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Evidence of the February 4th 2018 Chlorine Attack on Saraqib, Idlib

February 14, 2018

By Eliot Higgins

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

Preface

On February 4, 2018, Saraqib, located in the southern countryside of Idlib, was hit by a poisonous gas attack, A helicopter affiliated to the Syrian regular forces threw two barrel bombs loaded with chemicals believed to be chlorine gas on the eastern neighborhood of the city, which is one of the populated areas, causing 12 civilians to be suffocated, including a child and three Civil Defence volunteers, according to many testimonies obtained by Syrians for Truth and Justice/STJ.

According to the STJ reporter who visited the site, plants around the impact site had turned from green to yellow, seemingly a result of the impacts. The reporter pointed out that the recent attack had caused a massive exodus by the locals, who used to inhabit the eastern district of the city, towards safer adjacent cities and towns.

Details of the Incident

Manhel Haji Hussein, one of the people who inhaled the poisonous gases resulting from the recent attack, spoke to STJ, saying:

“At about 9 p.m. while I was with my family at home, we heard the sound of a helicopter approaching, and only minutes later, there had been a strange smell inside the house. I began to feel shortness of breath, severe pain in the throat, and burns in the eyes, and then I fainted. After that, the Civil Defence teams arrived, transferred me to the hospital, and provided health care to me at a medical point adjacent to the city.”

Mohammed Haji Qasim, a member of the Civil Defence who went directly to the strike location after the attack, was injured after inhaling the gas. He said:

“We received an appeal (call) through the observatories that were monitoring the movement of warplanes in the city’s skies that a helicopter had thrown barrel bombs, which did not explode, on the eastern district of Saraqib. Immediately, we rushed to the strike location, and there were several injuries in the neighborhood, so we worked to evacuate them to the medical centers adjacent to Saraqib since many of the city’s hospitals have been out of service recently because they were targeted by the regime and allies. Once I arrived at one of these medical points, I began to feel dizziness, and itch and redness in the eyes. Soon, the necessary treatment was provided to me; my clothes were removed and my body was washed with water and soap. In addition, we were given antibiotics and we were subjected to spray with the oxygen. At last, I got out from the hospital.”

In testimony obtained from Hasan Qaddour, one of the medical personnel in Saraqib who treated the victims, Qaddour stated they had received several cases of suffocation due to the inhalation of toxic gas, believed to be chlorine gas, on the evening of February 4, 2018:

“The injured showed symptoms such as nausea, redness in the eyes, shortness of breath and burns in the throat, and all these symptoms indicate that they inhaled poisonous gases that could take away their lives if they were not provided the necessary care quickly. The medical staff at the medical points worked to provide health care to patients directly; we have documented 12 civilians who suffered from suffocations, including one child and three volunteers in the Civil Defence. All injuries ranged from light to medium.”

A civilian who was exposed to the gas used in the attack in Saraqib on February 4, 2018. Photo credit: STJ

One of the injured who was exposed to the gas used in the attack in Saraqib on February 4, 2018. Photo credit: STJ

Origin of the Attack

One of the supervisors of the Aviation Observatory, which monitors the movement of warplanes in Saraqib skies, told STJ that at 9:00 p.m. on February 4, 2018, a helicopter with a designation “Alpha 253” had taken off from al-Manjazrat School, located in Hama countryside, and headed towards the north. The officer added:

 “The helicopter entered the airspace of Saraqib from the south heading to the north, and when it reached the city from the east, it dropped two barrels, which did not explode and were loaded with poisonous gases.

Immediately, we delivered appeals to the people in the Eastern district of the city to evacuate the place after we heard through the wireless walkie-talkie that the helicopter successfully completed the mission and was on its way back.”

