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Did Russia Accidentally Provide the Best Evidence of the Syrian Government’s Involvement in Sarin Attacks?

November 13, 2017

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Russia’s latest attempts to challenge accusations of Syrian government responsibility for the April 4th 2017 Sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun may have inadvertently produced the best evidence yet that the Syrian government is responsible for not only the Khan Sheikhoun attack, but the earlier March 30th 2017 Sarin attack on Al-Lataminah.

During a lengthy press conference on November 2nd 2017, the Russian Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Defence and the Ministry for Industry and Trade presented its response to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – UN Joint Mission (OPCW-UN JIM) report on the Khan Sheikhoun Sarin attack. The presentation included a series of slides, which included diagrams of two types of chemical bombs, designated the MYM6000 and M4000. The slides from the presentation, with a clearer version of the bomb diagrams, were published online:

Remarkably, the Russian presentation appears to be the first-time images of these munitions have been made public, and before the press conference, no other references to MYM6000 or M4000 bombs appear online. Gregory Koblentz, Associate Professor and Director of Biodefense Graduate Program in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, noted that “these designations match bombs declared by Syria to the OPCW”, although there appears to be no open source material that provides specifics about the types of bombs declared to the OPCW. In the press conference the source of the diagrams are described as being provided “by certain organisations”, but no more specifics are given.

In the recent report by the OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) on the March 30th Al-Lataminah attack photographs of a number of items recovered from the attack site by the Syrian Civil Defence and provided to the OPCW were featured. This includes two metal filling caps that are identical in design to a filling cap recovered from the site of the April 4th attack in Khan Sheikhoun:

Left – A cap from Al-Lataminah; Right – The cap from Khan Sheikhoun

Chemical analysis of the debris and samples recovered from the March 30th attack site are consistent with the same type of Sarin being used in both incidents, Sarin which the OPCW-UN JIM report on the Khan Sheikhoun attack states is linked to the production process used by the Syrian government. While the OPCW provides evidence that links the Sarin used in both attack (as well as previous attacks) to the Syrian government, it is the Russian government, who in their attempt to defend the Syrian government, inadvertently provides evidence linking the bomb used to the Syrian government.

The diagram published by the Russian government of the M4000 munition provides multiple matches to the debris recovered from the Al-Lataminah attack, linked to the munition used in the Khan Sheikhoun attack by the presence of the same filler cap. First, it is possible to establish the size of the munition remains are consistent with the size of the M4000 munition. In the OPCW-FFM report on Al-Lataminah the remains of the tail section of the munition, with one tail fin still attached, is measured as 900mm wide. Based on this it is possible to calculate the approximate circumference of the munition. The below image shows this process in Blender:

Based on the above measurements the diameter of the munition is approximately 458mm, and considering the level of distortion to the remains of the munition this is consistent with the 460mm diameter of the M4000 chemical bomb. It is also possible to get an approximate measurement for the tail fins thanks to the following image in the OPCW-FFM report on Al-Lataminah:

This object is described in the OPCW-FFM report as follows:

“01SDS(B) is a large corroded and deformed metal object. Despite the corrosion, it is still possible to see layers of dark green and grey colour. It is also possible to see a smaller inner ring in the middle, linked by seven metal parts to a larger, outer ring. Four of the parts that are linking rings are rectangular. The other three are much larger and triangular. The spacing between the three parts, in addition to indications on the rings, point to one missing larger triangular part.

This is consistent with an aerial bomb tail fin assembly.

The FFM took numerous measurements of this item. Given the level of deformation, these measurements are only approximate dimensions. These approximate dimensions have not been included.”

Based on the visible measurement, it was possible to recreate a 3D model of the tail ring, which again measured to approximately 460mm:

These measurements are consistent with claims made by experts consulted by the OPCW-UN JIM in their report on the Khan Sheikhoun Sarin attack:

“Examining the munition remnants observed inside the crater, the forensic institutes and individual experts concluded that the remnants were pieces of a thin-walled munition of 300 to 500 mm in diameter and were likely from an aerial bomb.”

The design of the tail section and tail rings are also consistent with the diagram of the M4000 bomb, showing the tail fins do not extend beyond the sides of the tail ring, and the tail section does not extend fully into the tail rings, as it does on some other models of bombs, including the MYM6000.

