the home of online investigations

The Chemical Realities of Russia’s Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Warehouse Attack Claims

April 5, 2017

By Dan Kaszeta

Translations: Русский

In response to allegations of a chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4th 2017 the Russian Ministry of Defence made a statement where it claimed a warehouse containing chemical agents was hit in the same town as the attacks were reported to have occurred:

The Syrian Air Force has destroyed a warehouse in Idlib province where chemical weapons were being produced and stockpiled before being shipped to Iraq, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The strike, which was launched midday Tuesday, targeted a major rebel ammunition depot east of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

The warehouse was used to both produce and store shells containing toxic gas, Konashenkov said. The shells were delivered to Iraq and repeatedly used there, he added, pointing out that both Iraq and international organizations have confirmed the use of such weapons by militants.

From a technical chemical weapons perspective, it seems unlikely that the Russian “warehouse/depot” narrative is plausible as the source of the chemical exposure seen on April 4th.  To date, all of the nerve agents used in the Syrian conflict have been binary chemical warfare agents, so-named because they are mixed from several different components within a few days of use.  For example, binary Sarin is made by combining isopropyl alcohol with methylphosphonyl difluoride, usually with some kind of additive to deal with the residual acid produced.  The nerve agent Soman can also be produced through a binary process.  The nerve agent VX has a similar binary process, although it proved to be a more complicated process than merely mixing the materials.

There are several reasons why the Assad regime would use binary nerve agents. Binary nerve agents were developed by the US military in order to improve safety of storage and handling, so that the logistical chain would not have to actually handle nerve agents.  The US had developed some weapon systems that mixed the materials in flight after firing.  These particular weapon systems were the M687 155mm binary Sarin artillery shell, the XM736 8 inch binary VX artillery shell, and the Bigeye binary VX air-dropped bomb.  All were the product of lengthy research and development efforts, and none of them worked terribly well in practice, particulary the VX weapons.  There is no evidence that the Assad regime has ever made or  fielded “mix-in-flight” binary weapons.  OPCW inspections after Syria’s accession to the CWC in 2013 revealed a variety of fixed and mobile mixing apparatus for making binary nerve agents.

The other key reason for binary Sarin is that only a few countries really ever cracked the technology for making “unitary” Sarin that had any kind of useful shelf-life. The main chemical reaction that produces Sarin creates 1 molecule of hydrogen fluoride (HF), a potent and dangerous acid, for every molecule of Sarin.  This residual HF destroys nearly anything the Sarin is stored in, and quickly degrades the Sarin.  The US and USSR had devoted a huge effort to finding a way out of this problem.  They found different ways to refine the HF out of the Sarin using very expensive heavy chemical engineering techniques which, for obvious reasons, are best not described here.  Syria either did not develop such techniques or decided it was far cheaper, safer, and easier to stockpile binary components for a “mix it as you need it” process.  Hence the “mobile mixing equipment” found by the OPCW.  Nor did Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which had huge problems with the short shelf life of its Sarin.

Even assuming that large quantities of both Sarin precursors were located in the same part of the same warehouse (a practice that seems odd), an air-strike is not going to cause the production of large quantities of Sarin.  Dropping a bomb on the binary components does not actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent.  It is an infantile argument.  One of the precursors is isopropyl alcohol.  It would go up in a ball of flame.  A very large one.  Which has not been in evidence.

Another issue is that, if the Syrian regime actually did believe that the warehouse stored chemical warfare agents, then striking it deliberately was an act of chemical warfare by proxy.

Finally, we are back to the issue of industrial capacity.  It takes about 9 kg of difficult to obtain precursor materials to generate the necessary steps to produce Sarin.  The ratio is similar with other nerve agents.  Having a quantity of any of the nerve agents relies on a sophisticated supply chain of exotic precursors and an industrial base. Are we to seriously believe that one of the rebel factions has expended the vast sums of money and developed this industrial base, somehow not noticed to date and not molested by attack?  It seems an unlikely chain of events.

Dan Kaszeta

Dan is the managing director of Strongpoint Security Ltd, and lives and works in London, UK. He has 27 years experience in CBRN response, security, and antiterrorism.

Join the Bellingcat Mailing List:

Enter your email address to receive a weekly digest of Bellingcat posts, links to open source research articles, and more.

Support Bellingcat

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the below link:

164 Comments

  1. Justice

    Right on Target . The Syrian people will have to endure the wrath of the new crusaders and their local agents. This war was never about anything but the oppression of the Muslims to prevent the rise of a new Islamic empire. All these countries involved in so called was on terrorism are the biggest sponsor of terrorism , dictatorships and thieves. Only an idiot believe a word that comes out of any news outlet of the crusaders and their puppets.

    Reply
    • Dan

      Meanwhile back on planet Earth the Muslim dictator Assad is responsible for the deaths of 500 000 Syrian Muslims and the exiling of millions more.

