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More Details of the January 22nd 2018 Chlorine Attack in Douma, Damascus

February 5, 2018

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

The following report was created in partnership with Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ). The Arabic version of this report can be found here.

Image shows remnants of one of the rockets filled with a a chemical agent, reportedly chlorine, that fell on Douma on January 22, 2018 (Photo credit: STJ)

Preface

Syrian regular forces continued their military escalation in several towns and cities in the besieged Eastern Ghouta, as they launched the most violent military attacks on those areas using several types of weapons. On Monday morning, January 22, 2018, the residential neighbourhoods in the northwest region of Douma were subjected to an attack with a chemical agent described as chlorine gas by locals, and according to many testimonies obtained by Syrians for the Truth and Justice(STJ), several rockets loaded with chemicals believed to be chlorine gas fell in those neighbourhoods, suffocating 21 civilians including women and children.

The attack came in the context of the military campaign launched by the Syrian regular forces on whole cities and towns in Eastern Ghouta on November 15, 2017, following Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya announced the battle “They Were Wronged” that began in three phases. The first phase began on November 14, 2017, when the fighting resulted in killing several soldiers of the Syrian regular troops, as well as Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya controlled large sections of the Military Vehicles Management in Harasta. The second phase began on December 29, 2017, when fighting led Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya to impose a siege on the Military Vehicles Management as well as controlling “al-Ajami neighbourhood” and the automated bakery in addition to al-Hadaeq neighbourhood that stretches along the road between Harasta and Arbin from the west side of the Military Vehicles Management. The third phase began on January 28, 2018, when Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya detonated a tunnel for the regular forces within the Military Vehicles Management in Harasta, killing and injuring a number of the Syrian regular forces.

It is noteworthy that this attack was the second chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta since the beginning of 2018. On January 13, 2018, the area between both Harasta and Douma was also shelled with poisonous gases, injuring six civilians, including women and children, according to a report prepared earlier by STJ.

Details of the Incident

Nu’man Slick, who hails from Douma and who was near the strike location, spoke to STJ, saying:

“Given the intensity of the shelling on Douma, we took the cellars and shelters as our homes, as we no longer left them unless to serve our necessary needs. Once, while my family and I were in the vault, exactly at 5:30 am, I smelled a strange smell that seemed like chlorine that we use in houses; and instantly I rushed to awaken my children and I took them to a double-locked room.  After that, I began to scream in order to awaken the people, and only minutes later, people started to run in every direction. There had been children who felt unconscious and were unable to breathe well; I tried to help them along with some people nearby as we put wet fabrics on their faces.”

In another testimony, Mohammed Oyoun, a doctor from Damascus Countryside Specialty Hospital, said that the hospital began to receive suffocation cases at around 5:45 am and there was about 21 cases of suffocation, with symptoms similar to those of toxic chlorine gas::

“The hospitals received 21 suffocation cases, including 8 men, 6 women and 7 children, with a child who is less than three months. The injured showed the following symptoms: dyspnea, a cough and a neurological irritation, in addition, their clothes smelled of chlorine. We were able to cure most of the cases through the spray with oxygen and bronchodilators. Many cases were directly cured, whereas many remained under surveillance for 24 hours; thank God, no casualties were recorded because the concentration of chlorine substance was not so great in the rockets pounded by the regime as I believe, in addition that the sunrise had softened many of the infected numbers because the sunrise had dissipated the poisonous gas.”

Videos filmed after the attack at a local hospital show many of the victims receiving treatment, including 7 children, and 7 adult males, consistent with reports from the Damascus Countryside Speciality Hospital.

Image shows some of the child victims of the on Douma on January 22, 2018 (Photo credit: Activists from Douma)

On January 22, 2018, the Directorate of Health in Damascus and its countryside issued a statement talking about the shelling of Douma with rockets loaded with poisonous gases, which caused suffocation among civilians. It also indicated that it was not the first time that densely populated areas in Douma are subjected to suffocation cases due to exposure to toxic gases, because the city had already been subjected to a similar attack on January13, 2018.

Image shows the statement issued by the Directorate of Health in Damascus and its countryside on January 22, 2018 (Photo credit: the Directorate of Health in Damascus and its countryside)

On the same day, the local council of the city of Douma condemned the attack against populated areas and stressed that the city had been subjected to a similar attack nine days earlier. The statement appealed to international organizations to assume their responsibilities in protecting civilians.