Also recovered from the impact site of the Al-Lataminah attack were the aforementioned identical filling caps, matching the type recovered from the Khan Sheikhoun attack. In the OPCW-UN JIM report on Khan Sheikhoun the cap recovered was described as “uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs”:

One cap has a piece of metal attached to it which itself is attached to a suspension lug, used to attach the munition to an aircraft. Two caps are also visible on the side of the munition in the M4000 diagram, one of which is positioned close to a suspension lug:

Visible on the front of the bomb in the above diagram is the fuze and fuze housing. The fuze housing, which is separate from the blue coloured front end of the munition, extends over the front edge of the munition, and this would be consistent with debris recovered from the Al-Lataminah attack site:

The OPCW-FFM specifically refers to this as a fuze, and based on markings on the fuze it is possible to identify it as a a Russian АВУ-ЭТ impact fuze:

“09SDS is a heavily deformed and damaged metal object. On the both sides threads are visible. This part also bears visible markings which point to a universal bomb fuse. The fuse has been activated and does not contain explosive material. This device is normally electrically armed, heat resistant, and can function as point detonating or with delayed action. It is used on a large number of aerial bomb types by numerous nations.”

The thread indicates the fuze housing would have been screwed into the front of bomb, consistent with the diagram of the M4000 chemical bomb. The fuze detonates a 3kg charge that runs through the front half of the munition, marked in red.

Also recovered from the Al-Lataminah attack site is the remains of a heavy metal object that is consistent with the thicker front end of the bomb marked in blue in the above diagram:

The OPCW-FFM report describes this object, including the following sentence:

“One side of the item is flat with only the bottom part bearing marks of violent splitting.  Sides of the larger object are uneven and rough, probably the result of violent separation as well.”

Its position around the fuze and bursting charge would be consistent with the damage seen on the object, and it is the only object with these heavier dimensions recovered from the attack site.

Another type of object recovered from both the Al-Lataminah and Khan Sheikhoun attack sites are metal rails with equally distributed holes:

Top – Khan Sheikhoun; Bottom – Al-Lataminah

The rail recovered from Al-Lataminah is approximately 550mm long, with broken bolts inside some of the holes, and a 5mm metal layer attached, the thickness of which is consistent with other metal layer debris recovered from the impact site. It is likely this was used to attached parts of the bomb together, and it seems certain to be one the objects marked in grey in the below diagram:

One of the most interesting items is in the rear of the bomb, marked as a “mixing arm”. Part of this, found in the very rear of the bomb, was recovered from the scene of the attack:

The shape of the object can clearly be seen in the rear of the diagram, and the outer side of the object has a visible broken metal rod:

This is described in the OPCW-FFM report:

“The lid part has a larger hole in the middle where a segment of a protruding metal rod (labelled 3) is visible. The metal rod is broken and deformed.”

This, again, appears consistent with what is visible in the diagram of the M4000 bomb.

Due to the total lack of public documentation about these munitions prior to November 2nd, the Russian government’s presentation on Khan Sheikhoun has made it possible to make these matches, further providing information about the Syrian government’s role not only in the Khan Sheikhoun Sarin attack but also in the Al-Lataminah Sarin attack.

The only way for the Russian or Syrian governments to now deny the M4000 bomb was used is to produce detailed photographs of the M4000 bomb, showing the same parts indicated above, or, if the Syrians still claim all these bombs were destroyed after 2013, declassify and publish further information about the bomb.

 

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184 Comments

  1. Thomas Peterson

    Kostja – November 29, 2017
    Have you?

    Nope. I’m just reasoning as to how a mixing arm must work.

    It’s an engineering decision. It’s rational. It has a specific function.

    What a guy with a politics degree who has worked for US thinktanks says is neither here nor there.

    Reply
    • Kostja

      So, do you care about degrees? Got it. Dr. Ralf Trapp has two doctor’s degrees, one in chemistry, one in toxicology. He works as a consultant for the OPCW. What does he have to say about whether the Syrian Sarin was mixed in flight? Quote: “If the Syrian army used Sarin in Ghouta (a scenario which is unproven, but which I think is plausible) then those components were mixed and made to react prior to use. This either happened in special mixing facilities or directly inside the warhead.”

      Translation from German (which I happen to be as well, so it’s accurate).

      https://www.google.de/amp/s/amp.n-tv.de/politik/Wer-ist-fuer-Ghuta-verantwortlich-article19788245.html

      So here you go. Definetely no in-flight mixing. According to everyone you ask.

      He also goes in and explains that the Syrians used Hexamine as their acid-scavenger.

      So again, what is your speculation based on?

      Reply
  2. Thomas Peterson

    He also goes in and explains that the Syrians used Hexamine as their acid-scavenger.

    No he doesnt. He only says they *might* have used it. He doesn’t know. He’s never seen any samples of undisputedly Syrian Sarin.

