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Will Get Fooled Again – Seymour Hersh, Welt, and the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack

June 25, 2017

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

On June 25th 2017 the German newspaper, Welt, published the latest piece by Seymour Hersh, countering the “mainstream” narrative around the April 4th 2017 Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack in Syria. The attack, where Sarin was allegedly used against the local population, dropped in a bomb by the Syrian Air Force, resulted in President Trump taking the decision to launch cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

As with his other recent articles, Hersh presented another version of events, claiming the established narrative was wrong. And, as with those other recent articles, Hersh based his case on a tiny number of anonymous sources, presented no other evidence to support his case, and ignored or dismissed evidence that countered the alternative narrative he was trying to build.

This isn’t the first chemical attack in Syria which Hersh has presented a counter-narrative for, based on a handful of anonymous sources. In his lengthy articles for the London Review of Books, “Whose sarin?” and “The Red Line and the Rat Line”, Hersh made the case that the August 21st 2013 Sarin attack in Damascus was in fact a false flag attack intended to draw the US into the conflict with Syria. This claim fell apart under real scrutiny, and relied heavily on ignoring much of the evidence around the attacks, an ignorance of the complexities of producing and transporting Sarin, and a lack of understanding about facts firmly established about the attacks.

With Hersh’s latest article, this pattern of behaviour is repeated. The vast majority of the article appears to be based on an anonymous source, described as “a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency”. As with his earlier articles, details of the attack as described by his source flies in the face of all other evidence presented by a range of other sources.

So what scenario does Hersh’s source describe, and how does this contradict other claims? Hersh claims that “Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives”, and this attack resulted in the release of chemicals, including chlorine, but not Sarin, that produced the mass casualty event seen on April 4th. Hersh’s source is able to provide a great deal of information about the target, claiming intel on the location was shared with the Americans ahead of the attack.

Hersh’s source describes the building as a “two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town”, with a basement containing “rockets, weapons and ammunition, as well as products that could be distributed for free to the community, among them medicines and chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial”. According to Hersh’s source, the floor above was “an established meeting place” and “a long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.”

The source goes on to claim that Russia had been watching the location carefully, establishing its use as a Jihadi meeting place, and watching the location with a “drone for days”, confirming its use and the activity around the building. According to the source the target was then hit at 6:55am on April 4th, and a Bomb Damage Assessment by the US military determined that a Syrian 500lb bomb “triggered  a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground.”

At this point it’s worth taking a look at the claims the Syrian and Russian governments made in response to accusations that Syria had dropped Sarin on Khan Sheikhoun. Walid Muallem, Syria’s Foreign Minister, stated in a press conference two days after the attack that the first air raid was conducted at 11:30am local time, attacking “an arms depot belonging to al-Nusra Front chemical weapons”. It was noted by observers at the time the time of the claimed attack was hours after the first reports of casualties came in, and both contradicts the 6:55am stated by Hersh’s source, and the slightly earlier time provided by the Pentagon, approximately between 6:37am and 6:46am local time. Not only that, but the Syrian Foreign Minister also described the target as a chemical weapons arm depot, not a meeting place that stored other items in the basement.

The Pentagon’s map of the flight path of the aircraft that attacked Khan Sheikhoun

Russia also published their own claims about the attack. Sputnik reported the following:

“According to Konashenkov, on Tuesday “from 11.30 to 12.30, local time, [8.30 to 9.30 GMT] Syrian aircraft conducted an airstrike in the eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun on a large warehouse of ammunition of terrorists and the mass of military equipment”.

Konashenkov said that from this warehouse, chemical weapons’ ammunition was delivered to Iraq by militants.

Konashenkov added that there were workshops for manufacturing bombs, stuffed with poisonous substances, on the territory of this warehouse. He noted that these munitions with toxic substances were also used by militants in Syria’s Aleppo.”

These claims are consistent with the claims of their Syrian ally, but not the claims made by Hersh and his source. In the face of allegations of chemical weapon use neither Russia nor Syria mention targeting “a jihadist meeting site”, and described the location as a “large warehouse” on the “eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun”, not a “two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town” with “security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” In fact, the only thing Hersh’s account and the Russian and Syria account agrees on is it was a Syrian aircraft which conducted the attack.

In addition to this, neither Syria nor Russia presented any evidence to support their claim. If, as Hersh claims, Russia had been observing the site with a “drone for days” then they would not only have the precise location of the site, but footage of the site. However, both Syria and Russia have failed to make any imagery of the site public, nor have they provided any specific details about the location of the site. If they had, it would be possible to easily check if the location had been bombed on Terraserver, which has satellite imagery of Khan Sheikhoun before and after the date of attack. In common with Russia and Syria, Hersh’s source seems unable to provide the exact location of the attack, despite his apparent in depth knowledge of the attack.