Image of the statement issued by the Local Council of Douma on January 22, 2018 (Photo credit: The Local Council of Douma)

Mohammed Al-Shami, alias, an armed Syrian opposition member who was near the strike location, spoke to STJ, saying:

“The north-west area within the stadium located in Douma, along with al-Manfoush neighbourhood had been targeted with 9 rockets loaded with poisonous gases. Sound of the rocket launch and the way it fell indicated that it was a Katyusha rocket, which was a Russian-made propellant charge that the regime had modified by supplying it with a homemade cylinder and the head was fitted with homemade detonators, leaking poisonous gas immediately after hitting the ground. It should be mentioned that five rockets had fallen directly on residential areas, whereas the four left had fallen in the agricultural areas adjacent to Douma.”

Image shows remnants of one of the rockets loaded with a chemical agent used in Douma on January 22, 2018.
(Photo credit: STJ)

Another image shows several modified rockets that had been used in the January 22 chemical attack, 2018 (Photo credit: STJ)

The munitions used in the attack were modified Iranian 107mm artillery rockets, with the explosive warhead replaced with a larger pressurized gas cylinder. Additional tail fins have been added to the rocket to provide additional stability.

Jamal al-Hasan, an activist from Douma who was the first one to reach the impact site, told STJ that one of the rockets loaded with poisonous gases was found embedded in the dirt, and 15 m from its strike location, another rocket was found fallen on a house. The rocket described as found fallen on a house may refer to one rocket it was possible to geolocate, featured in several photographs:

One of the munitions used photographed on the roof of a building (Photo credit: Media activist from Douma (During an interview with STJ’s reporter))

The same munition as above, moved to the ground (Photo: Media activist from Douma (During an interview with STJ’s reporter))

The location the photograph on the roof was taken is 33.572149, 36.387439, on the roof a one storey structure running west to east on the north side of a larger apartment building. In addition to the geolocation of the photographs, the location was also confirmed by locals who took photographs of the munition.

The location of the rocket photographed on the rooftop (Photo credit: Google Earth/Digital Globe)

Jamal al-Hasan noted that the rocket was carrying a white material similar to ice on its surface. In this regard, he continued:

“With the onset of the sunrise, this white material began to fade gradually, and once I attempted to touch it, it was very fragile, which caused me a severe headache lasted until the evening. Even the animals have not been spared the effect of this poisonous gas, as I saw a dead cat near the impact site.”

A photograph published by Bassam Khabieh on Facebook on January 22nd showing a dead cat close to one of the impact sites (Photo credit : Bassam Khabieh)

A photograph published by Bassam Khabieh on Facebook on January 22nd showing the munitions used with frost on the warhead (Photo credit: Bassam Khabieh)

The white material described by Jamal al-Hasan is likely frost formed as the pressurized gas cylinder depressurized rapidly. Analysis of images of the munitions provided by locals shows the munition would have had a pressure valve on the front, that would have been used to fill the warhead with pressurized gas.

One of the munitions used in the January 22nd attack decorated by the Syrian artist Akram Abo Alfoz with the pressure valve used for filling the munition visible of the front of the warhead (Photo credit : Akram Abo Alfoz)

The two objects in the rear of the warhead appear to be pressure relief valves, although the exact function is yet to be established. An extensive gallery of images showing the munitions in detail can be found here.

One of the objects removed from the rear of the warhead (Photo credit: STJ)

One of the objects removed from the rear of the warhead dismantled (Photo credit: STJ)

Bellingcat’s research for this publication was supported by PAX for Peace.

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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50 Comments

  1. Andrea

    I’d love to see how the trolls will explain the ice from condenstaion…
    They kept the warhead rockets in a freezer or what?

    Reply
  2. Mad Dog

    All of this is fake news and the photos of the victims were all staged using actors trained to simulate difficult breathing. How do we know this? Because Syrian forces are not known for being brutal or thuggish or heartless. They are just a bunch of nice guys being targeted by ruthless terrorists, like those three kids in the last picture. Damn, they sure look scary!

    Reply
    • Ayatollah Ghilmeini

      You are half right. Staging propaganda pictures to affect western public opinion is standard operating procedure in the middle east.

      That said there is 100% certainty on the part of western governments as to use of chemical weapons by the regime.

      There is plenty of evil to go around in the Syrian civil war including western governments sitting by and doing nothing while all this happened.

      The only moral position is to call for the end of the Assad regime and never letting the terrorists take power in Syria.