    Reply
    • Kostja

      In fact what he says translates to “should” have used. Obviously he hadn’t seen any samples of mixed Syrian Sarin, If you payed attention you would know that those samples do not exist due to the fact that the Sarin was stored in binary form.

      The point being: Trapp confirms that Syria needed an acid scavenger, he confirmed that the Syrian Sarin was not made by mixing in-flight, and he confirms that most likely they used hexamine as their acid scavenger. And Trapp works for the OPCW and knows the Syrian declaration.

      From our point of view, there cannot be any doubt about that. The Syrians listed 80 Tönnies of hexamine as parts of binary weapons as well. Case closed, they used hexamine.

      Reply
      • Joerg Heinrich

        And the syrian chemical-weapens-program also listet:

        40 tonns isopropylamine
        130 tonns isopropylalkhohl

        Perfect fittig to the “mixing-ration” for OPA (70% Isopropanol 30 Isopropylamine).
        And OPA ( Isopropanol + Isopropylamine as acid-stravanger) is the common solution for binary sarin weapons.

        Even more, no other use for Isopropylamine in chemical known weapons known than the use for mixing OPA.

        Reply
        • Kostja

          Syria needed more than 130 Tonnes of Isopropanol for their DF.

          Hexamine is listed as part of binary chemical weapons. There is no way around accepting that Syria used as an acid scavenger in Sarin.

          Reply
          • Joerg Heinrich

            Syria hat some 500 tonns DF [1], matching to some 100tonnes isoporpanol (for bi-sarin) oder pinacolyl alcohol (1) (for bi-soman) or cyclohexanol (for bi-cyclosarin).

            So nothing fits together if we assume all DF is for sarin-weapons, and also nothing fit if we assume some DF was for soman or cyclosarin cource OPCW lists no pinacolyl alcohol, no cyclohexanol and much to less isopropanol.

            So we simply dont know for what hexamine was for.
            And we dont know is surly no proof for the hypothese that hexamine was for use in an bi-sarin-weapon.

            (1) better known as 3,3-Dimethyl-2-butanol

            [1] https://www.opcw.org/news/article/us-completes-destruction-of-sarin-precursors-from-syria-on-the-cape-ray/

          • Kostja

            Syria has no Soman program and Syria has no Cyclosarin program. There simply is no base to assume that it exists. As opposed to a Sarin program.

            Also, you could also assume that Isopryplamine was for some other use. Animes other than hexamine are not listed as Category-1-binary chemicals. The only amine we know of that was definetely used in binary weapons is hexamine. The only binary weapon of which Syria had any sufficient quantity to justify 80 tonnes of hexamine is Sarin.

            Isopropanol is easy to acquire. This is really no point.

            Again, there simply is no way around accepting that Syria used hexamine as their acid scavenger.

          • Joerg Heinrich

            If we assume all DF is for sarin.

            The matching Quantity for the 581 tonnes of DF are somewhat around 350 tonnes of Isopropylkohol — that are symply not there.

            Hexamine is listed as part of binary chemical weapons.
            But only in one single publication that is not officel document from OPCW or UN .

            And in this single non-OPCW artikel hexamine is listet as part of binary chemical weapons — not as part of a bi-sarin.
            And there ist VX listet to an mabey somwhat more.

            Hexamine ist somwhat around 3 to 4 times more expensive that isopropylamine [1] [2] [3].

            Costs and availability speaks for using isopropylamine, it is well common and wildly used [4] like hexamine but less expensive.

            As analysis shows there is a disput about the point if hexamine can be used as a asid stravanger in the bi-sarin reaction.
            As mention before Postol says no, Trapp says its possible.

            But at best hexamine is usable without having an advantage over isopropylamin (i dont beleve hexamin to be usable in bi-sarin — hexamine is solid in a liquid process were even a fine powder is worse) .

            So way make mixing much more complex (powder) only to find a way to use a more expensive chemical without a chance of getting only one advantage?

            Way starting to develop this hexamin-technique?
            Isoproplyamine is know for decades te be well usable in bi-sarin-weapons.

            So way starting to developing a unproven hexamine-techniquewith with the risk of an complete failure only to make the bi-sarine-weapon more complex and a little more expensive?

            The hole sarin-hexamine story makes no sence.

            [1] https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/sial/398160?lang=de&region=DE

            [2] https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/aldrich/471291?lang=de&region=DE

            [3] https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/aldrich/59330?lang=de&region=DE&cm_sp=Insite-_-prodRecCold_xorders-_-prodRecCold2-2

            [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isopropylamine

          • Kostja

            Why use hexamine? It’s got higher density, thus it is smaller.