The Impact Site and Munitions Used

The impact site was filmed by SMART News Agency, and photographed by the Edlib Media Center, and Naba News. Using these images it is possible to geolocate the precise impact site of one of the munitions to 35.863044, 36.820206, on the east side of Saraqib, in a large grassy area surrounded by residential buildings:

The February 4 2018 impact crater in Saraqib, Syria. Photo Credit – Edlib Media Center

In these images it is possible to see a large area of yellowed grass surrounding the impact crater. This yellowing is likely caused by the release of the chlorine gas damaging the plants, a well recorded phenomenon, also seen in prior chlorine attacks in Syria:

Yellowing of plants at the site of the February 1st 2018 chlorine attack in Douma, Damascus. Image Credit – Syrian Scene Agency

A video from Syrian Civil Defence in Idlib Governorate and a photograph published by the Syrian Network for Human Rights shows a heavily damaged yellow gas cylinder reportedly recovered from the impact site:

A yellow gas cylinder recovered from the impact site. Photo Credit – The Syrian Network for Human Rights

The same gas cylinder was also photographed on behalf of STJ:


Images showing one of the gas cylinders used. Photo credit – STJ

In the Syrian Network for Human Rights report Syrian Regime’s Chemical Terrorism Hits Syrians for the 211th Time, additional images are provided, including a photograph of both cylinders used in the attack:

The two gas cylinders used in the attack. Source SN4HR

This type of yellow gas cylinder has been documented at the site of multiple chlorine attacks over the past 4 years, such as examples used in the following Human Rights Watch graphic showing gas cylinders documented at the sites of chlorine attacks in Aleppo in late 2016:

Examples of gas cylinders used in chemical attacks in Syria. Image Credit – Human Rights Watch

At the impact site in Saraqib, multiple pieces of metal debris were documented. These include strips of metal, and wider metal plates, some of which are attached to each other:

A metal strip and metal plate attached to each other photographed at the impact crater in Saraqib. Photo credit – Edlib Media Center

These pieces of metal appear to be the remains of an external structure added to the chlorine cylinders to add tail fins and an impact fuze, earlier examples of which can be seen in the above Human Rights Watch graphic. One of the clearest examples of this is from a chlorine attack in August 2017 in Khan al-Assal, Aleppo, where a nearly fully intact example of this type of modified gas cylinder was recovered:

The modified chlorine cylinder recovered from the site of the Khan al-Assal chlorine attack in August 2017. Image credit – Syrian Civil Defence Idlib Governorate

Video footage published by the Civil Defence of Idlib on February 5, 2018, showed that 12 civilians had been injured, including three members of the Civil Defence, with suffocation from inhaling poisonous gas that was used on Saraqib on February 4, 2018.

The Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) documented the arrival of 11 people with symptoms of suffocation on the evening of February 4, 2018 in Saraqib, and reporting the symptoms indicated the inhalation of poisonous gas, believed to be chlorine gas. The Society indicated that the attack has been the first of its kind in Saraqib since 2018.

The City Council of Saraqib confirmed through a statement issued on February 5, 2018, that Saraqib was subjected to a toxic gas attack by a helicopter affiliated with the Syrian regular forces that had taken off from al-Manjazrat School located in Hama countryside precisely at 9:02 pm on February 4, 2018, injuring many civilians.

Statement issued by the Local Council of Saraqib on February 5, 2018. Image credit: the Local Council of Saraqib

The Syrian Network for Human Rights report Syrian Regime’s Chemical Terrorism Hits Syrians for the 211th Time contains additional witness statements, images, and details of the attack.

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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17 Comments

    • Andrea

      Remember that they had a spotter even close to Shyrat airbase (deeply in SAA controlled area)…
      I obviously have no clue on how, or if they read “alphaxxx”… but nobody said they read it while it was high in the sky.

      I think they must have quite a network of “spotters” next to airbases 😉
      Otherwise they wouldn’t knew where it took off from.

      Reply
      • Andrea

        PS: it’s said that they heard trough walkie-talkie that the heli had completed its mission…
        It MAY mean that they were actually listening to military communications, maybe they got its callsign this way.

        Reply
        • Andrea

          Confirm this last theory: they were listening to the radio communications.

          I just found another report (sn4hr.org) that says that they were “tracking the calls with the military airbase”.

          Reply
          • Pat

            I very much doubt they can listen to radio communication of helis. it is not the ordinary walkie-talkie system. the closest frontlines was 20 km. and second, why wouldn’t they record it?