      Reply
      • Mad Dog

        Ayatollah, I agree with your last sentence, but it should have been done long ago when Assad started firing on unarmed civilian demonstrators!

        Reply
      • PJefferson Araldi

        The terrorists have been controlling Syria since decades: They are members of the Assad clan.

        Reply
  3. Thomas Peterson

    Wow it’s gas galore!

    But where’s some Sarin when you need it?

    This chlorine sucks, and the rockets are all rusty. Even the exhaust nozzles, which is strange to say the least for recently fired rockets.

    Never mind, I’m sure it all makes sense.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Man, chlorine becomes HYDROCHLORIC ACID when it reacts with the water in the air…
      Acid causes rusting…

      Reply
    • Andrea

      It’s almost the same reason it’s dangerous to living creatures: the same reaction happens inside your lungs… the problem is that they don’t rust…

      Thanks god it is not neurotoxic and does not persist on ground/clothes/open air for long time (don’t quote me on this), thus it allows some time (if you are lucky) to run away and get a hold onto an oxygen mask…
      Oxygen that will help you breathe despite the damage your lung suffered

      Reply
      • DDTea

        A urine-soaked rag can offer reasonable protection from chlorine in a pinch–long enough to escape the gas plume. This is how the British, initially, responded to chlorine attacks in world war 1.

        Reply
        • Thomas Peterson

          why would you need a urine soaked rag when you can just run away from the chlorine?

          Reply
          • Mad Dog

            You can’t run away from a major gas attack like those in WWI. In low wind conditions the plume does not disperse very fast either. But I guess you can run away if you can see the edge of the plume.

  4. Holden McGreyn

    Chlorine gas an water form hydrochloric acid. That’s why the missile parts rusted.

    Reply
  5. Thomas Peterson

    Iron plus hydrogen chloride produces iron II chloride not rust (iron oxide).

    Fe + 2 HCl → FeCl2 + H2

    Iron(II) chloride, also known as ferrous chloride, is the chemical compound of formula FeCl2. It is a paramagnetic solid with a high melting point. The compound is white, but typical samples are often off-white. FeCl2 crystallizes from water as the greenish tetrahydrate, which is the form that is most commonly encountered in commerce and the laboratory. There is also a dihydrate. The compound is also soluble in water; aqueous solutions of FeCl2 are highly transparent and pale green in color.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Hi thomas,
      i’m not a chemist, neither a materials engineer; my answers actually came from me studying medicine: thus having to learn the pathophysiology of chlorine intoxication.
      Then i simply assumed that putting some king of metal (we don’t know specifications) in contact with a very strong acid would cause corrosion and likely rust too.

      Now, i don’t know who you are (your knowledge of chemistry), but your answer made me dig further on the net to explain how something that happens in real life (and that anyone can prove by himself): HCl causing rust was denied by your explanation.

      I found it was pretty difficult to get a straight answer. And we have to consider that analytical chemistry, made in a laboratory strongly differs from what happens in an uncontrolled environment, with both unknown alloys and unknown gasses.

      But the best explanation i found was:

      “HCl will dissolve any rust that is on the steel item and, more slowly, dissolve the steel item.
      If you have a situation where the acid cannot keep the dissolved metal in solution, that dissolved metal will become rust”

      Cause surprisingly HCl can dissolve rust too!! But it’s all a matter of concentrations, physical states… (remember again that we don’t even know if there is pure Cl2 in those rockets!)

      Reply
    • Anon

      Thomas, this is a copy paste from Wikipedia. I am not a chemist, but it looks a lot like this requires lab conditions, and in particular no oxygen present. Further down in the Wikipedia entry you quoted it says “It is the precursor to hydrated iron(III) oxides that are magnetic pigments.” Iron III Oxides are nopthing else but rust.

      Reply
      • Andrea

        Looking if it was from wiki was the first thing i did too 😛 (you know… knowing how far his knowledge goes is quite important)

        After further reading (but again, i’m not a chemist) i think my initial guessing may have been WRONG: i assumed that CL2 in the air would find some H2O and create HCL… This is what happens in our lungs and on our eyes cause those tissues have H2O… but a rocket should not have H20 on himself 🙂

        In the meantime i also found that CL2 by itself is a strong oxidizer… thus it may oxidate Fe without the need of any acid (but consider that acids speed things up!)