            The document is wiritten by Dominique Anelli. That’s as close to being official as it gets. There can’t be any reasonable doubt regarding that.

            The amount of Isopropanol and DF do not add up because Isopropanol is easily available everywhere. You don’t need to store 350 tonnes of that. There is no need for additives in VX, especially mit for 80 tonnes.

            Also, again, Postol is not an expert in chemical weapons. He has no idea and had to ask a chemistry student for advice (probably because nobody who is qualified would give him the answers he wanted).
            Trapp on the other hand is an expert on the very issue. Those are not equal opponents in such a dispute. Trapp is, by far, more competent. And, as opposed to Postol, he is not alone. Sellström also clearly states that it is possible. By now we know, from the latest JIM report, that the Sarin used in Khan Sheikhoun with Syrian DF was in fact mixed by the binary route using hexamine. That’s crystal clear evidence, the entire OPCW is with me and with Trapp, Postol is debunked on that issue.

            I can only repeat, there is no reasonable way around accepting the fact that Syria used hexamine as their acid scavenger. So yourself a favor, just accept it and move on. It’s pointless not to do that.

          • DDTea

            I think you’re mistaken about Syria not having a Soman program. They have certainly been interested in it:

            ” For example, one of those front companies, Business Lab, attempted in 2009 to purchase 500 liters of pinacolyl alcohol, which can be used in the preparation of the nerve agent soman. Although Syria initially denied working on soman, the OPCW found traces of pinacolyl at a SSRC facility.”

            From
            http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/07/syrias-chemical-weapons-kill-chain-assad-sarin/

            As for cyclosarin, who knows? With access to DF, several flavors of nerve agent become available with much the same technology. It simply involves interchanging one alcohol for another. Sure, there are moderate differences in potency between the species, but not so much to hamper their weapon value. Their declaration of 1-butanol is curious in this regard, especially given that butyl phosphates were detected after the Ghouta attack in 2013.

            It’s a mistake to think that “named” nerve agents like Sarin, Soman, Tabun, or VX represent the limits of nerve agent weapons.

          • DDTea

            Jorg,

            Sigma Aldrich is a fine chemicals company. They supply chemicals to research labs on a small scale and, if need be, on a custom basis. These prices in no way reflect the cost on the commodity scale needed for a nerve agent program. Syria didn’t buy its chemical warfare precursors out of the Aldrich catalog.

            Also, let’s think about storage and process design. You can leave hexamine in a barrel in a non-climate controlled shed, and it will be there in 20 years. You can’t do that with isopropylamine. Isopropylamine is hygroscopic (very bad for sarin production–will require drying and/or distillation). Hexamine is less so. Isopropylamine is toxic, making handling more difficult; hexamine safe enough to eat.

            You’re describing solid/liquid reactions as if they are exotic things, when they are actually routine and unremarkable. In many ways, they’re even convenient. Filtration is a simpler procedure than distillation on scale. In fact, I might start using hexamine in my lab-scale esterifications and phosphine syntheses for this very reason.

            Who knows what prompted the SSRC to investigate hexamine in nerve agents. But process improvement R&D tends to be a low-risk/high reward endeavor. So I think the question about “why would they even do it?” is misplaced.

          • Anser toJoerg Heinrich

            it seems that my post will no longer be accepted here, one post ist gone after 24St “awaiting moderation”

          • Aric Toler

            Probably got caught in the spam filter. Our filter/’moderation’ thing doesn’t work very well.

  3. Mad Dog

    Let us continue to defend glorious Syria and there oh so humane war against ‘terrorists’, because they are the rightful government and have never been known to commit such atrocities as they have been accused of here. Right?? Just ask the guys in St. Petersburgh.

    Reply
    • Thomas Peterson

      Bashar Assad, The Lion of Damascus, will win the war.

      How does victory taste to you?

      Reply
      • Mad Dog

        It tasted terrible FYI, because it means more years of dread for the majority of Syrians still in the country. Why would you gloat over that unless you were a real fan of thugacracies. Assad was rightfully losing the game until his fellow thugs from Russia (does that offend you?) Revolutionary Guard and the Hezzies stepped in, so I really wonder if you feel this is the will of the Syrians themselves, especially those how demonstrated against injustices committed by the Assad regime.

        Reply
      • DDTea

        If Assad comes out of this war alive, Russia will probably arrange his unceremonious death, a la Hafizullah Amin, and install a more amenable pet/puppet/client dictator.

