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Open Source Survey of Alleged Chemical Attacks in Douma on 7th April 2018

April 11, 2018

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский, العربية

On April 7th 2018 reports began emerging of alleged chemical attacks on the city of Douma, in the rebel held pocket of Eastern Ghouta, Syria. Reports indicated that a significant number of people, including children, had been killed by these attacks. This report will assess and verify the open source information regarding these attacks, and draw conclusions from the available evidence.

All times are local.

Summary

  1. A large compressed gas cylinder of a type used in previous aerial chlorine attacks was filmed on top of the building where a large number of fatalities were documented.
  2. The number of dead bodies that can be established through open source data is 34+.
  3. Aircraft spotters reported two Mi-8 Hip helicopters heading southwest from Dumayr Airbase, in the direction of Douma, 30 minutes before the chemical attack in Douma, and two Hip helicopters were observed above Douma shortly before the attack.
  4. The Syrian Government has previously been identified as using Mi-8 Hip helicopters to drop chlorine cylinders on opposition held areas.

Reports of a Chemical Attack

Reports from the documentation group the Syrian Network for Human Rights indicated that there were at least two separate attacks involving chemical agents on the 7th April: one at 4pm near Sa’da bakery in Omar ben al Khattab St, which injured 15 people, and a second attack at around 1930 near al-Shuhada Square in Nu’man that killed 55 people and injured 860.

The Violations Documentation Center also reported two chemical attacks took place on April 7th 2018. As with the Syrian Network for Human Rights reports, the first attack was reported at 4pm near Sa’da bakery, with the VDC reporting claims from witnesses that chlorine was used. The VDC also reported the second attack at 1930 near al-Shuhada Square, and reported witness statements on the symptoms:

Dr. Jamal Rafie (pseudonym), told the VDC that the symptoms that he saw on patients “do not resemble chlorine attack symptoms. Chlorine alone cannot induce such symptoms because while it does cause suffocation, it does not affect the nerves. There were symptoms indicative of organic phosphorus compounds in the sarin gas category. But the smell of chlorine was also present in the place.”

Dr. Mohammed Kuttoub from the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) told the VDC that his colleagues in Eastern Ghouta saw symptoms on people that include: “pinpoint pupils, slow heartbeat, slow breathing, heavy foaming from the mouth and nose, and the burning of the cornea in some cases.”

The VDC also published the following graphic showing the locations of the attacks:

VDC map of attacks in Douma on April 7th 2018 (source)

Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, reported that a chemical attack at 1945 on the 7th April killed more than 43 people and injured over 500. They reported the dead victims displayed signs of cyanosis (a bluish discolouration of the skin), excessive oral foaming and corneal burns. Six living casualties were reported to have pinpoint pupils and convulsions. The report concluded the casualties had been exposed to “toxic chemicals; most likely an organophosphate element”.

Footage and Images

Footage and images posted on social media after the 1930 attack appear to depict a significant number of casualties, with many dead bodies located in a single building. Many of these bodies displayed symptoms consistent with the claims made in the Syrian Civil Defence statement and the VDC report.

Video 1, which is extremely graphic, was posted at 0020 on 8th April titled “#2018-4-7 Al Assad is shelling Duma with Chemicals. Horrifying massacre against civilians in Duma”. It depicts a large number of dead bodies spread across several rooms in what appears to be the ground (first) floor of a residential building.

Video 2, which is extremely graphic, was posted at 0346 on 8th April titled “2018-4-7 Witness the foaming from the mouth of the injured due to the exposure of civilians to sarin gas”. It documents more dead bodies spread across the second floor and stairwell of the same building as Video 1, as well as what appears to be a hole in the roof of the third floor.

Certain distinctive commonalities can be seen between Video 1 and Video 2, indicating they are filmed in the same building.

A bicycle with a white pannier – Top: Video 1, bottom: Video 2

A old woman with a single sock pulled down, sprawled near the entrance to the building – Top: Video 1, bottom: Video 2

A doorway and the body of a child wearing a distinctive red and white striped top. Faces obscured – Left: Video 2, right: Video 1

Multiple other videos and images posted on social media appear to show the same building and the same casualties.

