are seen (more detailed analysis perhaps in time). Here it seems to be laid at a different overall angle too, and resting its nose end on a metal scrap as well as some intact but compressed rebar inside, and an intact edge of the hole. Is this accident of junk what kept it from falling in? No, clearly not.

<add 4/22>Note: there should be two holes in the base rim, opposite each other. On the early view, one is seen, about in the center. In the later view, neither hole is visible. This means the rotation between views is just about 90 degrees.<end>

Considering those points, it seems quite possible the tank was not just shifted round, but removed entirely and then put back differently in between videos. That seems all but impossible to either prove or rule out, so keep this in mind.

(side notes on times: By sun, I'd say the mid-day view is shot around 1:00 pm, as Kobs estimates with more rigor. The date isn't clear. This could be from the 9th, as it was about 3 pm there. I will tentatively presume that's the case, but it could be filmed the day before. Note how the pieces of concrete slide with the movement, a red thing is tossed in the corner and a stick atop it, etc. Such clues suggest only that the sunset video is later than the mid-day one, so not on a previous day. They could both be on the 8th, hypothetically, or on the 9th, or the mid-day video on the 8th and the sunset one on the 9th, just not vice-versa. Metal scraps move around, the blanket of unclear use might be new, etc.)


The layout, presuming same place, to help understand - the street-level entrance shon on opposition and Russian visit videos is on the south side. The canister is seen on the north balcony. For comparison, Google Earth view of 3-20-13 with the true orientation.

The south balcony seems to have an outer wall, but no roof. The north one had some kind of awning, damaged frame remaining. Below is Michael Kobs' composite from street level, including where bodies where found (note: none seen in the basement, where it's said they died - the basement is never shown):


Why Didn't the Russians Report It?
The Russian investigators did get to the site where bodies were shown, on the 9th and at a time I estimate around 2:45-3 pm from sun angles, just a couple of hours after the mid-day cylinder video (if that was filmed the same day). They report finding no sign of a chemical attack. That presumably includes nothing odd in the basement, no chemical traces detected anywhere, and no chlorine cylinder on the roof, or anywhere they looked. They videotaped the whole thing. Were they taken to the roof, or rather the north balcony? I'd like to see any video they have of this if so, and if not, how can one claim a full inspection of a supposed aerial attack site without investigating the roof? They could easily have sent a drone to inspect it as well. 

But the two video views are shown as poof the Russians were lying. They seem to show the cylinder was there at the attack time (presumed, I mean, how else would people die there?), and still there perhaps just before the Russian visit (if same day, about 2 hours before), and there after sunset on the 9th, presumably, or about 4 hours after the inspection. The Russians seems to not see it in between videos. Someone has moved it around in between videos. Conclusions to draw from that will vary, but let's get these details laid out together so we can start.

I'll propose the local activists literally removed it to trick the Russians into this 'blatant denial.' They would move it as little as possible, but to somewhere they could keep the Russians from looking. There would be hand-sized patches of dust at least wiped off.

I'll leave it to 'credible professionals' and Bellingcat et al. to propose the Russians tried to physically remove it but failed, left it there, and tried blatant denial instead. 

Project: did the Russians deny CW signs publicly prior to sunset on the 9th? If not, there's no public reason to make that 7:02 video to prove them wrong - unless they had some other reason to anticipate that they would be reporting that. Maybe they knew they had removed it after the mid-day video, and predicted the Russians would report the truth of what they saw - the stupid saps, walking right into traps. 

Late Arrival to the Crime Scene
More Views of the Gas Cylinder
<Add 4/17> New imagery was published in the last day. CBS News sees the canister, about as seen.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/syria-inside-douma-the-site-of-apparent-chemical-attack-2018-04-16/
In better resolution, from outside and inside, Swedish TV4 also shows us more.
video 1, w/inside view https://www.tv4play.se/program/nyheterna/3967012
video 2, w/basement story https://www.tv4play.se/program/nyheterna/3966948

Comparing the TV4 interior view with the night-time view, something surprising happened. I debunked my own leading argument (at the moment).  That was the hole in the roof, looking onto some mysterious glow, with no gas cylinder jammed in to block the view. Not just me - everyone who saw this agreed.
In this longer video: https://twitter.com/amer_almohibany/status/982859028324929536
at 1:30, they reach the uppermost floor and step into a dark room - the camera pans up to  a blob of light crossed by bars looks like a hole in the roof onto ... some kind of light outside. Below is a useful enhanced composite view from Michael Kobs.