      Reply
      • stranger

        And the American government who has heated up the civil war in Syria and provided their proxy with the lethal weapon is not responsible in anything?
        And jikhadists who have slaughtered the people just for been of other religion or nationality or whoever disagreed to join their numbers, are not guilty of anything?
        Only Assad has started this civil war and only Assd is killing people by hundreds houthands?
        Assad is not Muslim btw, Syria is a SECULAR state, until ISIS or the Sunni “moderate jhikhadists” who the Saudi Arabia and US support and arm have captured the power and turned secular Syria is a backward Islamic state a la poor Saudi Arabia.

        Reply
        • Yuri

          Well at least it’s not the little Kremlin jokes who are sending troops to die, violinists to play and choirs to sing on ruins of Palmyra.

          “provided their proxy with the lethal weapon is not responsible in anything?”- you should cut and paste this one into previous discussions about Buks and Donbass 🙂

          Reply
        • Mad Dog

          Boy oh boy, I just love hearing the RT line. We all of course know that Assad started this little adventure because he could not stand anyone protesting against his ‘benevolent rule’, kind of like the attitude that Czar Putin has which ends up smothering any kind of dissent. Not as nasty as the Assad family, but just as nefarious. Turning away from being a secular country lies squarely at the dirty feet of Assad, no where else.

          Reply
          • stranger

            You are a victim of you propaganda, Mad Dog 🙂 there are interests of many countries intersected over Syria, first of all its neighbors by the Middle East.

      • MPEG121982

        Meanwhile, also on planet Earth, our Saudi Arabian allies are starving thousands of Yemenis to death without a peep of opposition from the Syria hawks.

        Reply
    • Peter

      What out-space planet do you originate from?

      The first step to becoming a Jihadist is the acceptance of every grievance, real of contrived, as a direct assault on the “Muslims”, who BTW, murder more Muslims every year, than any “Crusaders”.

      I suggest you return to reality, because the path of Jihad leads to a very gruesome and unrewarding death in the deserts of Iraq.

      Reply
  2. Paveway IV

    “…To date, all of the nerve agents used in the Syrian conflict have been binary chemical warfare agents…”

    Curious how you’re so sure about this, Dan. Do you know personally if the Jobar FSA Sarin landmines that sickened/killed SAA troops were binary? How about the Sarin rockets in Kahn al-Assal the rebels used on the SAA? I mean, they certainly could have been, but the OPCW kind of ignored those, didn’t it? Don’t you mean to say that all the UN-destroyed Syrian stockpile, specifically, was binary?

    And by ‘all’, you mean all one – Sarin. I have not heard any reports or confirmation of VX or any other nerve agent used in Syria (besides speculation), unless you know something we don’t. And we actually have no idea if Sarin was responsible for the deaths and injuries in Khan Sheikhoun. Once again (like East Ghouta) there seem to be many kinds of injuries and symptoms inconsistent with those know to accompany Sarin. Videos emphasize the small number of casualties exhibiting such symptoms, but they seem to be a remarkably small percentage overall. Nonetheless, I see Turkish Civil Defense chem teams showed up surprisingly early, almost like they expected the attack. I’m sure we’ll be presented with their ‘proof’ implicating Assad any time now.

    “…Even assuming that large quantities of both Sarin precursors were located in the same part of the same warehouse (a practice that seems odd)…”

    Odd for head-choppers? I didn’t know they were such safety nuts! They didn’t seem to have many worries about precursors close to each other in Jobar. I’m going out on a limb and assuming “in the same tunnel” qualifies as “close to each other”. The SAA seemed suitably terrified to find that – well, the ones that didn’t die and actually made it out of the tunnel.

    “…an air-strike is not going to cause the production of large quantities of Sarin.”

    Not large quantities, but the potential for *some*. And you surely know the consequences of methylphosphonyl DF exposure, right? Providing the head-choppers were making Sarin, which we don’t really know. Could have been some other nasty CW agent – not sure what their Turkish suppliers are sending over nowadays. There is no need to presume anything was mixed – the precursors (if there were any) are plenty toxic in their own right.

    “…The US and USSR had devoted a huge effort to finding a way out of this problem…”

    Binding the HF wasn’t the problem. It was removing the residual bound fluoride so the mixture was as pure as possible. A consideration for self-life and the small quantity a shell/rocket would hold. Head-choppers certainly wouldn’t have the same worries for a crude bomb or land mine. NATO, Israel and the USSR went to great effort to produce unary Sarin as pure as possible or binary Sarin as concentrated as possible through whatever method. That’s an entirely different engineering problem than just producing a sufficiently neutralized short shelf-life product.

    “…Dropping a bomb on the binary components does not actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent. It is an infantile argument…”

    Well, it’s a stretch, but once again you’re assuming binary Sarin. We have no idea at this point. But the mere suggestion of binary components mixing when the warehouse is bombed: ‘infantile’? What kind of CBRN snobbery is that?