In total, at least 34 unique bodies appear across the two videos: 23 on the ground floor, 10 on the second floor and one on the landing of the stairs between the second and third floors.

Geolocation

Video 3, which is extremely graphic, was posted at 1748 on 8th April by the SMART new agency, an opposition media network. It shows bodies being removed from the same building that Videos 1 & 2 were filmed in, and taken out into the street during daytime.

The same doorway seen in Video 1 & 2 can also be seen in Video 3. Faces obscured. – Left: Video 3, Right: Video 1

A window cage next to the doorway can be seen in both Video 1 and Video 3 – Left: Video 1, right: Video 3

A doorway with the same design can also be seen in both Video 1 and Video 3 – Left: Video 1, Right: Video 3

Video 4, filmed by a local activist and posted on Youtube by Aljazeera at 2044 on 9th April, depicts what seems to be Russian military personnel visiting and entering this building. This event appears to be corroborated by a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) which claimed “representatives of the Russian Reconciliation Centre have explored areas of Douma… Results of inspection refuted all reports of chemical weapons use in the city” (archived)

The same doorway the Russian personnel enter can be seen in both Video 3 and Video 4 – Top: Video 4, Bottom: Video 3

By analysing Video 4 and Video 5, which both depict Russian personnel entering the same block, we can geolocate this building to 33.573878, 36.404793. This location is immediately South West of al-Shuhada Square, which matches with the reports from the Syrian Network for Human Rights and VDC.

Geolocation of video 4 and video 5

Video 6, posted by Syrian Civil Defence at 2106 on 10th April, claims to show a “chemical gas canister… Same location as video of casualties”.

Taken from the top of a building, it shows a hole in the roof with a yellow compressed gas cylinder. The cameraman then swings the camera around, allowing the position to be geolocated, identifying it as the roof of the building at 33.573878, 36.404793.

A still from video 6 (bottom) compared to satellite imagery of the location, demonstrating the viewpoint is from the roof of the building at 33.573878, 36.404793

A distinctive building can also be identified in both Video 6 and Video 5

We can therefore conclude that Videos 1-6 were all filmed in the same area. All videos featured the same building which contained the large group of bodies depicted in Videos 1-2. Video 6 shows that this same building appears to have been hit by a compressed gas cylinder which broke through the roof.

Examination of munition

Following the attack, the remains of two yellow compressed gas cylinders were filmed and photographed. As described above, one gas cylinder was filmed on the roof of the building where a large number of fatalities were documented. A second gas cylinder was also filmed at a yet unidentified location:

The external modifications on the above cylinder are particularly interesting as they are consistent with modifications seen on other gas cylinders used in other reported aerial chlorine attacks. Very similar modifications can been seen in the following video from August 2017 in Khan al-Assal:

Yellow gas cylinders of the same type, with and without external structures, have been documented at the site of alleged aerial chlorine attacks since 2014, and were used on multiple occasions during the siege of Aleppo:

Human Rights Watch graphic showing yellow gas cylinders used in multiple attacks in Aleppo in late 2016 (source)

The most recent attack where yellow gas cylinders were documented following a reported aerial chlorine gas attack was the February 4th 2018 Saraqib attack, where two cylinders were photographed after being recovered from the attack site:

The two gas cylinders used in the Saraqib attack. Source SN4HR

The OPCW has also investigated some of the attacks where yellow gas cylinders were used in aerial chlorine attacks, confirming they were dropped from helicopters. Aircraft observers that are part of the Sentry Syria network observed two Hip helicopters heading southwest from Dumayr Airbase, northeast of Damascus, in the direction of Douma, 30 minutes before the chemical attack in Douma, and two Hip helicopters were observed above Douma shortly before the attack. Hip transport helicopters have also been linked to previous aerial chlorine attacks.

With allegations of Sarin use, it is important to note that these yellow gas cylinders are not associated with the use of Sarin, and as Sarin is a liquid a compressed gas cylinder seems an unlikely method of delivery for Sarin. Possible explanations for the allegations of Sarin use may be a result of the severity of the symptoms presented, of an undocumented munition being used, or another chemical agent being used that presents symptoms that could be confused with Sarin use.

