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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Al-Quds Hospital Blast: An Inside Job?

Adam Larson, aka Caustic Logic
March 1/2, 2017
last adds March 6

This famous subject should need little introduction, but a few basics and a few other details are helpful. This rebel-affiliated hospital in East Aleppo was supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). After an alleged attack of April 27, 2016 it was originally declared by MSF "destroyed by at least one airstrike which directly hit the building, reducing it to rubble." They think it was hit twice; one strike damaged the entrance to the emergency ward, and another 5 minutes later destroyed the emergency room itself and the upper floors at once. It's not clear what kind of munitions were supposedly  used, "barrel bomb," missile, or what. After "recovering bodies from deep under the rubble," it was alleged 55 people were killed. (see ACLOS for more)

By now all agree the building appeared moderately damaged but totally intact at the time, and still does.

Note: the roof is not blown off  - there never was one. That's just a decorative wall around the edge of the roof - see Russian aerial view from April 29. That shows the roof is intact as well. Nothing blew in through the front wall, the side wall, or the roof.  It simply does not seem to have ever suffered a direct air attack. MSF acknowledged Al-Quds was back in operation after 20 days and some repairs. A reasonable conclusion , widely reached, is that the hospital was mildly damaged from a strike to a nearby building, and all else was probably just made up.

moment of detonation as seen in the main hall
This is clear to everyone by now, but it's based on views from the outside. That almost certainly does rule out an external attack, which was the allegation. But it doesn't address the security camera footage from inside the hospital that shows there was a powerful blast. Actually there are three blast scenes from three different cameras, and we'll consider all of them here. But one is most-often referred to (see frames at right, and bigger below).

This was presented as coming from outside, from the air strike. We're to presume this flash (and ensuing plumes of smoke and debris is from an aircraft's weaponry, blasting through this external wall, or coming in that doorway anyway.

But anyone who's bought that should look back above and ask which external wall this flash and blast came through. It couldn't be either, because they're intact. So, if not the outer walls ... what gives here?
How the Precedent Swings
It isn't essential, but helpful, to know from the start about the three previous attacks on the same hospital that were reported by MSF (September report). Twice, they heard (July and August, 2015), government barrel bombs were involved; both were aimed at other buildings, and only caused indirect damage, and caused no injuries. Until April 27, the most deadly incident at the hospital was this earlier and possibly illustrative episode:
  • June 2014 - Gun fire /Kidnapping: A member of an armed group arrived to the hospital and demanded a service that was unavailable at the time. Angered by the refusal of service, the member of the armed group fired shots in the hospital and kidnapped a member of the staff. 1 hospital staff member killed and 1 kidnapped. ...
It seems the unnamed group had the perp's back, and it took a massive strike of sorts by all hospitals in east Aleppo to demand the group hand the hostage back unharmed. It's unclear if that happened.

(note: one later attack is listed in the report: Aug. 14, 2016 Al-Quds and another hospital (Zarzour) were hit the same day, right after al-Quds got its latest MSF supplies, which were likely all ruined and had to be re-sent. )

Presumptions have been that the April attack was more like the 2015 "barrel bomb" attacks. Something else - maybe legitimate - was the target, and al-Quds took some flak. And it may be so in this case, but we may have two answers; it was reportedly hit with two direct attacks. And as we'll see, that answer can't cover the alleged, deadly, and multi-part second strike. And it might not apply at all.

Could this be more like the 2014 incident, but more extreme? Ain Jalout school, a base for Jabhat al-Nusra, was destroyed in a first air strike of the night, just minutes before the hospital, MSF heard. That's too far off to have damaged the hospital, but it was then flooded with their fighters, wounded and maybe frustrated at times ... Something happened. It seems something near the entrance, and the emergency room both blew up. Maybe someone blamed the hospital for a friend's death, for example, shot up the entrance, and threw some grenades into the the E.R.

But even that would fail to explain the evidence we'll consider now. (see also ACLOS talk page where I started this, and will likely continue, besides adding to the front page, etc.)

Dr. Maaz Walks into a Blast?
Among a reported six staff members and some 49 patients and others that were allegedly killed in the attack, the most famous victim is a Dr. Muhamad Maaz. He was said to be the last pediatrician "in Aleppo," meaning rebel-held east Aleppo, until he was killed in the second blast. 