Ignoring the fact that the version of events presented by Hersh runs counter to narratives produced by all sides, the claims around the chemical exposure are also worth examining. Hersh refers to “a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military” of the strike, which he provides no source for, which supposedly states “a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement”. He describes the symptoms seen in victims as “consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.” Here it is worth pointing out that organophosphates are used as pesticides, not fertilizers, and it’s unclear if this error is from Hersh himself or his anonymous source. This is not the only factual error in the report, with Hersh stating an SU-24 was used in the attack, not an SU-22 as claimed by every other source, including the US government.

Despite Hersh’s apparent belief Sarin was not used in the attack, other sources disagree, not least the OPCW, tasked to investigate the attack. On April 19th 2017 the OPCW published a statement by Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü describing the results of the analysis of samples taken from victims of the attack, both living and dead, stating:

“The results of these analyses from four OPCW designated laboratories indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance. While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible.”

A later report from the OPCW, dated May 19th, provided further analysis of samples from the site, including dead animals recovered from the site, and environmental samples. Signs of Sarin or Sarin-like substances were detected in many samples, as well as Sarin degradation products, and at least two samples which state Sarin itself was detected.

Annex 3 of the May 19th OPCW report

These results are also consistent with intelligence published by the French government, which describes the following:

“The analyses carried out by French experts on the environmental samples collected at one of the impact points of the chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017 reveal the presence of sarin, of a specific secondary product (diisopropyl methylphosphonate – DIMP) formed during synthesis of sarin from isopropanol and DF (methylphosphonyl difluoride), and hexamine. Analysis of biomedical samples also shows that a victim of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, a sample of whose blood was taken in Syria on the very day of the attack, was exposed to sarin.”

Based on this and other reports, multiple sources state Sarin was used in the attack, despite Hersh’s narrative of an accidental chemical release. The fact Hersh does not refer to any of these reports seems to, at best, overlook key information about the nature of the attack, and at worst, purposely ignores information that contradicts the narrative he’s attempting to build.

Going back to the attack site, this ignoring or ignorance of contradictory information is also apparent. Open source material from the day of the attack, as well as satellite imagery analysis by various sources (including this excellent piece by the New York Times) consistently point to the same impact sites, one of which is the specific crater claimed to be the source of Sarin released on the day of the attack. None of these point to the structure described by Hersh, nor is there any evidence of a site as described by Hersh being attacked. Journalists visited the town soon after the attack, and made no mention of the site as described by Hersh.

One might argue that all the individuals and groups on the ground, all the doctors treating the victims, and every single person spoken to by the journalists visiting the site failed to mention the site described by Hersh, but there’s a very simple way to clear up this matter. Anyone can access satellite imagery of the town before and after the date of the attack thanks to the imagery available on Terraserver, all Hersh’s source has to do is provide the coordinates of the building attacked and anyone with an internet connection will be able to look at that exact location, and see the destroyed building. A simple way for both Hersh and Welt to preserve their reputations.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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  1. Mr White

    RobTN wrote:
    RobTn – June 27, 2017
    The court would dispute that.
    They declared him not guilty.

    Well the British Medical Association differed, they struck him off as a doctor due to association with terrorism.

    Shajul Islam is a terrorist.

    • DDTea

      Whether or not he is a terrorist is immaterial to whether or not he is a liar or fabricator.

      Sorry, I have no irrational fear of terrorism or Islam. You have to argue better.

          • stranger

            Because his arss depends on whether US joins this war massively against Syrian government, or at least splits Syria into pieces. He is more than an interested party. That is literally the question of live and death for those terrorists.

          • DDTea

            I think it’s hilarious that the only way the doubters’ list of “alternative theories” can only be taken (somewhat) seriously is if:

            1) We ignore every eyewitness statement.
            2) We assume every single video is staged or a theater play.
            3) We assume every piece of evidence–biomedical samples, environmental samples, animal organs–were somehow deliberately tampered with by adding Sarin. Nevermind the extreme difficulty in obtaining sarin…
            4) We assume that the OPCW procedures are somehow inadequate and that their quality assurance/quality control regimen is insufficient.
            5) We ignore available knowledge about Sarin gained from medical literature, scientific literature, and historical case studies.
            6) We pay no mind to the fact that the Syrian regime has made false statements and changed its story.
            7) We resort to islamophobia or fear of “terrorists” to remove any sympathy for the victims of this attack.
            8) We assume that the standard of evidence is “beyond an idiot’s doubt,” when the standard here is not even “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It is more like a “preponderance of evidence.”