    “…Another issue is that, if the Syrian regime actually did believe that the warehouse stored chemical warfare agents, then striking it deliberately was an act of chemical warfare by proxy…”

    Whaaa..? Didn’t you just say that the argument was infantile? And Russia is guilty, not your head-chopper pals? If you remember, there were people salivating at the though of the US unloading a few hundred cruise missiles at Assad’s CW facilities a while back. Would that have constituted CW use by proxy?

    “…Are we to seriously believe that one of the rebel factions has expended the vast sums of money and developed this industrial base, somehow not noticed to date and not molested by attack?…”

    Whoa… you led us down the path of “it must be binary Sarin” and now you’re saying that it necessarily must have been home-brewed by the head-choppers? No, sorry – it doesn’t work like that. Head-chopper-backers are MUCH more likely to have supplied the precursors, binary components or whatever. The head-choppers were packaging it in the warehouse, not manufacturing it from scratch by any stretch of the imagination. Why that argument is… oh, never mind.

    Reply
    • H

      He never claimes it was ‘home-brewn’, he said the nature of these binary nerve agents neccesitates an industrial base for mixing the precursors into a working weapon and a sophisticated supply chain to get these exotic chemicals on the field. You havent answered this vore of the argument, despite your highly offensive and condescending writing style.

      Reply
      • Stephen

        Moment like the attack reveal to all these Western Assad supporters that they are indeed supporting a brutal, child murdering warcriminal. It offers a brief moment of clarity, which is then clamped down quickly by denial, attacking the messenger and the desperation of grasping at any narrative delivered by the Kremlin in order to justify them supporting Assad.

        Many fail to realize that they are lucky to live in a nation where they have the freedom to openly support somebody like Assad.

        Reply
      • Paveway IV

        You’re right about my writing style – I apologize for the tone. I’m still a bit cranky about my (and Dan’s) country killing one million Iraqis and 14 thousand U.S. soldiers based on lies. And then nearly doing the same thing in Syria based on lies, but replacing that strategy by doubling-down with a failed regime change force that was quickly infiltrated and taken over by head-choppers. Now more Syrians – and U.S. soldiers – are about to die for an unwinnable war (just like Afghanistan). Tripling-down by the specious Assad/CW red herring once again is insulting and condescending to me (and the Constitution of the U.S.), so I tend to argue back on that level.

        Head-choppers can mix binary components in a plastic bucked and pour it into a shell if suited up with the proper gear. You don’t need a three-story tall hermetically-sealed complex with glass-lined pressure vessels. A Toyota HiLux seems to work adequately for the “sophisticated supply chain”.

        Reply
        • DDTea

          You know what I’m angry about? A dictator that blatantly uses chemical weapons against civilians, and his apologists who insult our intelligence with ludicrous claims such as, “Head-choppers can mix binary components in a plastic bucked and pour it into a shell if suited up with the proper gear.”

          Maybe. But it’s more plausible that the Syrian regime did, given their self-acknowledged expertise in doing exactly that (though more sophisticated than buckets). Why are you searching for every reason to look away from the most explanation: that a regime willing to level its own cities to stay in power is also willing to gas its own people?

          Reply
          • stranger

            This war should be stopped and Syria united back. Half a million has died and even more will die. All armed groups should participate in the negotiations, who refuses shouldbe disarmed or destroyed. Whether Assad is a dictator can be discussed later. The United States during Obama together with Saudi Arabia, together with Turkey pursued own interests in Syria and provided their fighters, weapon, mass media support for their proxies, heating up and pouring oil in the flame of the civil war, covered by a legend of demonized Assad and noble “moderate opposition”. They shyly omitted that the “mild opposition” to a high degree consists of head-choppers and fanatic Islamic jhikhadists. The war should be ended, the Syria should stay SECULAR. As far as I can see it.

          • stranger

            Moreover the United States doesn’t insist any longer on Assad must go. They defend the civilian lives now. Which is great, if they valued civilians life’s in Aleppo and in Mosul equally..

          • samuel

            “A dictator that blatantly uses chemical weapons against civilians”

            There is no independent confirmation of this claim. Insofar, one has to handle it as a possibly lie.

            But seriously: Why on earth would Assad choose to use chemical weapons?
            The war goes currently well for him, there are even peace talks ongoing. He knows exactly there will possibly serious consequences for him, as the US declared the use of chemical weapons a red line. His supporters as well as rebel factions he would like to have a truce with won’t agree on killing syrians with gas either. If he wants to kill people, he could do that with conventional bombs much easier.

            There is no reason whatsover for him to choose a chemical weapon system instead of a conventional one, given the risks for him.

          • AlexJ

            @ samuel- April 5, 2017
            “There is no independent confirmation of this claim. Insofar, one has to handle it as a possibly lie.”