It's said he left the intensive care ward and was about to start his night shift in the emergency room. It's 8:39:05 by time-stamp (the time is apparently off, early by about an hour). The following is important. Note he's seen on three different floors in sequence, down one flight of stairs, then over (around the broken elevator) and down the next. I didn't know floors, so to avoid confusion, I gave them letters - d,c,b, with room for "a" below if needed. It turns out the final hallways is the the main hall, connected to the main entrance we've seen, on the ground floor, so b=1, c=2, d=third floor. 

cnn vid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1Wg-xeUUnY

We've established there were five above-ground levels, plus the walled roof. We also heard from MSF that the second blast destroyed the upper two floors. But that's unproven; they aren't shown at all here among what seems to be the bottom three. (There's probably a basement level or even 2 of them, but that's probably irrelevant.)

The stairwell should always be on the same side of the hall, and it is - the right side. So these cameras are all facing the same way and there's no confusion. (There are 2 stairwells on floor 1, but the one on the left must only go down, as there's no second set on the upper floors)

Maaz  passes floor c, and gets to floor b at 8:40:53, with an awkward step. A guy looks at him. He pauses, adjusts his booties for a long shift, and walks towards camera 13 and towars the main entrance. He turns off-frame at 8:41:02. Then suddenly it's 8:42:12, and flash. Below are two consecutive frames. Between them, digits change too much, and the sliver of a barely-open door in the background disappears (lime green box).

This edit is in both versions of the footage, so it was done before it was handed over to Channel 4 and CNN Arabic (and, it seems, no one else). It's not clear this proves any deception, or just a dramatic cut. It wouldn't be a good deception. News reports tend to say he walks off-frame, and then "moments later," the blast. Is it more like 2 moments, or 70? Maybe they don't want to step on anyone's toes, and don't specify.

The 1:10 is not all missing: 28 seconds is missing, then (earlier in the video sequence) three guys wheel out a person on a gurney (time:8:41:30-8:41:43 - that's after Maaz entered). Then there's 29 second unseen, then the blast. (see blasts timeline below) How this adds up is unclear, but it's established.

This should be emergency room - Dr. Muhammad Maaz was said to be on his way to work there when he died, and MSF heard it hit there, so he must have been there, and that must be it. Whatever it is, there's no video footage from there. It must have all been destroyed? The video New York Times got of the aftermath briefly pans over the other door(s) into the room (between the red and green boxes above), - see 1:43. It has gurneys and seems burned, is all we can say from the quick blur. No photos of it were released.

So, Maaz walks in ... presumably stays ... and after a minute or so a strange blast. Below, see on the left horizontal puffs of smoke through ... the windows of doors on the left, or something in that area, either in or on the other side of that wall.  Then the flash, then the blast wave. This seems to be right on the other side of that left wall and detonating there - the door to the left and those windowed doors likely open on the same room behind that wall. Did someone have a bomb inside the emergency room and detonate it?

Blast on Floor C and the Opposing Blasts Problem
At the same moment, 8:42:12 by time-stamp, there's a blast - presumably the same one - seen on the second floor (c). Camera 5 shows a woman is standing in the corner (top left frame below). First we see light smoke, coming from high, possibly down the stairwell (bottom left frame, and note as the windows shows a new light outside). Depth is hard to read clearly here. But then an odd, small flash occurs, up high somewhere in that same area. Then heavy black smoke rolls in from the right, as the wallpaper is blown off the opposite wall (bottom right), and then a door flings open as smoke billows around. After, the woman is down and still. Later, people are giving her, or someone, blood for their injuries.

Here's the problem: the stairwell is on the right side of the hall in each case. On floor C, the blast comes from the right, the stairwell side (compare to Dr. Maaz's walk above). As shown above, the smoke and apparently the flash on floor b come from the left side. Double-check that if needed. These must be two different blasts, coming from opposite directions, but all at once. 

Logically, there can't be any outside attack from two opposite directions. Whether it's front-and-back or left-and-right, one missile would have to plow through other buildings first before they met in the middle at the same time. And, of course, the other would have to pass through walls that we can see weren't passed through. 

But where else can two different blasts in the same building come from? Maybe ... different rooms? Was this completely an "inside job?"

The External Portion
Now we turn to the third of three blasts seen, providing an exterior aspect. I guess we're supposed to presume this is where the missile or barrel bomb hit. I thank My Home Syria on Youtube for bringing this to my attention (analysis, part 2, about 3 min. in). It seems the same pre-smoking explosion is seen here in front of the hospital. So how does this connect?