Conclusion

Based on the available evidence, it is highly likely the 34+ victims killed in the 1930 attack on the apartment building near al-Shuhada Square were killed as a result of a gas cylinder filled with what is most likely chlorine gas being dropped from a Hip helicopter originating from Dumayr Airbase.

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

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187 Comments

  1. Persse

    No doubt in my mind the recovery was rapid. About an average of 20 minutes I would say. A medical marvel.

    Reply
  2. Bernd Saushagen

    What do you think is the reason, that the gas cylinders shown in your videos are not deformed? You are arguing, that they are the same like the ones, that are used in 2013 and 2014. In your pictures of 2013 and 2014 the gas cylinders where dropped of from a helicopter, but the are heavily deformed from the impact. I tell you what i think: the two gas cylinders from 2018, as shown in your two videos were never dropped of from the air. They were placed there. This is so obviously!

    Reply
    • DDTea

      You look awfully silly saying that after my comment from April 12 on the previous page, where I link to plenty of videos showing how gas cyljnders do not deform on passing through walls or building materials.

      Impacting the ground, as in previous instances, is different.

      Reply
      • Bernd Saushagen

        I have not seen your comment. I have just noticed, that all western media are relying on, is are the proved evidence of bellingcat articel. This is not silly not to check the second and third pages of comments first.

        So, what do you have written there to call me silly? And in anticipation of your critics of my english: what is you second language?

        Reply
        • DDTea

          Spanish and a little German (still learning). I don’t really care who you are, but it’s noteworthy you make grammatical errors that a typical German speaker of English would not.

          Regarding the former British prime minister, I was actually a skeptic of the claims against Iraq at the time. Really, today’s Assadists are no different than folks who claimed Iran gassed Halabja in March 1988. Or it’s like claiming all those Shias in Karbala in 1991 just committed suicide to discredit the benevolent Iraqi Republican Guard. The only goal is to allow continued atrocities.

          The videos of gas cylinders is relevant because the chlorine weapons used in Syria have mainly been modified commercial cylinders. They do not have a bursting charge. At least, I have seen no examples of chlorine weapons with explosive charges in Syria.

          Reply
          • Bernd Saushagen

            I do not want to insult and i will keep it short, because i want to go to bed now. I have seen now more from your videos but the more i can subscribe everything i have said. I make it realy short and point out some examples: in your video the cylinder is moving with may 40 km/h. Even a falling cylinder from a hight of 15 meters would have around 60 km/h. A helicopter will have a hight of some 100 meter and the cylinder will have a speed of around 200 km/h. Maybe you remeber a little bit the formular of acceleration. It is the same for negative acceleration. It is a question of mass, speed, way and energy. In your example is no resistence of wooden doors and walls. In the video is concrete, that has stopped this mass in a few centimetres. this is a lot of energy, that you should see in the deformation. But there is no deformation. In the second video even the outer parts have no damage. Maybe this could happen, if you would let it fall into sand or water, but then it will not jump into a bed. This all is so very faked and you can not convince me for your **** view.

          • DDTea

            If it punches through concrete at 40 km/hr without deforming (as seen in the videos I posted), it will certainly punch through at 200 km/hr. Probably won’t deform significantly either: these are heavy walled containers. The cylinder didn’t go from 200 km/hr to 0 km /hr instantaneously. Concrete does not have the shear strength to provide that kind of force without breaking. So it’s an inelastic collision. Also, after the cylinder loses some momentum to the roof, it’s more liable to bounce around in unpredictable ways. It likely stayed on the bed because the mattress absorbed the kinetic energy of the cylinder.

            Yes, venting cylinders can and do jump.

          • Robert Humiston

            I agree DDTEA. I noticed the same thing. The ones in the previous attack were deformed and the latest one was not. It is physics. An object hitting the ground, hits an object that does not move, the ground. Will have the full force applied at impact. An object that hits a hollow object, an apt, roof in this case, is slowed at impact. Plus, it the picture above it looks like it landed on another softer object, a bed. On thing neither of you pointed out. If it was planted, they sure made sure to cover it with the dust that settled on it. The dust is even consistent in pattern, that you see when a large amount of dust settles quickly. So, DDTEA – I agree with you.