        Reply
        • DDTea

          The rocket does not need water on itself initially. There is plenty of H2O in the air for chlorine to react with. And chlorine being dispersed through a pressurized nozzle (i.e.: adiabatic expansion) is going to cool down and condense water vapor. So now there is an intimately mixed cloud of Cl2 + H2O, in the presence of sunlight. You bet that will form HCl.

          Reply
    • DDTea

      I *am* a chemist. The reactions of elemental chlorine is 19th century chemistry and is all very well known. There really is no mystery here about the rust. The usual cast of clowns are just trying to defend Assad by making you think something is amiss.

      Chlorine reacts with water (e.g., ambient humidity) to produce hydrogen chloride. This is well known:

      Cl2 + H2O == 2 HCl + 1/2 O2

      Wet HCl is extremely corrosive to steels. This is also well known. I have personally seen carbon steels and even hastelloy (corrosion-resistant steel) in a chemical plant rusted to hell by accidentally-generated HCl. The rust was brown, iron oxide rust, by the way.

      Rusting is formed by reaction of Iron with water:

      Iron(0) + water —> Iron(II) oxide + Iron (III) oxide + H2 (gas)

      This reaction has a strong pH dependence, and is dramatically accelerated (catalyzed) under acidic conditions (pH 2). Furthermore, HCl can continuously dissolve the protective, passivating iron oxide layer to expose new Iron (0) reactive sites. In other words, wet HCl is going to turn iron into iron oxide very quickly.

      Reply
      • Thomas Peterson

        A chemist who doesnt understand that hydrogen chloride plus iron produces iron chloride plus hydrogen?

        That’s a new one.

        You’re no chemist, or you’re lying. 11 year olds do this experiment in school.

        Reply
        • DDTea

          Justify why you think this is the only relevant reaction to iron corrosion in the presence of air, water, and chlorine gas.

          Reply
          • Thomas Peterson

            because iron reacts with hydrogen chloride to produce iron chloride, not iron oxide.

            really it’s pretty simple.

  6. kraaiiii

    and why would assad used an still use chemical weapons ?

    1 there not that effective, not really, the don’t do thats much damage in a military point of view
    2 through Russia and Iran he can gets his hands on every bomb he wish and every quantity , bombs that aren’t forbidden in use but kill 100x more and frighten 100000x, things like incendiary devices cluster ammunition.
    3 Russia and Iran have a lot invested in Assad, do you seriously think that the let their investment do thing like this what will hurt their cause/objective ? .
    4. Assad gets gets caught every time using chemical weapons and every time makes the same stupid mistakes but he keep ongoing the same ways ? the way what he is doing now is leaving a huge trail of breadcrumbs back to him to follow for anyone to point to, in short he can’t get away with it.

    Reply
    • DDTea

      “bombs that aren’t forbidden in use but kill 100x more and frighten 100000x, things like incendiary devices cluster ammunition.”

      And Assad has used every one of those weapons against civilians in ways that have horrified the world. This is a guy who dropped Napalm on a playground. Why *wouldn’t* he use chemical weapons too? Why would it even surprise you?

      Reply
      • kraaiiii

        you don’t see/get my point i wanna make, chemical weapons use by Assad en the world reacts , ”example ” bombing his airfield with cruise missiles.

        so why use a chemical weapons, to quote your words ( i have no knowledge he ever used napalm except a BBC documentarian ) why don’t he use napalm, cluster ammunition, incendiary munitions, etc. Cuz the world doesn’t react but the result is the same in every way as the use of chemical weapon like ”fear” ‘destroying the target”

        to put it in a mathematical equation the outcome is always negative for Assad for him the use chemical weapons, yet he still does it, why ? .

        Reply
    • DDTea

      Wow. Skip to 5:08 of this video. See the message that pops up? You undermined yourself with your own video.

      “Mix 8 oz of water as the base solution. Use this wash to neutralize the acid to prevent further corrosion.”

      That’s exactly what I said earlier. HCl will dissolve rust, removing the passivating layer, and exposing the iron beneath to further oxidation.

      Reply
      • Thomas Peterson

        HCl will dissolve rust, removing the passivating layer, and exposing the iron beneath to further oxidation.

        you think the deep rust on the rockets we see in the pics was formed in a matter of minutes on clean steel?

        go back to chemistry school, seriously.

        you tried to pretend HCl formed rust, that didnt work because I knew better. Now you’re just making up unscientific nonsense.

        Reply
        • DDTea

          Still flailing? I have weird pastimes, so I don’t mind teaching trolls chemistry. Skip to 5:26 in the video. “If you add water or something, at that point you’re expediting the oxidation.”