            Do independent confirmation must come from places like Cuba, Venezuela, China and other Communists when Untied Nations are not good?
            https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/dc3651.doc.htm

          • Ben

            “it’s more plausible that the Syrian regime did, given their self-acknowledged expertise in doing exactly that (though more sophisticated than buckets).”

            That’s where the red flag is. In don’t have the knowledge to ascertain the technical stuff here, but i know that the Assad regime has the upper hand in this war and is certainly winning. The Russians are making big efforts of mediation between the Warring factions and recent months showed that negociated withdrawals are favored over brute force for the government to take back control of towns. Read the Indepent’s Robert Fisk to learn more about this process. On Monday, the White House confirmed regime change was not a priority any more, ending backing of the rebels and perhaps heralding joint operations against Daesh.

            A chemical attack at this time DOES NOT MAKE SENSE TACTICALLY NOR STRATEGICALLY, given the predictable media backlash in the west. It simply doesn’t.

          • wrathofaton

            When you face lack of arguments, come up with the good ol’ “brutal, mass-murdering dictator” stories

          • frank

            It is not remotely plausible that Assad would be using CW, now. Trump says Assad is not a priority and a few days later MSM is putting out pics of dead kids. This is bait, carried out by those who want Assad gone

    • Ardjan

      Well written piece to confuse matters and make people doubt the obvious truth, chapeau!
      (Nobody links these attacks to St. Petersburg bombings day before? Phone-call from Moscow to Damascus was enough…)

      Reply
    • DDTea

      Rule #1: Never bet against Occam’s razor.

      Maybe an aircraft bomb hit a warehouse of unitary munitions. But then you have to explain how the heat of the explosion did not destroy the chemicals. When bombs fell on Saddam’s chemical stockpiles, there were no mass deaths in the surroundings–at most, there were ambiguous cases of “Gulf war sickness.”

      Maybe a bomb fell on a warehouse of separated binary chemicals. Now you have to explain 1) how the explosion did not ignite the 2-propanol, as Dan mentioned; or 2) how, in the midst of this fireball, the IPA magically combined with DF in the gas phase–which is not known to occur to any appreciable rate–rather than either IPA or DF undergoing kinetically-favored aerial decomposition. If “infantile” is not an appropriate word for this in your book, let me suggest “idiotic.” As in, “useful idiot for the regime.”

      On the other hand, there’s a much simpler explanation: nerve agent was dispersed by an aircraft bomb with a small burster charge. This is also consistent with the minimal physical damage at the impact site.

      Rule #2: Russia tells lies.

      Watch their statements: as more information becomes available, they will change details of their story without any reference to previous press releases and contradictory claims that they’ve made. The only consistency will be to blame the chemical attack on anti-Assad forces. This is 2013 Ghouta all over again.

      Reply
      • stranger

        Rule #3: not only Russia tells lies.
        Remember the tube with the white powder shaken in UN meeting as the justification to invade Iraq. Why do you think the history is not repeating itself here?

        And the Ocama’s razor should be used with cautions also.

        Reply
        • DDTea

          What exactly is your argument here: that because the Bush administration and Colin Powell lied about Iraq, that Russia *cannot* lie?

          Reply
          • stranger

            My argument is don’t rush to blame Russia is everything real or imaginary. My second argument we need to understand where and how the Occam’s razor is appropriate to use and where it doesnt work when applied formally. See the example of Occam with a razor.

          • Yuri

            Well of course we should not blame Russia. But its current little governors like Vovochka are known liars. Remember his lies on Ukraine / Crimea? Why would anyone trust this KGB creature? No reason.

      • stranger

        Because do you know what is Occam’s razor?? That refers to someone Occam who had some razor to shave. No need to invent s more complex explanation according to Occam’s razor. 😉

        Reply
      • Ghostship

        “When bombs fell on Saddam’s chemical stockpiles, there were no mass deaths in the surroundings–at most, there were ambiguous cases of “Gulf war sickness.””

        Because Saddam stored his chemical stockpiles in locations remote from population centres? The jihadists have shown no regard for the populations they are supposed to be defending, for example, using hospitals as military bases, so why should they show any concern for the public when it comes to storing chemical weapons?

        Reply
        • wrathofaton

          Exactly. It’s like all these people here forget that we are talking about the other side being al-Qaeda here!

          Reply
      • Mad Dog

        Pretty obvious, but RT followers will scurry about trying to punch holes in that synopsis. Of course Russia could send a drone over the ‘warehouse’ and provide evidence that it was the actual source, but it is much easier to send their trolls here to discredit any explanation that makes sense.

        Reply
    • Woody

      Judging from the crater on the road in Khan Sheikhoun, what kind of projectile could have delivered Sarin – after all it boils so low and burnmarks are visible?

      S-8 or similar rockets could leave such a crater but if you compare Tokio metro attack with sarin, 900 ml, the conditions in Khan Sheikhoun and the death toll far higher than that in Tokio would require far more sarin – if it survived the heat…

      Interested to hear your comments.