      • Bernd Saushagen

        Now i know your comment, but i have to say, that you are awfully silly to compare gas cylinders, that are made to contain gas – even on impact – and gas cylinders, that are made to burst on impact. You can appologize now, but i really do not expect this, because you are awfully silly. Greetings from germany.

        Reply
        • Bernd Saushagen

          I am not sure if DDtea is only silly. More probably is, that he is following interest. His own or more likely paid. Normally i really not a friend of conspiracy theories, but here the proof of evidence is really less than thin.

          These gas cylinders have never dropped of from the air. People who are telling this are following their own interests.

          Reply
      • Bernd Saushagen

        And DDtea, believe me, i am engineer and german, but maybe you are a troll – no reason to believe you. You are supporting a false evidence like Tony Blair it did. Shame on you.

        Reply
          • Bernd Saushagen

            Maybe you take a look at the history of the postings and who had started this.

        • PJefferson Araldi

          I bet you’re Russian: It’s easy to identify you people by your twisted way of thinking; Germans on the other hand think logically!

          Reply
          • Bernd Saushagen

            No, i am a native german. I have no contacts to russians except my loud russian neighbour in asia, where i have bought last year a condo/flat to relocate. This all here in europa is too weird, that i want to support it with my taxes, so i have decided to stop working in 2016 and to relocate to asia this or next year. This is really a strange death of europe (Douglas Murray). Maybe you like that the Islam will invate the world – me not.

  3. duplicitousdemocracy

    For a man who has resisted the terrorists financed by the Saudis, propaganda from the West, sanctions that deprive ordinary Syrians from surviving relatively common ailments, attacks by Israel,US,UK and a significant invasion from Turkey, according to you, he’s pretty stupid. Three major CW attacks when he knows how the West will respond? Each time those halo wearing, terrorist, rebel extremists swear to Allah it’s the truth! There is an easier way to prove if this attack was real. DNA the victims and I’ll put a lot of money on them being Alawite.
    Of course, I’m not technically gifted in science to know if there could be defining characteristics that would prove or disprove. Jaish al-Islam kidnapping nearly 5,000 Alawites might just point us in the right direction of this social media based investigation. You’ve almost got the attack on Syria, team bellingcat. Another dead baby might just tip Donald over the edge. Oh, it seems that Eva Bartlett has just found it!

    Reply
  4. Bojan Davidovic

    Yeah, the White Helmet’s video proving date and time with a phone on a location that is about to be inspected by high ranking Russian military personnel the same day… Its just mind blowing. Great piece of “lets play video and social media detective”. Theresa May will have you on its Scripal case in no time, this is what she needs now the most, a good detective.

    Reply
  5. zan

    Hey EH,

    so you won’t debate Ted Postol? Because he’s a “war crimes enablist…?”
    but isn’t that precisely what you have to prove in a debate…you can’t proceed with the idea that your conclusions are prima facie correct…rather you prove them by showing the contravening evidence to be impossible or incorrect. Hence, if you don’t debate Postol, one of the world’s foremost weapons experts and leading spokesperson for the counter narrative…how can we think of you as credible.

    it appears you’re afraid to lose you Atlantic Council funding.

    Reply
        • Shane Breton

          Outside of Twitter Mr Higgins has never been in a debate or had his work questioned in the person. Any of you who even thinks there’s a hells chance he will debate with Ted Postol on an open platform I’m selling a lovely bridge if interested.

          Reply
        • DDTea

          Why doesn’t Richard Dawkins debate religious leaders? Why won’t anyone debate the Time Cube man?

          You only debate people whom you regard as having something valid or worthwhile to say.

          TP can’t keep up with events in Syria. He routinely misreads and misunderstands reports (by hisbown admission). He avoids peer review. He solicits advice from non-experts. He contradicts himself without explanation. He engages in misrepresentation. He slanders others as “frauds” but quietly accepts what they say (parroting them as his own ideas years later, without credit). All these points taken together, if we hold him to his title of Professor or even Professor Emeritus, he engages in academic dishonesty. He is a charlatan. He wasn’t even a professor in one of MIT’s core departments. He was an adjunct, and a full time joker. Nobody but RT and its viewers have any respect for him. If TP is one of its “foremost spokesmen,” I think that says a lot about the addled counter narrative.