          • stranger

            DDTea, you are a Chemist, a Scientist, right? You should understand logic, but still you are trying to switch the attention of the auditorium from the major logical chain of evidences to minor side details and even play on emotions calling everybody “hilarious doubters”.
            There are at least two base principles the modern jurisprudence is built on:
            1. the presumption of innocence – nobody can be admitted guilty until proved otherwise
            2. the burden of proof – is always on the side which provides the evidences
            So that is up to you, as an apologist of the “official” version to provide the logical chain of proofs before you are able to put the blame on any side.
            Hardly anybody doubts that the gas attack took place. The weakest link of your logical chain is the source of the gas. You/your side have not provided reasonable proves that the gas container was dropped from a plane.
            Instead you (and bcats you are defending) are switching the discussion to the minor irrelevant question – what gas it was, etc. Instead you are trying to refer to the authority of OPCW, but don’t state clearly that besides the questionable way of obtaining the samples, OPCW didn’t give any conclusion on the source of the gas and especially which side is guilty. Instead you are fighting with “alternative theories” while you own “theory” has the major gaps in the logical chain you fill with only your guesses.

          • stranger

            You also ignore the question of motive. The effect of this chemical attack from the military prospective was close to zero, the informational and political effect was tremendous. That attack happened just a couple of weeks after US officially stated that they no longer pursue the “regime change” in Syria and ready to deal with Assad. Syrian government had neither military nor political reason to use CW. The terrorists were deadly interested in such kind of provocation instead.

          • DDTea


            Explain why motive is necessary. Moreover, explain why you believe Assad is a rational actor. Why wouldn’t he have deployed Sarin purely to terrorize a civilian population? Any discussion of motive is speculative. We simply cannot divine what is inside Assad’s sociopathic mind. But for the record: many people (including myself, on this blog, in a comment you have read–stop playing ignorant) have discussed Assad’s possible military motives for using Sarin.

            But since you believe this is a trial with a presumption of evidence. There have been plenty of criminal convictions where a motive was not established.

            You think the relative importance of Motive/Means/Opportunity is 99% – 0.5% – 0.5%, when it’s really 10% – 45% – 45%.

          • stranger

            But you didn’t establish the chain of evidences (or how is it called in jurisprudence) too. Your version lacks to prove that the gas was delivered by plane, not saying about the involvement of Syrian commandment in the attack. You have neither motive nor the proves. And you are trying to disguise that switching the discussion to the particular gas used as if the latter can explain the former.

            Why is Assad rational? Syria used to be a SECULAR state where Christians coexisted with Sunni and Shi Muslims which is already a magic compared to the best friends of US in the ME – the monarchies of the Gulf. Once the Arab Spring has come, sponsored by Qatar among others and supported by the US previous administration for own globalistic economical and political benefits, Assad has immidiately became “sociapath” and the fundamental Islamic terrorists-headchoppers supplied with weapon and mass media support by the Syrian neighbors and US administration automagically turned into “moderate opposition” fighting for “democracy”.

            How much yelling was there when they tried to stop Syria and Russia from liberating Aleppo from Al Nusra and other terrorists who actually terrorized the population. How Higgins dropped crocodile tears on his twitter for poor girl Bana. Now Aleppo is a safe place and nobody threatens the civilians.

            In contrast when Kurds and Iraqis supported by coalition aviation are leveling Mosul and Raqqa with the ground, as well as Saudy are killing thouthands of civilians in Yemen, why nobody is yelling for the lives and civilian rights of the population there?

            Did the “rebels” have a motive for a chemical provocation? Yes, they did, moreover their lives depended on it. Did they have means for the attack? Yes, they could have been provided by their sponsors from Turkey and Gulf countries or bought from corrupted gov officers or taken from the captured Syrian warehouses or brewed themselves. Did they have an opportunity to spread the gas during Syrian aviation bombing? They did by any “hell fire” canon or in place.

            Why do ignore such possibility? And how are you going to prove that the gas was delivered by plane and under the direct order of Syrian commandment , because without that your “theory” shatters?

          • Azriel


            You never answered why motive was necessary. But if you’re going to insist there are several military gains from sarin gas attack given that US has not responded to any pre-Khan Sheikoun chemical attacks even though the US blamed the Syrian regime. This gives the Syrian regime an opportunity to not only punish rebels but also blame the rebels for a chemical attack in order to reduce the support for them. We’re talking about a political and a military war that Assad is fighting and therefor the way the international community perceives the Assad regime is essential to win the “hearts and minds” of the people not only in Syria but to gain trust from all over the world.