      Reply
      • DDTea

        Sarin would be dispersed as a liquid or aerosol. It boils at 158 C; water boils at 100 C. At 30 C, it has a vapor pressure of 400 Pascals; water is 4239 Pa at 30 C. So it’s going to evaporate more slowly than water.

        To become an aerosol requires either a) a pressurized cylinder attached to an atomizer, which was not seen here; or b) an explosive burst. You’re right: the quantity used here would have been far, far greater than the 900 mL used in the Tokyo subway (where there were 12 killed, 50 severe injuries in a confined space with limited ventilation). I’ve been estimating between 200-500 lbs (as much as 200 liters), a typical payload for an aircraft bomb.

        Simply dropping that quantity like a water balloon is going to create a big puddle. Not so effective. An explosive is going to be needed to disperse it. But that will also ignite/burn some of Sarin. It’s a trade-off: burn some of the sarin to disperse a whole lot more. Thus i expect a *small* explosive charge was used, perhaps no more than 10 kg. Just enough to create a plume of sarin that can fall back down onto the target site.

        We should expect, then, a sooty deposit near the impact site. It stands to reason if the entire payload of Sarin was *not* burned, then it was a “rich” (oxygen poor) fire: which should produce a sooty deposit/burn marks.

        Reply
    • Woody

      Bursting type would require submunitions – especially in case of sarin. No such submunitions have appeared in this case. Around the crater you see that a severe heatload has taken place at the impact moment. To carry submunitions you would need a far larger missile than the type that appears with what remains of it. The cylindrical form refers to a quite small rocket, not a submunition carrier.

      Reply
      • grouper42

        Just about all (with few exceptions) Chemical filled Projectiles, Rockets, and Bombs use a burster to rupture the warhead to release the contents. Here’s a few examples of some US Chemical Munitions and they all use a bursting charge (note; this is also SOP for the rest of the worlds chemical munitions); M60 105mm, M360 105mm, M104 155mm, M110A1/A2 155mm, M121/A1 155mm, M122 155mm, M687 155mm, M426 8-inch, M23 landmine, M55 rocket, MC-1 bomb, MK-94 bomb, Mk116 Weteye bomb, etc. Note; there are some warheads containing chemical submunition, spray type warheads, and a few other unique warhead designs for releasing chemical agents but I would guess that 90% of the worlds stockpile of chemical warheads uses a burster to accomplish this task.

        Reply
        • Woody

          So we would still find the wreck of the bomb/missile etc or residues of the subminitions or the burted canister?

          What is the shelf life of such munition?

          Reply
          • grouper42

            If chemical filled munitions were used in this attack-then there definitely will be lots of large pieces (frag)/other ordnance components/residue/etc available for analysis. I’m surprised we haven’t seen much evidence (photos/video/etc) of these type ordnance related materials yet. Shelf life for chemical filled ordnance can be all over the place, there’s way to many unknowns at this point to even guess, we need more facts.

          • Woody

            With shelf life I mean how long a readily mixed sarin can be stored in warhead-canister?

  3. Tettodoro

    @paveway IV: Your post is too confused to comment on the substance. On the one hand you refer to the Khan al-Assal incident, which was the subject of a more or less inconclusive investigation by the UN/OPCW, with a reference to “rockets” which no one suggested (the regime allegation mentioned one rocket) On the other you appear to conflate two Jobar allegations made in August 2013: one involving an IED (in which there were no fatalities) which was the subject of a similar investigation and conclusion by the UN; the other which involved reported finds in “tunnels”,which only feature in a regime allegation which was never investigated.

    Reply
    • Paveway IV

      The ‘substance’ is the method that head-choppers might have deployed Sarin in Syria before and how they could be preparing it for use in a warehouse today. I’m not out to prove that in a court of law and it wouldn’t matter anyway. The propaganda onslaught and lapping up by the MSM tells me exactly how the powers want this to end up – it has little to do with fact or proof. Dan dismisses the possibility of head-chopper binary nerve agents in the warehouse, and I contend that they very well could have had them there. Do you really expect a CBRN professional – either in the military or one that wants to remain employed – to put up a counter-argument to Dan? I’m the random idiot on the internet that does because no other CBRN guy will.

      Reply
      • Tettodoro

        Well, they “could” be doing anything – even training angels to dance on the head of a pin. The question is, what is the *probability* of alternative scenarios given the available information. Dan’s post offers convincing arguments why the scenario being propagated by the regime and which you seem to favour, has a very low probability. Your suggestion is that there is evidence that armed opposition groups have used Sarin it before – but you are not clear as to what that evidence is. We have the Jobar IEDs – which bear no resemblance to this (other end of the country and very small quantities); and the Khan al-Assal incident which may or may not have involved one rocket (contradictory accounts). The UN/OPCW is not very definite on either of them. And then you have some stuff about tunnels – but its not clear what you are saying and it has zero corroboration anyway. If the armed opposition had this sarin-making capacity 4 years ago why have we seen no use of it since? There have certainly been enough desparate battles fought.