But ... Guess what? It no longer leads. There are many other points, but in need of refinement I wasted here. The old text and images are almost useless now, but remain below until I decide what to salvage, etc. New notes after the new image.

https://twitter.com/CL4Syr/status/986215986578604032







...

Notes (partial, to be improved as needed):...hate to do this, but I think the hole is bigger, the sky is seen though it and it appears black, the cylinder is there, and it's what we took for the hole to a light source that remained mysterious. Rather, this is the camera light reflecting off the tank's yellow paint, through the surface grit, apparently. It seems oddly bright, but note it matches perfectly, explaining why one part of the "hole" seems brighter than the other part, and why the difference is curve-shaped. That odd slat of metal it rests on is there. 
Basically I layered the scenes so they matched about 98%, skewing the TV4 view to fit the other (Kobs, with cleaner 'hole' added, enhanced). In the left image, the darker ring doesn't mean this is the hole, it's just more enhanced, Should fix that... But in spots, it almost marks the hole, which seems about as large then as it is now. The hanging part doesn't line up due to different perspective (cropped off here), but ceiling features do, about 98%. After that, everything just starts lining up - the rebar, the corner slat it rests on, the 'hole' and the reason one part is lighter, etc.

I was stumped and disappointed about this for a minute or two. Then excited to own the inevitable destruction of this point, instead of someone else. Note: this is the same scene we still consider pretty fake-seeming. It just existed at attack time (this to be explored in some detail in another spot). And it still gets moved around later, as shown above. It's still the "CW barrel bomb" that maybe wasn't there when the Russian investigators were let in. Separately, my original guess on hole correlation and thus angle of canister below were also wrong. It was a fair enough guess fom what I had, and the whole issue is now moot.<end 4/17>

<4/18>There are still those who think this must be a hole that just happens to be that shape, or alternately that this is a different canister, one that's cleaner, more reflective, free of scratches. But I maintain the shape of the canister, likely hole, rebar, and added slats, all are undeniable. The appearance of the cylinder is still almost bizarre - like a ghostly night vision or photo negative ffect or something. But I se too little reason they would set this up with anything other than the common yellow tanks they have all over, have used frequently, and would be blaming here. The weird glow is  probably down to surface reflectivity, light type, image processing in the camera, and possibly video editing to give us a random false lead. Or possibly another tank they swapped out later and then moved around. But it's not a small, canister-shaped hole where a larger hole and everything else we see would later be.<end 4/18>
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old text mainly deleted...
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Was it There When it Landed?
(added 4/21)
So far, two points of presence are questioned, and one of those was quickly answered 'oops, it apparently was there.' Now let's go further back in time, to when this thing first allegedly crashed into the roof.

By reports, this happened the night of the 7th, depending on your source at around 7PM, around 9PM, or even 10:22PM. The first view we get is the night video showing the not-hole in the ceiling. I'm not sure what time that is, but it and related images were online by around midnight. Various clues suggest a decent time span has passed since these people died - at least an hour, maybe 3 hours or more; it's hard to say. 

The views of the room interior are very limited. Some bits will be included for comparison. The better view is from Swiss TV4, but filmed much later - April 16 or so.
night video (see 1:35): https://twitter.com/amer_almohibany/status/982859028324929536
TV4 (first 15 seconds) https://www.tv4play.se/program/nyheterna/3967012

By this time anyway, people have laid domestic items: clothing, bagged blankets, perhaps diapers, a basket, etc. on top of the rubble. Someone has also started a fire on top of the rubble. It seems it was pretty energetic from the stains, started with lighter fluid. Allegedly, the rubble is all from that night's gas cylinder impact, so all this activity must be after that as well. How long after?

Comparing the night-of video, I can't yet correlate any of the seen objects, nor correlate where the red oriental rug gives way to rubble. But from another view, we can see the basic picture of rubble, then things laid on top, is present then, just a few hours after the alleged attack. It's possible someone came in here after the gas attack to set some things aside. But why? And why didn't they drop dead here?

<add 4/22>Michael Kobs and others with some relevant adds:
room and floor confusion: Kobs explains "There is a small room with carpet, the white brick and the gray backpack (?) before the room with the window. When you enter the window room then the pile of black ash is to the left in the corner (also seen from above through the hole. The window is the same."
https://twitter.com/MichaKobs/status/987998721685229568

gray bag, red carpet area comes before rubble area
https://twitter.com/HRIMark/status/988017218737799169

What I think happened: this place was hit with a projectile or small bomb some time ago. It was fairly small and heavy, probably smaller in diameter than this gas cylinder. It fully entered, bending the bar where seen, tearing the cross-bars free there, ripping that long segment of material down and to the right with its main force, and a smaller segment to the left. That doesn't happen when the object just hits it from above and then stops.