            Assad has nothing to fear from the international community to increase support to the rebels or a military action that would force him to step down. This is because if there was a credible alternative to the Assad regime in Syria the U.S and the others would’ve made sure to replace him with that. Give that the Russians are deeply involved in the war and the U.S along with its allies are unable to find a proper replacement that would suit their interest, the Assad regime is safe to stage chemical weapons attacks on rebels/civilians with minimal threat to his regime to further his political/military interest.
            There have been reports of rape in Aleppo by pro-Assad militias. I’d doubt one can call Aleppo city a “safe place” and “no threat to civilians” when most of the population chose to flee to Idlib and that the Assad regime practically turned the city to dust. It’s like saying there is peace and quiet in a city after you massacre the people in it.

            The Assad regime being secular does not mean it is rational. One thing does not have to do with another. The Assad regime was still incredibly corrupt and nepotism within the alawites was still very prevalent. Besides, there were a lot of politically active Christians who’ve been detained and tortured by the Assad regime. That hardly sounds like a regime that is secular, rather sectarian and authoritarian.

            Given that you don’t believe that the Assad regime has used any chemical weapons and there have been over hundred reports of use of chemical weapons against rebel-held territory and two massive ones (eastern Ghouta and in Khan Sheikoun), the rebels don’t seem to understand that even with over hundreds of “false-flags” with the use of chemical weapons the U.S HAS NOT responded by removing Assad with force or retaliate (except for Khan Sheikoun). For the one retaliation it was against an airport which, mind you, was active only a few days after. Point is, do you really believe the rebels are busy with staging hundreds of chemical weapons attacks ON THEMSELVES when none of it has given the desired result, which is as you put it to provoke the U.S to strike Assasd? Do you actually believe that?

          • Tom

            Assad clearly has some murderous people in his ranks, and of course there are numerous legitimate objectors against his regime. HOWEVER, I think some of your statements are wildly mistaken.

            First of all, most of the chemical attacks (from both sides) have involved substances like Chlorine, which AIUI is not banned. Nerve agents like Sarin are the ‘red line’, and that’s what all the fuss is about.

            Next, where do you get the idea that most of the residents of E.Aleppo fled to Idlib? Out of the reported population of around 200,000 during the siege perhaps 20,000 were bussed to Idlib. The majority either stayed or went to the west side. And there are plenty of stories of atrocities committed by the rebels against the population of E.Aleppo. And there is plenty of video evidence of wide-spread rejoicing amongst the population of E.Aleppo after the rebels were defeated. We typically are not shown it by our media. You might ask why that is.

            Why are we not told about the atrocities of the rebels? The use of IEDs in Aleppo for example, suicide carbombs and the like were typical there. And there were far more deaths and casualties (mostly children) at the suicide bombing in Rashidin than there were at the CW attack at Khan Sheikhoun, but for some reason it is more quickly forgotten. Many of our media outlets even try to make the most improbable insinuations that Assad’s forces were responsible for the suicide attack. Again, why is that?

            Assad is obviously no saint, but when the reporting is so skewed one way intelligent people are forced to ask why. Combine that with the scepticism resulting from Iraq and Libya and you have one giant mess where noone knows what’s really going on, and no agenda seems legitimate.

            “No one is 100 percent with the regime, but mostly these people are unified by their resistance to the opposition”

          • Azriel


            Thanks for your reply.

            As l understand it, you take issue with the imbalance of the reporting on war crimes between the two sides in the conflict? First of all, my comment did not intend to touch the subject of war crimes commited in Syria in general but rather on the use of chemical weapons. Also, l think that the UN, HRW and Amnesty have been reporting on both sides’ illdoings in the conflict not only those of the regime. The media you’re reading is not something l can comment on, nor is it what we’re discussing here.

            According to the report of OCHA by UN on the evacuation in Aleppo “once evacuated from the besieged areas, civilians had the option to go where they wished. The overwhelming majority went to non-State armed group areas.” This is why l stated that most of the evacuees chose NOT to stay in Aleppo after it fell to the regime forces. Here is the link


            If you can concede that Assad is capabable of releasing chlorine on civilians then why are people making a fuss when there are allegations of him using sarin? The line is crossed either way for being a total sociopath if you’re ok with chlorine attacks, no? What you’re stating is merely a technicality that chlorine is not banned. Also, what is your point by stating that? Chlorine attacks are still consideried as war crimes by other standards of international humanitarian law than the prohibition of CW. Are you here to justify the attacks or dispute it?

    • RobTn

      Actually you do t know that as the GMC proceedings are sealed and not available to the public.

      What are you going to make up next?

      • Mr White

        oh right, they struck him off for some random reason nothing to do with being on trial for terrorism.

        it could only have been terrorism since he had not been practising as a doctor in the UK for many months. he had not even been in the UK.