        Reply
  4. Thomas Peterson

    Who knows what prompted the SSRC to investigate hexamine in nerve agents. But process improvement R&D tends to be a low-risk/high reward endeavor. So I think the question about “why would they even do it?” is misplaced.

    always more excuses

    Reply
  5. Sean Lamb

    Assuming this isn’t just pareidolia – I mean you could probably do the same process with any Russian munition – gas shell or not.

    It is so corroded only a severely suicidal Syrian airforce would be filling it with sarin. If it really is a g-shell – and that is a massive if – then it probably something looted from Libya and will test negative for any sarin residue (of course, no one is going to test it for sarin residue – don’t want pesky science intruding on our propaganda).

    It is amazing – one moment the Syrian airforce is dropping peculiar plastic grenades filled with sarin, the next moment it is severely corroded shells. And without the slightest indications of cognitive dissonance Bellingcat manages to convince itself that each is incontrovertible proof of the involvement of the Syrian government.

    Reply
    • Kostja

      Do you know anything about how corrosion works? I’ll give you a hint: Acid.

      Do you know what happens when DF and Isopropanol mix to become Sarin? I’ll give you another hint: HF. Which happens to be just that, acid.

      Nobody is assuming that the Syrian army filled that with Sarin when it was already corroded. Before you accuse people of spreading propaganda, maybe learn a tiny bit of chemistry.

      Reply
      • Thomas Peterson

        well what this is is good old iron oxide, aka rust, you know, the stuff that forms when iron is left outside for months or years.

        its not iron flouride.

        Reply
        • Kostja

          Do you know what acid corrosion is and how it works? Seems not. And it seems you are unwilling to understand it. For the moment let’s just say this: Why do you think that not a single expert, not even our always active (when it comes to defending Assad) Postol, has mentioned that “problem”? It doesn’t exist. It’s ridiculous.

          Reply
          • Sean Lamb

            Kostja, you have made such a powerful case for the iron parts of chemical gas bomb to be encrusted with iron fluoride that the path forwards is clear.

            These weapon fragments should be tested for comparative levels of iron oxides and iron fluorides – and if no significant levels of iron fluoride are found we must conclude the Syrian government is innocent of this attack

          • Kostja

            Are you kidding me? 8 months later?

            Soil samples have already been tested. The result was that the DF used to produce Sarin was produced by Syria. Since nobody else has access to that it is already clear that the Syrian government is guilty of this attack.

          • DDTea

            “These weapon fragments should be tested for comparative levels of iron oxides and iron fluorides – and if no significant levels of iron fluoride are found we must conclude the Syrian government is innocent of this attack”

            That would be a mind bending leap in logic, over mountains of data showing unambiguous syrian government guilt.

            And not to mention, it shows a perfunctory grasp of chemistry. Acids catalyze the reaction of iron with oxygen. It’s still going to be iron oxide rust.

            And the remnants of the shell *were* tested for chemicals. Sarin and its nonvolatile decomposition products and byproducts were detected.

  6. Thomas Peterson

    And not to mention, it shows a perfunctory grasp of chemistry. Acids catalyze the reaction of iron with oxygen. It’s still going to be iron oxide rust.

    Youre making things up again.

    Hydrogen flouride + iron produces iron flouride which is pink in colour. Nor would there be much of it since there wouldnt be much HF to start with in contact with the iron and it would evaporate.

    Ir doesnt produce a thick layer of red iron oxide as though the debris has been lying in a field for 6 months.

    Just common sense and basic chemistry. Waffle all you want, you’re just spouting nonsense.

    Reply
  7. Bernard

    So if someone uses a Syrian bomb, that must have been the Syrian government? How certain are you that Syrian chemical weapons haven’t fallen in the hands of other factions?

    I have the impression that the Syrian government had lost control of much of its territory during this conflict.

    Reply
  8. Peter

    Still peddling this regime change propaganda for a living are you Elliot?

    Are you salaried or contracted by the US State Department, Mr. Higgins?

    Reply
  9. Michael Weber

    Many decades ago, while I was still active duty as a US Army EOD Tech, I was tasked to support the Army 155 and 8″ binary sarin projectiles. Only 2 rounds of each were ever fired for testing, but close to 125 semi inert agent projectiles were also fired.

    As for the live loaded projectiles, the binary mix as the 2 chemicals react produce a large amount of heat. So much so that when you look inside it all the plastic metal and other parts are melted. You can even see scorching on the out side of the projectile. In fact so bad you could not read any stenciling.

    Reply

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