        Reply
      • DDTea

        No, I do not expect a CBRN expert or anyone with even a passing familiarity with organic chemistry to put up a counter argument to Dan–because what Dan said is extremely reasonable and correct, and Russia has been caught lying red handed multiple times in Syria and Ukraine. Yet you put your faith–because admit it, you don’t have anything more than faith to support your chemically impossible claims–in Russian lies.

        Reply
        • Ghostship

          I did a British Army two day course in NBC warfare quite a few years back and I can see a problems with Dan’s lack of understanding even though I’m not an expert:

          “binary chemical warfare agents, so-named because they are mixed from several different components within a few days of use.”

          No! Binary chemical warfare agents are not ones that are mixed prior to their being weaponized. They are stored in the weapon in binary form and are mixed after delivery of that weapon commences, for example, after being launched from an artillery piece or dropped from an aircraft so that the chance of killing your own soldiers is negligible compared with similar weapons containing chemical agents. The Syrian government does not appear to have developed such binary technology and the jihadists who have used Sarin in the past are operating on too primitive a level to need binary technology, so the claim that only binary weapons have been used in Syria is rubbish
          By the way, binary means two not “several”.

          Reply
          • DDTea

            Obsessing over semantics does not undermine Dan’s expertise in chemical weapons. Also re-read the article: Dan does distinguish between “mix in flight” munitions and storing chemicals in binary form.

          • Ghostship

            DDTea
            What is your expertise in chemical weapons to justify your claim that Dan has such expertise. I admit I’m not an expert but I know enough to doubt that Dan is an expert.

          • DDTea

            M.S. in organic chemistry with research that heavily involves organophosphorus molecules; working on a doctorate. Five years of industrial experience in ecotoxicology (including studies on organophosphate pesticides), industrial forensics, catalysis, and process scale-up. Informally, ~17 years of reading about chemical weapons.

            I’ve interacted with Dan in the past. He’s humble enough to know where his expertise ends and when to solicit advice from others. He’s a true professional.

  4. Yeah, Right

    “To date, all of the nerve agents used in the Syrian conflict have been binary chemical warfare agents, “…..

    Everything in this article hinges on that sentence being an accurate statement of truth.

    If it is then the logic of the article is plausible.
    If it isn’t then the article is merely supposition piled atop assumption.

    Yet nowhere does the author of this article substantiate that line of text – it is presented merely as a self-evident-truth, one that we are meant to accept without question.

    Sorry, I’m not accepting such a statement as being true merely because it has been asserted as being the truth.

    Some evidence, please.

    Reply
  5. Peter

    Are these comments being moderated? Seems only those with unquestioning agreement of the conclusions are being posted.

    Reply
    • stranger

      They might. But usually that is explained by their automated premoderation filter. Some key words like 4-letter or even NAT0 which is also 4-letter word as well as more than one or two link in the comment as well as the links to some specific sites, all trigger the moderation.

      Reply
    • stranger

      The moderator is Aric Toler who is almost not seen here now. They do delete some comments and block commenters, but I must admit very rarely. They want as much attention as possible even if the attention is negative. All other problems are usually caused by their automated premoderation filter based on keywords and working as i described above. Their problem is not in moderation, but in the awful political bias of all their articles. They are trying to play good boys of their governments and earn money on that.

      Reply
  6. Azriel

    I am not gonna say anything conclusive on the matter – even though everything pointa to the regime – but l do have a question. isnt it possible that the precursors already werr mixed, maybe a few days before, and got hit by regime air force? Is there anything technical that can contradict or disprove that possibility?

    Also, as there are still reporta of people being sick, it seems like its VX nervgas and not sarin as it would dissipate the same day, more or less.

    Reply
    • DDTea

      You raise a good point. If there were a hypothetical warehouse full of Sarin ready for deployment that was hit by a sufficiently small bomb, some of the Sarin might be dispersed in the surrounding areas. But just because we can imagine a scenario doesn’t mean that’s what happened: we have to reconcile theories with available evidence.

      Isn’t it curious that nobody has found any evidence of this supposed stockpile? No videos? I don’t imagine cleaning up a few hundred pounds of nerve agent in a bombed out building is a trivial task. Why aren’t Russian or Syrian aircraft/drones videotaping the response to this chemical disaster or the attempts to cover it up? So yeah, we can always suggest alternative theories–but we can’t hold them to a lighter standard of scrutiny than the mainstream hypothesis that they’re trying to refute.

      Reply
      • Azriel

        I am with you. My belief that regime being the most likely perpetrator is not based on only based the very telling technical circumstances, but also motives. Since many people seems to base their whole case against the rebels on motives, l will try to do the same here.