      • Pat

        they have spotter and see what type of aircraft takes off/lands but at 9 pm with dark cloudy sky, there is zero chance to see the designation.
        also they claimed to see “The helicopter entered the airspace of Saraqib from the south heading to the north, and when it reached the city from the east”
        how would they know it is the same heli? the town is more than 20km from any frontlines.

        Reply
  1. Aran McCall

    “A video from Syrian Civil Defence in Idlib Governorate and a photograph published by the Syrian Network for Human Rights shows a heavily damaged yellow gas cylinder reportedly recovered from the impact site:”

    “reportedly recovered” but not photographed or recorded at the “impact site”? Is it not strange to arrive at an alleged impact site, lift what is claimed to be a munition, carry it to another location then photograph it and say it was originally at the impact site? Why not photograph it in situ?

    Reply
      • Aran McCall

        Yes it does. If you want to link an alleged munition to an alleged impact crater then you have to provide evidence of your claim. The video cameras were on site and were photographers so why did they not video it in situ? You not find that odd?

        Reply
        • Andrea

          Yes, it may seem odd, but it’s still pointless.
          It’s pointless cause you can have all the proofs in the world pointing in one precise direction, but some guys (like you i guess) would still find out some fancy reason to call it fake. Even if you saw the “bomb” in its crater you would start saying it’s either photoshopped or maybe a staged attack.

          Instead i’d like to ask you: do you think it’s all a fake story cause there isn’t the photo you want?
          Well faked gas cylinders.
          Well faked chemical sprayed on the grass.
          Well faked intoxicated civilians.
          Well faked witnesses, both civilians, Civil Defense guys, Medical personnel…

          And the idiot who decided to stage this attack was dumb enough not to take a picture of the bomb in its crater?!?!?! Do you really think there is really a guy that is so f**king dumb????????????
          So stupid cause he knew the web would have been looking at every detail of his mad plan, ready to put in doubt every single particular… but yet so dumb to forget such an obvious thing???
          And what would have been the reason for faking this? There are not even fake dead children (to trigger some retaliation from Donald)!! There have been many other chemical attacks that (even if you call them fake) were “faked” way better and yet nobody did anything… Why should this very one (without a single fake victim) the one to trigger a war?

          Reply
    • Aran McCall

      So having checked each of the sources you linked to above:

      SMART News Agency
      Edlib Media Center
      Naba News
      Syrian Civil Defence

      None of the videos or photographs show the alleged munition at the alleged impact site. Why is that?

      Reply
      • DDTea

        Because they all just made it up. Chemical weapons don’t even exist. The Iraq war in 2003 and Colin Powell proved that.

        /sarcasm

        Reply
        • Aran McCall

          Why do you think this alleged chlorine munition was not evidenced at the alleged impact site but instead carried to another location and then photographed?

          Reply
        • Aran McCall

          “Why do *you* think it was moved, and what are the implications of it?”

          It’s not so much a case of me ‘thinking’ it was moved as it is that it actually *was* moved. If you review the photographs and videos of the alleged impact site that Bellingcat link to in their article above, none evidence the alleged chlorine munition at the site. Instead the alleged munition is photographed at another location.

          The implications of this are that without any evidence of the alleged munition at the alleged impact site then how do we know it was actually recovered from there? Is witness testimony enough? Why was the alleged munition not photographed whilst it was at its alleged impact site? Can you see what I’m saying?

          Reply
  2. Germann Arlington

    I found this report
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/doctors-and-children-among-hundreds-dead-in-assad-blitz-on-ghouta-mldhrrrq9
    interesting in one particular detail:
    “the regime has drawn back troops from the province of Idlib in the northwest, most of which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group linked to al-Qaeda.”
    This is reported in by far not the most Assad friendly British newspaper.

    Would not this mean that the independent investigation by bellingcat is a little bias in presenting the information.
    It seems that bellingcat did not report any casualties from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham fighters side.
    What are the chances that so many (hundreds and thousands?) of civilians are killed and poisoned but the controlling fighters groups are unaffected?

    Reply

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