          He’s right. Read page 12/13 in this PDF to understand why: http://www.electrochemsci.org/papers/vol3/3070806.pdf

          Strictly speaking, you’re going to get a mixture of iron chlorides, oxides, hydroxides, hydroxide chlorides, etc. It won’t be pure FeCl2 or FeCl3. Why would you even think that?

          “Because iron reacts with HCl to produce…”

          You can’t just look at a single reaction and try to explain everything. You have to look at *systems* of reactions. You have to consider selectivity and relative rates and thermodynamics under the relevant conditions (temperature, pressure, concentration).

          “you think the deep rust on the rockets we see in the pics was formed in a matter of minutes on clean steel?”

          Yes. Here’s a study where the authors measured corrosion in dilute HCl within 90 minutes: “The corrosion rate increased up to 17.31 g m−2 h−1 in the solution with 0.100 wt% HCl, which was 2-fold greater than that of carbon steel in HCl-free solution (8.30 g m−2 h−1).”
          https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010938X11000631

          You need to go back to chemistry school.

          Reply
          • Thomas Peterson

            Here is what happens when iron is added to HCl, dum dum.

            The result is iron chloride and hydrogen.

  7. Andrea

    Ok, as usual things escalated and nothing positive comes out…
    1) Chlorine by itself (being an oxidizer) accelerates the corrosion of all metals. Even dry chlorine can. It only needs air.
    2) Liquid HCL can be used to REMOVE rust. But then, it promotes rust formation AGAIN if not neutralised. There are indeed other acids that can be used to remove rust but that do not have this problem cause they form a protective passivating layer(e.g. phosphoric acid).
    3) Cl+water also creates HOCl (Hypochlorous acid), an acid way weaker than HCl, but a much stronger oxidizer, that is easily able to oxide Fe(II) > Fe(III) > rust.
    4) Fe > Fe(II) > Fe(III) This happens spontaneously (with time), and is strongly accelerated when pH is low (with acids)
    5) Thomas beloved FeCL2 (If formed at all) will be oxidized by CL to form FeCl3, HCl also oxidizes it to FeCl3. Iron(III)Chloride is a rust-like product (same colour).

    I think the key point is that all those reactions happen at the same time, thus dramatically accelerating a process that would be slower.

    Thomas is saying that the “further corrosion would be turning iron to iron chloride” but from what i understand, i see a couple problems: #1 rust is dissolved by HCL, but it is not removed (like in the video), so what will happen when HCL evaporates? It will come back where it came from… Even if it comes back as Iron(II)Chloride it will be oxidized to Iron(III)Chloride as per point 5.

    Now, we can stay here and discuss who’s better at chemists all day long, but what matters is not really the mechanism itself. What matters is that common practice shows that where gaseous Cl is liberated from a metallic container it usually causes it to rust, that if you leave a nail in HCl and then let HCl evaporate it gets rusted…

    PS: we are not considering at all that the rockets, are initially in a tube where an explosion and combustion take place… and god knows what kind of chemicals are present…

    PPS: why shouldn’t those dumb, masochist rebels have learnt to use metal that is not rusted if rust was showing those were fake’ 😉

    Reply
  8. Thomas Peterson

    #1 rust is dissolved by HCL, but it is not removed (like in the video), so what will happen when HCL evaporates? It will come back where it came from… Even if it comes back as Iron(II)Chloride it will be oxidized to Iron(III)Chloride as per point 5.

    Not dissolved, reacted. The rust has turned into iron chloride.

    It doesnt matter if it’s iron II or iron III chloride. Iron chloride is not rust.

    PPS: why shouldn’t those dumb, masochist rebels have learnt to use metal that is not rusted if rust was showing those were fake’ 😉

    Because they are dumb.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Erm…
      Doesn’t Iron chloride becomes rust as it reacts with Oxygen…
      2FeCl2 + O2 == Fe2O3 + Cl2

      Reply
      • Thomas Peterson

        what in God’s name are you talking about?

        That reaction can’t happen unless you heat the iron chloride to between 350 and 500 degrees centigrade.

        Reply
  9. Thomas Peterson

    “Yes. Here’s a study where the authors measured corrosion in dilute HCl within 90 minutes: ”

    Because you’re a fake chemist, you appear to wrongly believe the word ‘corrosion’ refers only to reactions with oxygen. It doesn’t.

    Reply

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