        Why bomb hospitals if you supposedly bomb an arms depot with chemical munitions (even thought that circumstance is in itself unlikely)?

        Why bomb an arms depot with that will very likely kill so many civilians, almost as many a direct chemical attack would result in?

        Five days prior to the Khan Sheikoun attack, al Latiminah in Hama was attacked by gas, with incidentally the same symptoms as the attack in Khan Sheikoun. Was that also a regime attack on “arms depot”?
        Why would Trump change his position on Assad if it’s not really that the intelligence is so strong that Assad seems to be the only probable perpetrator? Does the U.S intelligence community not know what rebel groups are manufacturing chemical weapons? If this was in fact a setup, wouldn’t Trump call it out, as he calls out other “lies”?

        Also, it’s very telling that both the Syrian regime and Putin is really trying to avoid having UN investigating this. Just a few moments ago the foreign minister of Syria claimed they have had “poor experience with UN organizations before” – trying to discredit the reliability of the OPCW.

        Reply
        • Robert H

          I think we have to be very careful about witness statements and eye witness accounts. I remember very well the yellow rain biological warfare story put about by the USA in the early 1980s. Very like the stories against Syria, very little evidence, ( where are the chemical shell, bomb or rocket fragments? ) just a lot of witness statements and pictures of supposedly suffering survivors and a quantity of what was fairly rapidly shown to be bee droppings.

          Reply
      • Ghostship

        What evidence is there for the jihadist narrative? A few videos that feature the overacting and histrionics we have come to expect from the White Helmets?

        “Isn’t it curious that nobody has found any evidence of this supposed stockpile?”

        The jihadists control the area where this incident took place, and any westerner or government official entering it is likely to be kidnapped going on past experience. So who exactly do you expect to search for this stockpile? The jihadists themselves? Do you really believe that they would provide evidence that proved this is nothing more than what the Russian claim?

        Reply
        • DDTea

          I believe that Russia and the SAA would use their aerial surveillance capabilities to show the supposed warehouse. I believe we’d see an ant-trail of Jihadis trying to cover their tracks and hide evidence of their chemical weapons capabilities. Why no video footage of the attack from the regime? They’ve been trying so hard to convince the world that they are the true victims of chemical warfare. This would have been a golden opportunity to make their case and show a real chemical warfare warehouse in rebel hands.

          Want to know why we don’t see this? Because the regime is lying. There is no chemical warfare warehouse. They dropped an aircraft bomb loaded with Sarin.

          Reply
          • Ghostship

            So the Syrian and Russian governments are guilty in your opinion because they haven’t provided video of the attack on Khan Sheikhoun and its aftermath.

            If there was a chemical weapon warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun do you really think that the jihadists would want that fact to be known? No, because it makes all their propaganda efforts pointless.

        • Mad Dog

          Wrong wrong and wrong, but hell, talk is free. A blown up warehouse is easily viewed from the air, but the Russians have not provided anything like that. Wonder why?

          Reply
    • Azriel

      To meet Ghostship point. By the same logic l could say: if there wasnt a chemical weapons warehouse, do you think the regime and Russia would want that fact to be known?

      Your way of thinking is flawed.

      Reply
      • Ghostship

        A recently built underground bunker in jihadist-held territory without any red cross or crescent markings is a legitimate target, so why should the Russians or Syrians care if they provided video of the attack. A hospital is only protected under the Geneva Convention if it’s clearly marked and not used for military purposes excluding the medical treatment of combatants.

        As for the Russian explanation, perhaps they like many people don’t really understand what happened. They would know if they’d used Sarin and it’s very unlikely that Assad would disrespect Putin by using Sarin without Putin’s consent. So that allows for two possible explanations from their point of view which is that the jihadists had Sarin and that peple died.
        The most generous interpretation is that the jihadists were manufacturing Sarin and that it was released as the result of a Russian and/or Syrian attack causing the deaths of some civilians.
        The alternative is that this is a jihadist propaganda hoax to change the dynamics of the war in Syria which is quite clearly going Assad and Putin’s way and that the jihadists faked the gas attack and killed a number of people to provide the necessary dead bodies. It’s not as if murder victims haven’t been used by the jihadists and White Helmets for propaganda purposes in the past.

        Reply
        • Azriel

          The main principle is that targets that may lead to too many civilian casulaties in realtion to the military advantage is disproportionate and therefor a war crime. Attacking a hospital, even if its not marked, does not relieave the attacker from taking necessary precautiosn to avoid civilain casualties, and the responsibility therefor lies on the attacker for any eventual collateral damage.

          I am not asking evidence of the attack on the clinic, but rather on the supposedly arms depot that the Syrian regime claims to have hit.

