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All the Pieces Matter – Syria’s Chlorine Bombs and the Douma Chemical Attack

April 29, 2018

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

Following the Douma chemical attack on April 7th 2018, much attention has been paid to two impact sites where the remains of yellow gas cylinders were discovered. While much has been made of the position of these gas cylinders, less attention has been paid to the historical use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in the Syrian conflict, and what it tells us about the chlorine cylinders filmed in the aftermath of the Douma attack.

For the purposes of this article, the cylinders will be described as the “bedroom cylinder” and “balcony cylinder”, reflecting where the cylinders were found. The balcony cylinder has been previously geolocated by Bellingcat, in a building where at least 34 dead were filmed following the attack. It should be noted various sources have reported the number of fatalities as being between 43 to 85+, and while there were 34 dead counted in footage from the balcony cylinder building there does not appear to be footage of the dead reportedly found in the basement of the building, which could increase the number of dead in that building significantly, and may account for the majority, if not all, of the deaths from the Douma chemical attack.

The bedroom cylinder has not been independently geolocated, but is believed to be in another building close to the balcony cylinder. It is notable that there appears to have been no fatalities filmed in the same building as the bedroom cylinder.

A number of claims have been made as to how the cylinders found their way into these buildings. In a recent report by “Vesti”, a national news program produced by the state-owned VGTRK media consortium, claims were made that the cylinders were planted in the buildings, and the damage to the buildings were faked to make it appear as if the cylinders had been dropped on the building.

However, several hours after the attack, at 2:46am local time, a graphic video was uploaded showing the interior of the balcony cylinder building, showing multiple corpses, seen in earlier videos of the same location, and at 1:35 in the video a group of men enter a room, and rapidly exit, with the end of the gas cylinder being briefly seen. A comparison of that footage and footage from CBS News, who visited the balcony cylinder site, confirms the end of the gas cylinder is visible:

Left, footage from the night of the attack (source), Right, CBS News footage of the underside of the balcony impact site (source)

What is significant about the footage from the night of the attack is it shows the gas cylinder is white, which is almost certainly due to frost forming after the rapid release of pressurised gas. This phenomenon has been documented in previous chlorine attacks, for example on surface to surface chlorine filled rockets used in a January 22nd 2018 chlorine attack in Douma:

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

Footage published by Al Jazeera Arabic of an earlier chlorine attack clearly shows yellow-green gas escaping from a yellow gas cylinder partly covered in frost, again confirming this phenomenon:

Footage published by Al Jazeera Arabic showing a partly frost covered gas cylinder as it discharges gas (source)

This clearly shows that the gas cylinder would have been expelling gas into the building, and that it wasn’t simply placed in a hole in the building. Also notable is the front end of the gas cylinders at the bedroom and balcony sites. At the bedroom site the front end of the cylinder has minimal damage, and the pressure valve used to fill the cylinder is still in place:

The front end of the bedroom cylinder, showing the valve in place. (source)

At the balcony cylinder site, the front of the cylinder is dented, with the valve clearly absent:

The front end of the balcony cylinder, filmed April 8th 2018 (source)

In the Vesti report from the bedroom cylinder site it is claimed the valve is partly opened to slowly release the gas from the cylinder, so if these cylinders were both placed intentionally in an attempt to fake the attacks the question is why at one site the valve removed and at the other site it was opened slightly? Why do witnesses not describe the hours of noise that would have been generated from the holes being smashed through the concrete roofs?

If, as seems the most likely scenario, the cylinders were dropped from the air, the presence of the valve on the bedroom cylinder would suggest the improvised munition did not function as intended, leaving the valve in place, and limiting the release of gas, hence the lack of casualties reported from the bedroom cylinder site. At the balcony cylinder site, the removal of the valve and its position inside the building, would have resulted in the cylinder discharging into the apartment building, rapidly flooding it with chlorine gas.

This is not the only difference between the two cylinders. The bedroom cylinder has a metal structure surrounding it, while this structure is absent from the balcony cylinder. This structure includes the following key features:

Left to right – Suspension lugs, axle and wheels, screw and bolt, tail fins (source 1, source 2)

Much of the balcony cylinder footage focuses on the cylinder itself, ignoring debris surrounding the cylinder, but this debris provides crucial clues linking the two cylinders together. In the April 8th footage of the balcony cylinder the same style of axle and wheels can be seen close to the cylinder. The metal axle is connected to another shorter metal tube, the same configuration as visible welded to the metal frame on the bedroom cylinder:

Wheels and axle filmed at the balcony site (source)