The grid of reinforcing bar was pushed down or projected shockwaves, causing the lines we see like scratches: concrete disrupted along the grid lines. The material shaken free of the rebar cage fell all over the floor, leaving that concavity in the ceiling, including the proper hole all the way though. Then later, someone placed these domestic items here for no particular reason, and started the fire, and placed the gas cylinder. The order is only partially clear.

The fire is mysterious, possibly related to the events here. Its smoke perhaps coated to ceiling and upper corners of the room, and likely caused the smoke stains we see on the portion of the cylinder right above the hole - see TV4 view below.  This would be the underside at that time, later rotated. (note the cut-off line compared to hole edge - the 'parted hair' down the middle would be the original bottom, with smoke dividing to roll up either side). The rotation seen in Higgins' deleted tweet video still is likely, but not certainly, the original position at the time.  

In the night-time video, it's hard to see if there are these smoke stains on the walls or signs of that fire. That could be added later yet, or present at the time - unclear at the moment.

So the canister was added before the fire, but not necessarily before the hole was made. If it was the impacting object as alleged, it would probably be more damaged, as well as inside the room, if it had punched that hole. And the gap in the rebar might have to be bigger. It's possible an object like this would hit and not fully penetrate, but that would not explain the flung material we see, nor the exact way this seems to have stopped.

It's not really jammed into the rebar, but resting freely on top of it, easily rotated between views as we saw above. Considering the views show from above and below, it seems the canister's nozzle end rests on one or another segment of rebar (apparently the straight one, with the other bending beneath it) and two thin, twisted slats of metal that crisscross the hole, also resting on the rebar grid. There's also a piece of the broken concrete the slid into the area, probably not part of the arrangement.

How on Earth can a flying projectile violently puncture the ceiling, and have pieces of debris suddenly get underneath it?

Clearly, these things are not part of the impact violence, but were added later. But why? It might seem like they help keep it from falling in, but it doesn't seem like It would fall in anyway, with too small a gap. The slats cover the valve so we can't see it clearly - is that why? Did they help deflect the gas more down into the room, for example? Anyway, it seems clearly set up after impact.

But oddly, those same slats there at night. Even that stray piece of concrete is already there (green). There might be something else at the time right over the nozzle area, or that might be a shadow - unclear. Did someone climb up there and prop it up like that within a couple hours, as it was spewing gas?

No. It was probably arranged like this before gas release, if there was any. The fire might cause enough heat to burst the valve and start release, for instance (depending on pressure of fill, it might stay put).  But I'm not convinved it even released any gas - it might have just been placed there full or empty, not emitting anything and just to create the impression of a CW attack.

<add 4/22>That bit of concrete marked green - it's there in post-attack videos. It's there the night of the 7th. But further above, I noted it had not slid into place in the deleted Higgins photo, only by the time of the WH video. I took those both as April 9 videos, but unless that piece slid into the hole, was later pushed back in place, and slid back again at the same angle - that's possible - that deleted photo might be from before the night-of video, from April 7 or earlier.

Michael Kobs and others with some relevant adds:

10:55 first known posting of scene photos
https://twitter.com/MichaKobs/status/987975214834376706

floor plan, first floor
https://twitter.com/MichaKobs/status/987663151230586880
(with a body noted later...)

canister 3-D
https://twitter.com/MichaKobs/status/986908965626941440
https://twitter.com/MichaKobs/status/986952981533921280

prior damage noted
https://twitter.com/ilmastoblogi/status/986150563388821505
https://twitter.com/Deus_Abscondis/status/987667873739956225
windows blown out (complicating the creep of deadly gas all the way down that stairwell, out the front door, in the other dorr, and down to the basement...)
Many circumstantial signs that the apartments here weren't inhabited. It seems deserted, if not long-deserted. But that could be a false impression.
<end 4/22>

Review (updated 4/21)
* Unknown day before April 7: damage probably caused by something other than the cylinder (it's not there yet)
* Midnight April 7/8, just after attack: cylinder seemingly there now
* Sometime April 8: cylinder there, unseen photos
* App. 1 pm April 8 or 9: video of cylinder there (seen frame)
* App. 3 pm April 9: Russian investigators visit, apparently find it not there (can we have video for that part?)
* 7:02 pm April 9 (presumed): video of cylinder there, but in a different position, rotated and angled differently
* Thereafter: so far it appears to have stayed in the second position