          Also, do you mean to assume that the Syrian regime and Russia do not have intelligence on wether or not the clinic had civilians in it? Why keep bombarding the city when there’s a chemical spread that leads to fatailites? Whats the meaning of that kind of disregard, of not for the fact that the intention is to deny civilians medical treatment.

          Reply
  7. Ghostship

    Correct me if I’m wrong but hydrofluoric acid (HF) can be safely stored in plastic bottles provided they’re not made of PTFE which leaks.
    So the jihadists wearing noddy (NBC) suits mix the precursors in a plastic bucket, pour the resulting product into plastic bottles, wash them and the bucket down and they’re good to go with WMDs***. Strap a number of the bottles on the front of a number of their home-built rockets, fire them off and probability says a number of the bottles will burst on impact.
    As for smuggling the bottles across Syrian government territory into jihadist-controlled areas, smuggling small quantities of weapons happens all the time,
    *** I disagree with the usage of WMD for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons except of the thermonuclear variety. Thermonuclear weapons are the only WMDs.

    Reply
    • DDTea

      You make it sound as if manufacturing Sarin is as simple as mixing vinegar and baking soda. You are wrong. And you’re going on imaginitive flights of fancy without a single shred of evidence to support your claims. Your claims, by the way, stand in stark contrast to eye-witness testimony and video footage from multiple sources. Why should we assume they’re all lying?

      Minor point: PTFE is more appropriate for storing hydrofluoric acid than other plastics.

      Reply
      • Ghostship

        So you agree that hydrofluoric acid acid can be safely stored in plastic containers? That means that Dan’s statement, “This residual HF destroys nearly anything the Sarin is stored in,” is false. If he’s made one elementary mistake in his analysis, who’s to say he hasn’t made more.

        If you’re not bothered about the purity of the product or the safety of your workers then making Sarin really is as simple as mixing vinegar and baking soda then chucking in some limestone to neutralize the hydrofluoric acid.

        As for sourcing the raw materials, states like Turkey, which has supplied the jihadists with weapons, have no problem obtaining them and I believe some jihadists in Turkey were caught transporting the precursors a few years ago.

        Reply
      • Ghostship

        From the Wikipedia description of the M687 binary Sarin artillery shell:
        “The compartments were filled with two liquid precursor chemicals for sarin (GB2): methylphosphonyl difluoride (denominated DF) and a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and isopropyl amine (denominated OPA) is in a second canister. The isopropyl amine binds the hydrogen fluoride generated during the chemical reaction. When the shell was fired the force of the acceleration would cause the disk between them to breach and the spinning of the projectile facilitated mixing. The two precursor chemicals would react in flight to produce sarin and when the shell reached its target the sarin would be released. ”

        If you can mix them in a shell, you can mix them in a bucket.

        As for delivery, THS has its Inghimasi suicide fighters. Give one of them two bottles with the necessary chemicals and you have a poor man’s binary chemical weapon system.

        BTW, you are aware that hydofluoric acid slowly leaks through PTFE

        Reply
        • DDTea

          Actually, it does look like a normal explosion. From 0:54 – 0:57 in that video, you see an obvious shockwave and some destruction. It looks like a homemade mortar, with no more than 20 kg of explosive. That isn’t a huge charge that would cause major property damage.

          Most chemical agents are colorless, so they would not produce such an obvious smoke cloud. The exception, of course, is chlorine–which has a yellowish color, but sometimes look whitish. However, chlorine gas *sinks* whereas this smoke rises. The operators are not wearing any sort of chemical protection, which discounts the idea that they’re handling toxic agents.

          Reply
      • frank

        HF can be stored in plastic containers. Debating Sarin however is pointless as there is no evidence of Sarin

        Reply
    • Robert H

      I thought ptfe was first used as pipe gaskets handling HF at Oak Ridge, it should be fine for storage containers.

      Reply
  8. Aedib

    “To date, all of the nerve agents used in the Syrian conflict have been binary chemical warfare agents, “

    That’s simply untrue. Moderate terrorists used chlorine several times. In addition pictures after the attack show craters made by rockets. It seems that the Syrian plane attacked the position with a rocket barrage and the depot of chemicals was blown up. That’s the most likely explanation. They author should substantiate his claims with hard evidence but he just want to show his a priori conclusion “backed” just with some fuzzy paragraphs.

    Reply
    • Mad Dog

      Where the hell is this wayward warehouse we hear one side talk about all the time. WOuld really put the matter to rest, but it is nowhere to be found. Kind of like those angels dancing on the head of a pin.

      Reply
    • Indie

      Chlorine is not a nerve agent, it’s a choking agent. Nerve agents have been much more uncommon in the Syrian war than chlorine.

      Also, by saying that the agents have been binary chemical agents is not the same as to say that the munition to deploy the binary compound has been a binary munition. As I understand by reading Dan, the Ghouta munitions were (probably?) not binary munitions, but could still have used a binary compound of the two precursors of Sarin. See e.g. Kaszeta 6/2014.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)