Also visible in the debris next to the cylinder is another set of axle and wheels with the same configuration. One of the wheels has detached, and may be the yellow-brown disc visible in the above images:

An axle in the debris at the balcony cylinder site (left source, right source)

Also visible in the pile of debris is a similar metal structure of wide metal strips connecting longer, thinner strips, as visible on the bedroom cylinder:

Left, debris on the balcony (source) Right, the bedroom cylinder (source)

Barely visible in the balcony debris is the same ring, likely a suspension lug used to move the munition, that is visible on the bedroom cylinder:

Left, suspension lug from in the balcony debris (source) Right, suspension lug on the bedroom cylinder (source)

Finally, a bolt and possible tail fin is visible in the debris, features also visible on the bedroom cylinder:

Left, bolt in the balcony debris; right, bolt on the bedroom cylinder (source)

Collectively, all these pieces of debris can only mean one thing, that the same outer structure visible on the bedroom cylinder is present at the site of the balcony cylinder, albeit in a heavily damaged condition. It seems highly likely the structure had been attached to the gas cylinder, but at some point had become separated. Without images of the balcony prior to the impact, and without know if any debris was moved, it is impossible to state with certainty how the structure was removed, but the Vesti News footage might offer one clue. The footage shows clear damage to the corner of the building, which may indicate the cylinder hit that corner before finally hitting the balcony floor. It is possible that this impact resulted in the structure becoming detached from the cylinder, but it is not currently possible to establish the exact circumstances through open sources or witness statements:

Damage to the building above the balcony cylinder (source)

The significance of the structure linked to the two gas cylinders can be established by examining the history of the use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapon by the Syrian air force. Dozens of aerial chlorine attacks have been reported and investigated since 2014, and there is a clear evolution in the way chlorine has been used. Early examples from Spring 2014 showed a variety of configurations, most based on placing a chlorine cylinder inside a barrel bomb casing, the design of which had become standardised over two years of use. In the below example, a gas cylinder inside a barrel bomb casing from an April 2014 attack in Kafr Zita can be seen:

A later evolution of this design was documented in an OPCW-FFM report examining claims of chemical weapon use in Spring 2015, detailed in JP Zanders’ The Trench:

“The configuration consists of 9 gas cylinders (green) presumably filled with poisonous chemicals. The report suggests that they may have been filled with a chlorine or chloride containing compound. The flasks with potassium permanganate (pink) would then have been used to oxidise the chlorine containing compound, resulting in Cl2. The potassium permanganate may be responsible for the purple–red colour occasionally seen in pictures and video footage of impact sites.”

A diagram of the configuration is shown below:

A year later this design appears to have been abandoned, with multiple instances of chlorine gas cylinders documented in the aftermath of chlorine attacks without the barrel bomb casings previously associated with the attacks. Human Rights Watch documented a number of examples used in the siege of Aleppo in late 2016:

Images of chlorine cylinders used in alleged chlorine attacks in Aleppo (source)

Three of these images are notable in relation to the Douma attack. The Masaken Hanano November 16th 2016 and Karm al-Jazmati November 23rd 2016 attacks both have metal structures visible on the exterior of the cylinders, with the Karm al-Jazmati providing the most complete example:

Handout photo provided to Reuters on February 13, 2017, by Human Rights Watch claiming to show remnant of yellow gas cylinder found in Masaken Hanano, Aleppo, Syria after a chlorine attack on November 18, 2016. Courtesy of Human Rights Watch/Handout via REUTERS

The similarities are clearly apparent, metal strips, the bolt on the bottom right hand side, and the remains of what appears to be an axle and wheel on the bottom right of the image. In the Bustan al-Qasr image the remains of what appears to be a similar configuration of axle as visible in the Douma imagery, with a piece of metal tube attached to it, is visible:

Bustan al-Qasr December 10th 2016

Nearly a year later, in August 2017 in Khan al-Assal, Aleppo, the remains of a yellow gas cylinder with near identical modifications to those seen in Douma was documented by the White Helmets:

The August 2017 impact site (source)

The remains of the munition from the August 2017 attack (source)

It is clear that the remains of the munitions documented after the April 7th 2018 attack in Douma strongly resemble those documented after aerial chlorine attacks since 2016, showing a clear connection between those previous attacks by the Syrian air force, and the Douma chemical attack. While attempts continue to be made to claim the attacks were faked, the clear resemblance to earlier aerial chlorine attacks strongly indicates the Douma attack was another in a long line of chlorine attacks executed by the Syrian air force.

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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46 Comments

  1. Ld Elon

    Following the Douma chemical attack on April 7th 2018,

    STOP lying, NO such event took place. Weapons inspector already stated this.