          • RobTn

            Also it would be bold to try striking someone off for something they’ve been found not guilty of.

  2. Zan

    That the details of the public russian/syrian statements share discrepencies with this hersh report hardly amounts to a rebbutal.

    The best this piece does is to reaffirm that there are multiple narratives.

    After all, the IC source in the welt report isnt making his claim based on the hour of the attack, nor is he alleged to be a war planner.

    The crux of this entire debate rests in tbe fact that NO indepenndent on site investigation has occurred. The OPCW analysis, completed in turkey, involved samples supplied by intermediaries.

    Bellingcat has less issue with that first year law school faux paus than he does with the fact that hersh doesnt name his source.

    Agnosticism is the only rational position to take re: this event, not “hersh’s source doesnt know the difference between fertilizers and pesticides, ergo assad and russia used sarin.”

    • DDTea

      “The OPCW analysis, completed in turkey, involved samples supplied by intermediaries.”

      Where did you hear that the analysis was completed in Turkey? Share your sources. Because the OPCW stated that the samples were brought to the OPCW Laboratory (located in the Hague) before distributing to two of their Designated Laboratories.

      “The best this piece does is to reaffirm that there are multiple narratives.”

      No, there are multiple *alternative* narratives–all equally addled and ridden with errors and fantasies–to explain how the rebels *could* have gassed Khan Sheikhoun. The reason there needs to be “multiple narratives” to do this is because each one makes up for a hole in the previous version. In other words, they’re all horse manure.

      There is only one serious sequence of events here: that the Syrian regime dropped a Sarin bomb from a jet. No, agnosticism is not “rational” here–it’s just burying your head in the sand to avoid confronting reality.

      • Mr White

        samples were tested in Turkey, Syria and France. The OPCW itself tested nothing nor did it have samples under its control.

          • DDTea

            Where did you hear this? Can you show me an original news story/report detailing the location of the laboratories where chemical analyses on samples from Khan Sheikhoun were performed? Because that, along with the statement that, “The OPCW itself tested nothing nor did it have samples under its control,” directly contradicts the May 19th report on Khan Sheikhoun from the OPCW [1]

            “Several batches of samples, as indicated above, were collected by the FFM and transported to the OPCW Laboratory. Some samples had already been split into separate aliquots by the FFM. Those that had not been split were then split at the OPCW Laboratory before being transported to Designated Laboratories.”

            The identity of the Designated Laboratories is not specified further.

      • stranger

        “There is only one serious sequence of events here: that the Syrian regime dropped a Sarin bomb from a jet. ”
        Or somebody wanted us to believe in the simple explanation. Simple doesn’t always mean correct. And doesn’t abolish the necessary of proves. As a chemist you should know that.

      • Kevin

        The best you have is a difference in times/type of target/type of plane between the immediate aftermath public description from r/s spokespeople and hersh’s interview with a top level intel person. One can easily imagine a variety of warplannimg motives for r/s spokespeople to obfuscate times and plane type. Much harder to think of a motive for assad to gas his people.

        Hersh is on to the crux of what happened. Youve just got differing public descriptions of a covert mission that went bad and an opcw analysis of samples they didnt collect themselves.

        So all you can do–to fit your narrative–is to discredit the reliability of hersh’s source.

        Zan is right, have to be agnostic short of a crime scene investigation.

        • Azriel


          The fact of the matter is that there is still nothing that proves that the Assad regime targeted a building that contained stocks of chemical weapons. Where is the imagery or the coordinates to support it? I imagine it to be incredibly easy to release such information given that Hersh claimed that the russians were aviating above the supposed targeted building before the attack and the fact that the whole issue depends on whether Assad bombed a building that contained the deadly nerve gas (a scenario which is highly unlikely, according to CW experts) or the Assad regime itself dropped the nerve agent. It only takes a confirmation of the location that was supposedly bombed by the regime to debunk the whole thing. How come neither the Assad regime, Hersh or the russians have given such information?

  3. Mr White

    The BMA doesnt need a criminal conviction to strike someone off.

    THe only reason he wasn’t found guilty is because his victim. John Cantlie, can’t testify. He is still an ISIS hostage.

    Shajul Islam is a terrorist.

    • RobTN

      “THe only reason he wasn’t found guilty is because his victim. John Cantlie, can’t testify. He is still an ISIS hostage.”

      Well that brings us neatly back to where this started. There were two ALLEGED victims. Neither of whom testified. We were told one (Cantlie) was kidnapped and the other (Oerlemans) had been beheaded.

      Oerlemans however was alive and well until 2016. And he didn’t show up to the trial either.