Here are two views compared, from the two and only known versions of the footage (CNN Arabic: top, and Channel 4 (UK), bottom (not the best copy, sorry).) Marked in each: the median's near edge, top of the light pole, and a white van parked up against the pole.  The van is visible in the CNN view (an earlier scene). That video doesn't show the important scene. Channel 4's does, but it's obscured under government blame.

I have my reservations, but there's a case to be made this blast lines up just with the back half of that van. For a few frames before, I think we see some little puffs of smoke about there, similar to the pre-blast smoke inside. Then it flashes - first, seems like the van is just glowing, right along its edge. Is that a blast wave?  It's a low light, on that or a similar line (see shrubbery shadows below).

However, the light may be at the wrong angle for that, and the van may remain intact ... more analysis to see if I can figure out how to figure that out. Exact location not set, but it will be approximately in front of the entrance.
(Add 3/2: it seems likely the blast is a bit behind that van, not in it. Earlier, the space behind the van is empty. But later we can't see if anyone pulled in behind after the last footage. If it was a white car, maybe ... I don't see a white car. Could another kind, or none. Maybe the blast is at the entrance, but it's apparently not inside the entrance (the light is very bright and expansive, not narrowed as if shining through a doorway) So, it's an outside blast, but the finer details are unclear so far. It could even be a mortar strike, but it seems to line up very perfectly with these other blasts, and seems similar, so likely, it's something on the ground, and on the same timer).   
After this, the detonation flares again (secondary blast, or just video artifact? It's very quick), and a cloud of smoke and large, amber-colored sparks rise up and swirl on the wind. The color might suggest aluminum particles, like from a missile tube or a vehicle that blew up. Later, we'd see a blown-up and crushed car, and no sign of this van, but the scene needs more analysis to see what makes most sense.

Unlike the others, this blast has started a fire that's still burning five minutes later (see timeline below). Blown-up vehicles will do that.
Add 3-6: Video of the obscured scene - the blast clearly is not in the van, but behind it and closer to, or perhaps at/in the entrance. There may be related objects in the moments before that, small and white, moving around the van. But these are hard to separate for sure from the many blowing dust particles and their related video artifacts (tracers and echoes).
And notes from after the smoke clears (not shown here): we see a van driving off. It may be a different van. The camera has shifted views so we can't see that area. The light has been knocked off its pole and left dangling (as it would be seen the next day). Some apparent power lines, however, were already down. They seem to be laying across the van, and are illuminated there by the flash (see video). 
Inside Job?
At the same moment, the same kind of smoke-then-explosion occurred, probably, then explosion in multiple spots. I have no guess what this is - that's not my area. In my tentative mapping at right, they're clearly in three different spots. The blue line is Dr. Maaz. (also at the top/back is floor 2's hall and window superimposed)

- Outside the entrance is different from inside the E.R., where smoke is coming out the other doors before the blast. So that isn't just an outside bomb shining in here.
- The other one is upstairs and already shown to be unconnected.

Logically, this almost has to be an inside job, by the kind of guy with keys to different rooms. He might have  a grudge, got hooked up with rival jihadists, or helped steal all the money. A guy like that might agree to plant bombs and fake his own death, etc. He may have walked off, dropped a final bomb in a parked car. Or perhaps others helped with some, or all of it.

Maybe it was meant to line up with this video proof to show an outside-to-inside "attack" - at least to the gullible. Because the "air strike" did this deadly and well-coordinated work  all without leaving a mark on the outside walls or roof. It's brilliant! ... sort of. Not really, when you're going to blame an air strike. What were they thinking? We'll never know.

Who were they? We might know that someday soon. One suspect is pretty obvious, but that could be a tricky illusion. Dr. Maaz might just be an innocent victim.

But we don't need to name suspects anyway, just show that it's got nothing to do with the government's much-frustrated efforts to reclaim Aleppo from the occupying terrorists.