    Reply
      • Bbrhuft

        I think he might be thinking of the sham inspection carried out by Russian military police on the morning of the 9th April. The predetermined results were announced on Interfax at 13:15 Moscow time (Syrian is in the same time zone).

        Reply
        • PJefferson Araldi

          Remember me of the Katyn massacre of 20k polish officers by the Russians during WW2. Subsequently the lying Russians blamed the Germans for the slaughter.
          Will the Russkies ever stop lying?

          Reply
    • Rachel Collins

      How long does frosting last? If the bomb fell at 7:30pm on the balcony and was a rapid release, and the video was taken at 2:40am, does frosting last that long? Does any computer nerd have metadata on the time the video was filmed?

      Reply
      • Andrea

        2:46am is time of upload …
        (unless i missed the point where the video has a timestamp)

        Reply
        • Rachel Collins

          If they uploaded it asap…its still 7 hours after it fell. So does the frosting on a bomb last that long especially if it was a rapid release and not a slow one?

          Reply
  2. Dominic

    Utter Blatherskype
    zero evidence of any chemical attack in Douma
    Plenty to show it was a false attack
    even less from previous faked attacks also ignored.
    adding an uneducated self taught ignoramus as an “expert” is pure comedy
    especially when the fake “expert” calls real experts idiots but will not debate them on the subject.
    Just basically a paid shill without a clue.

    Reply
    • Robert Humiston

      Then show us? If there is plenty of proof. It would stand to reason, if it could be found easily by you right? Of all the previous gas attacks in which it is said that asssad was responsible for, 30 plus ones? All claimed at one time or another to be false flags. Does it really logically stand that all of them are false flags? Do you really believe that after the 29th one, the rebels are saying well, the previous 29 did not work, you want to see if we can pull of the 30th? And just WHO is your “real” experts? Vanessa Beeley? and Eva Bartlett?

      Reply
  3. Sean Lamb

    “so if these cylinders were both placed intentionally in an attempt to fake the attacks the question is why at one site the valve removed and at the other site it was opened slightly? ”

    It isn’t possible to remove a valve from a pressurized gas cylinder – either standing on top of a building or in a helicopter. Perhaps you could argue that on impact the valve was knocked out without appearing to damage the rest of the cylinder. More likely either the valve was completely removed after the attack – or an empty cylinder was just positioned for purposes of a photograph.

    The whole idea that a cylinder dropped from a thousand meters would neatly knock out a hole in the ceiling and then after ricochet would come back to have its valve neatly pointing down into the same hole is a ridiculous fable only suitable for Bellingcat.

    “Why do witnesses not describe the hours of noise that would have been generated from the holes being smashed through the concrete roofs?”

    Because the holes were made when the building was evacuated, the balcony hole might have been pre-existing, all the witnesses are either dead or under duress of the Army of Islam? There are numerous possibilities.

    The thought also occurs that knocking a hole in a roof is a matter of minutes, not hours.

    Reply
    • James Leers

      Did you watch the YouTube vid at the start? Those people are dead. No doubt.

      Ok, so even if you think those people were gassed by the rebels, then explain how they got in that condition? Those bottles have been dropped from atleast 500 metres. The rebels don’t have any aircraft. They literally live in caves under the city

      Reply
    • Caitlin Johnstone

      “The whole idea that a cylinder dropped from a thousand meters would neatly knock out a hole in the ceiling and then after ricochet would come back to have its valve neatly pointing down into the same hole is a ridiculous fable only suitable for Bellingcat.”

      Boom. KO.

      Reply
  4. duplicitousdemocracy

    For all your staged photographs, explanations, theories and fancy diagrams of chemical weapon projectiles, there is one critical aspect missing. Verifiable evidence. In fact, the witness statements completely contradict the original grainy video that the bright sparks, Trump, May and Macron found so compelling.
    For instance, why did those pouring water on the alleged victims cover their faces, yet there were medical staff clearly seen in the clip that did not seem to be remotely concerned with harming their own respiratory systems? The masks weren’t to protect their lungs, rather protect their identity because these are the very same villains that will be wearing white helmets in the next edition of this fantasy drama. Are the rewards so generous that you will continue making fools of yourselves with these outlandish conspiracy theories? What if it were your own child at risk because of these blatant lies?

    Reply
  5. Neverevermind

    OMG! THEY USE NERVE- AND CHLORINEGAS!

    this i can surely assume, cause it is generally admitted and NOTHIN excuse this….