      Something you have chosen to ignore – presumably because it doesn’t fit your narrative.

      But maybe you think repeating the same statement ad nauseum without backing up claims such as the motive of the board makes your argument somehow more convincing?

        • RobTn

          So you don’t know the details of the case you are using to shout “terrorist” time after time.

          I’m so surprised……

          • Mr White

            I know Mr Islam is accused of helping to kidnap someone who has in fact been kidnapped.

            And I know that Mr Islam operates freely in an area controlled by terrorists.

            That’s all I need to know.

          • RobTN

            You should try that devastating style of logic on the Sarin attacks.


            I know that Sarin has been used in Syria. I know that the Syrian government has been accused of using Sarin. I know that the Syrian government is the only group confirmed as having Sarin.

            That’s all I need to know.

      • someone

        No, we were told Cantlie got kidnapped in late 2012 and therefore Oerlemans did not want to testify against Shajul & Co in 2013 fearing that would risk Cantlies wellbeing. Oerlemans was later shot and killed in Sirte 2016.

        • RobTn

          No. Go back to the start of this sub thread and you’ll see the claim that one of the people who could have testified had been beheaded. (as well as one of them having been kidnapped)

          Not true.

          • Tom

            I stand corrected about the beheading. However, the main issue is clearly the lack of witnesses at Shajul Islam’s trial. It seems, after all, they weren’t just having a change of heart about the good doctor.

          • RobTn

            It’s also with a look to see what the (now kidnapped again) person said about the Doctor in question vs. Islam’s actual bio.

            Age is wrong.
            Accent is wrong.
            Seniority is wrong.
            Location of workplace is wrong.

            Now you could argue that the person involved in the kidnapping lied about those things but not about the other things (like being an NHS Dr)


          • Tom

            Is it impossible that Cantlie mis-remembered some details or misidentified his accent? Or that the doctor was exaggerating his seniority?

            How many muslim London doctors of that age, with a wife and young child, on sabbatical in Syria would there be do you think? Do you think if there was a better alternative he would be hard to identify? How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?

          • RobTN

            More a case of Cantlie misremembered some details AND he misidentified the accent AND the man in question exaggerated his seniority.

            A man at the camp said he was an NHS Dr. This man is an NHS Dr.

            Therefore this Dr is the same guy?

          • Tom

            You really think that’s all there is to it?

            I’ll take your ANDs and raise you a few more: The man at the camp really was a doctor AND he was a Londoner AND he was in the right age group AND he had a wife and a young child AND he said he was on sabbatical. AND Shajul Islam was in Syria AND on the relevant date AND he has jihadi brothers. AND one might reasonably conclude the authorities had done their job and excluded other doctors who were a better match for the witness testimonies (how many could there be out of a few hundred British jihadis?)

            AND one of the journalists (which from other sources I take to be Cantlie) had already testified against Shajul Islam at pre-trial:

            AND Oerlemans mysteriously backed out of testifying (reasonably fearing retribution against Cantlie and other captives of ISIS.)

            How do you reduce all this simply to the connection “NHS doctor”?

          • RobTN

            So…we are going with the theory that where Cantlie says soemthing that points to Shajul it’s accurate – if it doesn’t then he’s NOT accurate?

            For examples

            “The medic, who said he was 28 and had a wife and child in Britain”

            Wife and child – check for Shajul accurate! 28 — doesn’t check for Shajul therefore NOT accurate!

            “the doctor, who spoke in a South London accent”

            Shajul not from South London therefore not accurate! (I do like that you now blur the lines and just go with “London”. Were you there perhaps? )

            “He also told them that he was planning to return to his senior post in a South London A&E department.”

            he’s an NHS Dr, fits Shajul – therefore accurate! Senior post – doesn’t fit Shajul – therefore NOT accurate!

            If you ahve an orchard I guess the cherries pick themselves then?

          • Tom

            It’s up to a court of law to establish facts ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. What do you think a court would be more impressed with? The fact that Cantlie was wrong by 2 years, or right to within 2 years? Same goes for all the other evidence. Perfect witness testimonies are rare. On your kind of analysis, a single piece of evidence @ 95% confidence is better than ten @ 95%. Because apparently there’s more uncertainty the more evidence you have.

            It’s not the best link I agree. But that’s what we get these days. Bellingcat is full of inuendo too, as far as I can tell. And I’m starting to see how it works here. It’s just a place for people to divide and wage a different kind of jihad. You can’t actually weigh up the quality and balance of evidence because people are too interested in taking sides.

          • RobTN

            It seems like you are missing the context of the age comment. This isn’t Cantlie *estimating* the guy’s age. It’s him relaying what he was told.