          Reply
  6. Persse

    Well its another day and the evidence is now in. The terrorists have been seen off and proper investigation has revealed what any rational decent person strongly suspected.
    It is a tremendous relief, to all of us I am sure, that there was no chlorine attack. No decent person would want to see more suffering endured by the Syrian people. All the medical staff in the now liberated hospitals not aligned with the terrorist White Helmets propaganda units have confirmed that they only dealt with unfortunate victims of the battles between the Syrian government and terrorist holdouts. The huge numbers of gassed victims claimed by the terrorists failed to be found anywhere and are now, thankfully, confirmed as being completely fictitious. The terrorists, quite understandably, being desperate to hold on to their lives as lords and masters of a subjugated and enslaved population, all amply financed by foreign bad actors naturally felt they were justified in stacking up piles of dead children in order to have foreigners kill as many as their fellow citizens as possible. I am sure that their future in Turkish refugee camps does not appeal. I don’t expect that the terrorists very modest film making skills will be much use to them there.

    Reply
  7. sanjay

    I have grave misgivings about the evidence that has been put together by belling cat. Much has been sourced from entities that have bias against the Syrian government. How can you trust the quality of their evidence? Belling cat lowers its credibility by giving legitimacy to this chemical weapons attack, which looks quite dodgy.

    Reply
  8. DDTea

    I found the following quote from Zaher Al-Sakat, a defected Syrian Army Brigadier, interesting:

    “Chlorine can be mixed with other chemicals. Syandric was mixed with chlorine in Douma. It affects the blood, redness of eyes, difficulty breathing.
    (Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/14/weve-grown-a-thick-skin-say-damascus-residents-after-strikes )

    I cannot tell if “Syandric” is a colloquial term, a trade name, a translation, a mis-transcription, or all of the above. If I were to venture a guess, I believe “Syandric” is cyanogen chloride. This chemical is easily prepared by combining sodium, potassium, or hydrogen cyanide with chlorine. It affects oxygen/CO2 exchange in the blood just as hydrogen cyanide does, but is heavier than air and thus able to accumulate (HCN is lighter than air). It is also a lachrymator and respiratory irritant.

    Reply
    • muchandr

      And how did they add it to a canister already at some 200 bar of highly corrosive gas?

      If they had a capacity to fill those locally, what prevents them from ever using something less obtrusive then official Eurospec solid yellow chlorine canisters? Say of popular color “rusty”?

      Reply
  9. Miop

    Unpleasant question. Where are the victims now? Where are the bodies for examination? Where are the living victims with evidence of harm? Surely the latter at least would have helped to convince a sceptical public.

    Reply
    • Bojan Davidovic

      Yes, there were 500 people injured. Now, for this to work (the assumption that Russia lies, Assad lies and there was an CW war crime committed and hidden by those two parties) there needs to be evidence. If the bodies somehow fell into the hands of the regime and got burnt, what happened to injured people? France is saying it has the evidence, a blood sample from the victim, but it refuses to share it because, it is a SECRET? Curios. I guess they are happy with evidence like this one, or the BBC’s one. One female child we saw in the video being watered at a hospital was filmed afterwards and the video posted by BBC. She says stuff like: “We were in the basement, when suddenly they dropped the canister that didn’t explode and made a fshhhh sound (she heard it in the basement and survived??), so someone was saying “go up, go up” and we went to the last floor and I fell down (because that makes sense, go to the top floor to survive the bombing) we went to hospital (where she was cured with water) and back to the basement (i presume she meant basement of the hospital), where some people where bringing MARTYRS (yes, this makes total sense for a drama movie) and instead of breathing air we breathed the smell of blood.”. Wow. 550 people affected by CW, and the best proof of it is this little girls talk that sounds… I don’t know how to describe it. Beside’s this “testimony”, we also have this bellingcat investigation that relies on footage that is proven to be tempered with, unconsistent with various other footage of the canister, of the penetrating hole, the timing of video of that guy that was filming around a site that in 2 hours will be visited by Russian commanders… I mean really, this kind of evidence, I spit on it. We are not talking here about 550 ants, these are people. Where are they???

      Reply

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