How does it line up with a presumably legitimate strike on the Jabhat al-Nusra base minutes before? This was "at exactly 9:37 pm" as HRW heard, and the hospital was hit around 9:45 and 9:50, with a "staff residence" nearby hit in between, around 9:40 (all estimates - only the Nusra base has an exact time.) First, that base was already mostly-destroyed, I hear. It's not clear another strike even made sense. JaN might have blown the remainder themselves, and then continued the "regime attack" into something blame-worthy. And then, if that was a government hit, maybe the terrorists were waiting for it, and launched the follow-on "hospital attack" for them as soon as those bombs fell. That's two ways it could line up fine.

Now let' re-consider the first blast near the hospital. It was just as outside as that apparent coordinated car bomb was. Was it part of the same inside job? If this was pre-planned, odds are slim that something nearby, 5 minutes earlier, was anyone else' plan.

In fact, it might be the trigger to Dr. Maaz it was time for shift change. Everyone else runs around wondering what that was (on the second floor, at 8:37:57 - men go down to look, women stand by). But one floor above, he seems unaware or unconcerned. One minute later (8:39:05), with 3 minutes left before the other half of this "double-tap," he's locking the door, and putting the key in his pocket. To me, this seems strange in itself. He heads down to the ER with his heavy shoulder bag (to die?), passing fairly near the supposedly damaged entrance (with no sign of damage, commotion, or worry, and no sideways glance from the doctor). He acts as if nothing unusual is going on. Then the video record breaks and things get fuzzy.

What about that locked door on the third floor? That floor isn't shown after he leaves it.  It's perhaps exactly above the blast on level 2. Layout suggests the window seen on floor 2 faces the back of the building, maybe on a breezeway between buildings (it must extend further back than it seems relative to the stairwell).

If so, the light must be reflecting off concrete from ... the window of the floor above. The first floor main hall ends in a wall, that's part of the side entrance hallway. So any back window there would not allow light from the ER or entrance-area blasts. It can;t be from 1 (no window), or 2 (no detonation yet), so it must be higher, and apparently just a bit.

So it seems likely there was a third-floor blast of some power. If so, the detonation there was a split-second before this one. So is what we see that blast breaking through the floor, or a separate one rigged up beneath it? This could be a visual minimum of four separately-placed bombs.

Or it could just be three - the difference is pretty minimal. This could still bear more professional scientific and/or criminal investigation to build a legally admissible and unassailable case. But I'm calling it proven already. The al-Quds hospital bombing, blamed on the the Syrian government, was clearly an inside-job, with origins somewhere in the brutal and deceptive culture of terrorist-occupied Syria. It means you can't trust these "activist" sources. It means all the condemnations and demands placed on Syria over this "unacceptable violation" have been misdirected. Will there ever be any furor from the same quarters that's properly directed? I doubt it. Someone else will have to take up this case.

Reference: Blasts timeline
(note: Video time-stamp are off by about (and maybe exactly) one hour from MSF-reported times - refer to fuller CNN Arabic version)
  • interior footage starts 8:37:57, with commotion on floor "c" suggesting a noise outside, nearby, that people are a bit worried about (0:10 in the video). Men go downstairs to investigate, women go back in the rooms. Time estimate for that noise then is about 8:37:30-50. No sign of any damage, smoke etc. inside at this point, from any camera view. (could this be slow reaction to the semi-distant Ain Jalout strike at "exactly 9:37?" Or the first strike at the hospital's entrance? If it's the former, then there's no reaction to any nearer strike. This is the only commotion we see before the blasts inside.)
  • 8:39:05 (video) - Dr. Maaz locks the room on floor "d", then goes downstairs
  • 8:39:35 - external camera shows possible dust from earlier strike blowing on the wind, no new explosions.
  • 8:40:53-8:41:02: floor "b" Dr. Maaz walks into (emergency room?) (1:04 in the video)
  • 8:41:30-8:41:43 - floor "b" patient rolled from (ER?) down the hall, into another door (0:30 in the video)
  • 9:45 (app.): MSF estimates first "direct attack"  on the hospital, damaging the entrance to the emergency room
- second blast(s):
  • 8:42:12 floor "b" - smoke, the big blast (from E.R.?)
  • 8:42:12 floor "c" - smoke, then small blast (from above, stairwell side?)
  • 8:42:12 external - smoke, then a bright, low-level, sparkling blast with no rubble, some smoke (from below, in or by a parked van?)
  • 8:47:02, external -seems the building, or truck, still burning? Bright fire and smoke rising from below.
  • 9:50 (app.): MSF estimates second direct air strike hits emergency room and/or the 2 upper floors

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