            As reported

            “The medic, who said he was 28 and had a wife and child in Britain”

            Like the seniority issue you seem to be

            “Well OK he lied about those things which would suggest he wasn’t Shajul Islam, but for those things which back up that supposition he was clearly telling the truth!”

          • Tom

            Noone has to be lying outright. You just have to use your common sense – how accurately do you remember personal details told you by strangers? And when you’re talking to strangers do you ever dress up your personal story? Not many 28 year old doctors are actually ‘senior’. People are not predictable robots, and are never entirely trustworthy as sources of information, whether providing it directly or reporting it indirectly. That’s why you have to weigh up testimonies, assess how well descriptions match (they are rarely perfect), whether suspects were in the right place at the right time, and any other relevent connections. The only 100% verifiable match is that Shajul Islam is a doctor, perhaps, but to suggest that’s the only evidence is silly.

            Did one or both of these witnesses testify against Shajul Islam at pretrial, as reports suggest? They would have seen him and heard him to compare with the doctor in Syria. Hence the reasons for Oerlemans not attending the actual trial could be critical to understanding this case. More so than if he had actually been beheaded.

          • RobTN

            Here we are again then. Where information doesn’t match you are now suggesting the person in question embellished.

            What if he embellished his qualifications and, rather than being a doctor he was a nurse, or some other trained person (like a failed med student)?

            “Did one or both of these witnesses testify against Shajul Islam at pretrial, as reports suggest?”

            Which reports?

            At least one reports suggest he never got that far

            “British journalist John Cantlie *was* to be the main witness against Islam during the pretrial hearing. However, Cantlie was then kidnapped a second time. Cantlie is still being held captive by the Islamic State.”


            Oh there are stories saying this happened but

            “In pre-trial proceedings, Cantlie said Shajul was part of a group of foreign Islamist fighters in Syria, of whom half were British. According to a Daily Mail report from 2012:

            “A heavily bearded Islamic fanatic, he told his prisoners he had taken a sabbatical from his NHS job to wage a ‘holy war’ in Syria… He also told them that he was planning to return to his senior post in a South London A&E department.””


            However if you link back to the Daily Mail article it doesn’t mention Shajul Islam.

            So it’s a bit hard to tell. Maybe you have access to the reports/transcripts?

          • RobTN

            I will say though I’m quite taken with your Daily Beast link.

            The “Londonistan” tag is nice and the idea that people found not guilty have “slipped through the fingers of the British legal system” is especially nice.

            Clearly anyone found not guilty has “slipped through the fingers of the British legal system”

            God damn it, being charged makes you GUILTY! Who needs to bother with all this nasty *proof* business!!??

          • Just Passing Through

            Just FYI, Jeroen Oerlemans gave an interview about the kidnapping. He does appear to have been sympathetic to Shajul Islam (rightly or wrongly):


            He can no longer give his side of the story of course and Cantlie could well disagree. Shajul Islam talked about it in an interview with Bilal Kareem too, he claims to be a “hero”:

          • Tom

            Thanks, very interesting. So Oerlemans positively id’d Shajul Islam, and yet he is sympathetic. That sounds much more like the messy truth – so much for all the hair-splitting regarding age and accent. The account from Cantlie was rather less sympathetic, which is something else to resolve. But at the end of the day very few people are entirely malevolent, although the warring sides would love you to believe that about each other. And of course Shajul is in a radicalised environment and in no position to stand against the prevailing narrative.

          • RobTN

            Really – did you read the same report I did.

            Where’s the mention of him where he ” positively id’d Shajul Islam”??

          • Tom

            Well, perhaps you should watch the video with Bilal Kareem, where Shajul actually admits to treating Cantlie and Oerlemans? In fact it turns out I like the fellow rather more than I like your BS.

          • RobTN

            Notice that this report was the week after the arrest…

            “Last week , his name suddenly fell into the press. The London police had arrested a 24-year-old man at airport Heathrow”

  4. Mr White

    DDTea – June 28, 2017
    Where did you hear this? Can you show me an original news story/report detailing the location of the laboratories where chemical analyses on samples from Khan Sheikhoun were performed?

    This was all announced in the media. First a Turkish lab did tests, then the British and French announced they had done tests.

    Those three sets of tests are the only tests that have taken place. The OPCW itself has not done any, it is just putting its name on those tests.

    The British tests were done at Porton Down. I don’t know about the French or Turkish ones.

    • DDTea

      Check your assumptions before you doubt the results.

      The French intelligence report, linked in the main article above, states:

      “France has deployed the required resources to obtain its own samples from the alleged sarin attack on 4 April 2017 in Idlib Governorate.”