    BUT DONT BELIEVE ANYONE INVOLVED WHO BLAMIN SOMEONE FOR STHN OR TRY TO PROVE STHN!!!!

    wanna see GAS – BOTTLES? (((((<–! (prefered…gas-"bomb" pictures rebels or terrorists….if you hear gas-"(am)munition" it gives the "army"-impression …..i see gasbottles))))) with metal-ring-surroundings?:
    https://www.hallenbad-pohlheim.de/sys/img/hbad/content/einblick/technik_chlor_950.jpg
    (in german buildings without highly security!!! nearly every bigger town at least one room)

    wanna see military gas"bottle" -munition, you wont, but IF, it would be some container with a bit explosives on it, more ore less or not at all packaged (some countries are so proud of this shit, they paint their national flags on these things)

    i dont wanna insult someone, but do you study journalism in a school or university, is there a science aspect in any way or do you learn to stay for your opinion an convince the rest???

    – PICTURE-NUMBERS IN ARTICLES PLZ

    – english is YOUR mother language, but youre writing also for people, which arent very good english speaking, like me for example, so use simple sentences (i know im also not very good at it;-). Good terminology, impression isnt as impotant as rational, scientific work and way too much bad scientific, unrational is packaged in good "academic" words and recommended by society

    – i see round objects, you see wheel (in picture above)

    – you see significance ….or similarities ………or significant similarities ("significance of the structure linked to the two gas cylinders can be established by examining the history of the use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapon by …")
    ………….mmmmhhhh i see significant similarities …yellow colour(9/9), gas-bottles(9/9), which show no significance of the rest x gas-bottles on our world………………i see a (3/9 pictures)difference between "balcony,bedroom"- and the other, in this article shown gas-bottles (exept "Masaken Hanano November 16th 2016 and Karm al-Jazmati November 23rd 2016"-photo o.O with similar metal-blablabla o.O) …..its deformation (remember explosives, gasbottles, gas-dispersion/diffusion-speed, comment-discussions before, if you cant imagine you dont need a "expert" go buy some refill-lighter gas and play with it (no fire!!!)

    …. but do i believe anyone??? or do i blame someone ?????????? no!!!!, does soone try to influence opinions sure ….we all do ….daily …its good …..if we wanna be good/do right things …..to other people!

    BUT it frightens me sometimes how influence is used for conservation of own living-standarts, own religion, valuables, prosperity,…… PROMOTED BY GOUVERMENTS and "gouvenment" media which should know and act and do better!!!!!

    propaganda instead of clarification …NOT IN OUR COUNTRY, ALLIED ….BUT THE REST… ……it functioned well in my home country about seventy/eighty years ago ….. very well ….

    Reply
  6. Brokencat

    The hole was already there and the “chemical bomb” was planted. Your analsysis doesn’t prove the opposite.

    Reply
  7. Tim Lincoln

    Deeply depressing comments. Never mind. Thanks for the all the good work. It’s very worth it.

    Reply
  8. Rob

    Great work Eliot ! Thanks.
    Judging by the comments, it seems like the more evidence we uncover the further the Assad-apologists go into denial.

    Reply
  9. Assadist Defector

    This is the most ridiculous, fantasist drivel I have ever written. How much are NED paying you to make up this regime change baloney. It’s gone beyond the pale.

    Amazing how all the wall ornaments and bedside clock remained in place after a chemical bomb dropped into the room…

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Please explain us why the pictures should fall off a wall if you release a gas…

      Open the gas in your kitchen and see if something falls off the wall
      (obviously not due to the explosion that the ignition of methane will later cause)
      😉

      Reply
      • Brian

        .
        Andrea,
        if a solid object falls 1,000 meters and hits a concrete building,
        depending on the mass of the falling object,
        and the strength of the concrete building part impacted,
        there can be a lot of kinetic energy released.
        Did the falling object penetrate 4 inches / 10 cm of reinforced concrete ?
        That appears to be what is implied.
        If so,
        the entire building shook violently.

        Maybe those decorations were fastened so securely to the wall that an earthquake wouldn’t knock them down —
        because that’s about what would have happened.

        One of the most effective anti-tank munitions does not have any explosive charge in the projectile.
        It simply penetrates the target with so much energy, going right through in a millionth of a millisecond, that the steel of the tank is spalled off and does the damage. Some people thing that a meteor smaller than a modern aircraft carrier hit the Earth 65 million years ago and killed off most life.
        Newtonian physics.
        .

        Reply
  10. lostinthefogofwar

    Dropping a cylinder with the valve open would kill anyone unless it landed on them. People would just walk away from it. This is getting too stupid.

    Reply

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