      This may have been done outside the auspices of the OPCW. We do not know that this was one of the two “Designated Laboratories” mentioned in the OPCW report. Likewise, we do not know for certain that Khan Sheikhoun samples were sent to Porton Down. It’s entirely possible, but we don’t know.

      Likewise, no lab in Turkey is listed among the OPCW’s “Designated Laboratories.”

      Regardless of where samples were sent, they were likely sent as blind samples alongside quality control samples. Failure on the QC sample = invalidation of the results (that’s how I would design the study, in any case). That’s probably why the samples were initially taken to the OPCW laboratory (in the Hague) before splitting of aliquots.

      • Mr White

        None of this matters.

        1) Chain of custody is irretrievably tainted
        2) No lab in a country which is party to the conflict should have any involvement

  5. Mr White

    From the Alternet Hersh interview:
    “KK: You think the White Helmets serve a sort of propaganda function for the rebels?

    SH: I don’t think there’s no question they do. There’s a video about—it’s just comical, it’s out of Monty Python. There’s two guys in hazmat suits, they’re carrying something. They’re asked by somebody speaking Russian, “What do you have there, brother?”

    “Oh, we’ve got some samples of sarin we’re taking to the hospital in Turkey for the U.N.”

    “Show us.”

    So he opens it up and there’s a bird wrapped up in cellophane. So he unwraps the cellophane—because that presumably is going to keep the sarin from getting you—and he shows it to the onlooker. They’re putting up skull-and-crossbones placards into the ground, pounding them in to warn people. Meanwhile cars are going driving back and forth. It’s the most funny—as I said it’s beyond belief. If you look at one [of the guys] in slow motion and very closely apparently you see he isn’t even wearing gloves.

    This is the bird that’s later used in a U.N. report to show there were sarin and sarin-like [substances]. We didn’t make a big deal of it in the story I wrote.”

    The video in question:

    • Tom

      Ha. It looks very staged and very amateur, but you have to admit that doesn’t mean it’s not genuine.

      Same goes for Hersh’s “We got a fuckin’ problem”.

    • DDTea

      Why is this cause for concern? If anything, this goes to show SH’s ignorance of what he’s talking about.

      SH said: “So he opens it up and there’s a bird wrapped up in cellophane. So he unwraps the cellophane—because that presumably is going to keep the sarin from getting you—and he shows it to the onlooker. ”

      As we’ve already established and discussed at length, very little Sarin is going to remain on the bird. There’s zero risk of secondary poisoning by the time this sample is being collected. OPCW analysis further showed no Sarin on the bird, only non-volatile residues: IMPA, DIMP, MPA, and hexamine.

      How intellectually bankrupt do you have to be to pretend that Sarin is a persistent nerve agent, in spite of 70 years of evidence to the contrary?

        • stranger

          DDTea, it was you who claimed that Russia was interested in the gas attack in Syria allergedly to revenge the terroristic act in the Sankt Peterburg subway.

          It was you, DDTea, who posted videos with sadistically killed animals here.

          It is you who are working hard here to put the blame on the Syrian government without having enough evidences to justify the civil war which already took half a million victims.

          You are sick, DDTea.

        • Mr White

          it’s hilarious. 2 guys in full fricken space suits, nobody else wearing any protection really.

          sticking signs in the mud like they are going to stand up more than 2 minutes.

        • stranger

          The voice in “broken” Russian with may be Middle Asian accent sounds ridiculous too.

          • Mr White

            It’s utterly absurd, all of it. I assume it’s meant to be taken seriously but it comes across as comedy.

            Clearly nobody locally thinks any dangerous chemical incident has happened where these clowns are supposedly collecting samples.

            Did you see the sample collection? Did he even get anything in the test tube? Did he label it and seal it or just throw it away when the camera was off him?

          • stranger

            I don’t know if those “astronauts” are simulating or not. But agree, the entire video looks like a wierd grotesque.

            They didn’t translate everything in English – That comic Russian voice with ridiculous middle asian accent is saying in Russian “Oh these are White Helmets! And who are those? Probably White Helmets too” and repeating 4 (!) times: “I cannot breathe here. Difficult. Cannot breathe”. Such unprofessional voice cannot belong to a journalist, probably somebody from their gang.

            DDTea, explain to us please how this guy could breath sarin and still complaint a lot? You said sarin is not stable. What residuals of sarin can smell so? Or is this clown just fooling around?

  6. Mr White

    The video above is now the third video I have found of different people ‘collecting samples’.

    Here’s a random guy dressed in blue collecting a sample from the crater in an unlabelled plastic bag:

  7. Mr White

    So of all these samples, which ones made it to Turkey, if any, and which of the multiple samples from the same places taken by different people were tested?


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