Bellingcat

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A Great Example Of How Not To Write About Chemical Weapons And Arms In Syria

When I started this blog one of the rules I set myself was only to publish information I was sure was correct, and if I was unclear on a point I would make that clear in the post.  In the case of arms identification I feel it's very important to be 100% sure about what you are posting, especially when so many people read and share what you are writing.  Unfortunately it seems for some people writing about arms in Syria all you have to do is take a few videos and work up a story without having any real understanding of what you are looking at, with this latest article by Theodore and Walid Shoebat for Frontpagemag.com being one of the worst examples I've seen so far in this conflict.

The article starts by reminding the reader of their earlier "scoop", where they "revealed that the Syrian rebels had in their hands potent chemical weapons and were testing them on rabbits".  This video did the rounds a few months ago, and show a man with the flags and various paraphernalia of the Free Syrian Army with a collection of chemicals, making various threats to the Syrian governments and various minorities, and then poisoning a rabbit with an unidentified gas.  The video was originally posted on a channel that wasn't established as being used by any activists or armed groups in Syria, and is of questionable authenticity.  Despite this, Theodore and Walid Shoebat seem convinced this is the work of the Syrian opposition, despite the lack of evidence to support that theory.

This attitude to the quality of evidence they are working with is reflected in their new article, where they claim
We have captured clips that were never translated (until now) showing rebels revealing heavy arsenals including weapons of mass destruction that contain chemical agents.
They start by not unreasonably questioning the accuracy of claims made by an activist in this following video


They ask "how can an FSA reporter film an exploded chemical rocket at a close distance and remain alive?", a claim made by the man filming the smoke.  My answer would be that the average Syrian doesn't know anything about chemical weapons, and this is very likely a thermite based ZAB incendiary bomblet or a cartridge from a ZAB 100-105 incendiary bomb burning off, both of which are used widely in the conflict.  But again, it's a fair question to ask, even if the authors seem unaware of the possible answers.

They follow this question by stating the following video shows the Syrian rebels have captured a "substantial amount of scud missiles"


The video has been helpfully translated by the authors, but it should always be remembered that, as demonstrated in the previous video, the people filming the videos don't always know what they are talking about, and anyone seriously investigating the use of arms in Syria should be writing about what they see, not what the people in the videos are saying they see.

Rather than being Scud missiles as the authors of the article claim we're actually see a variety of surface-to-air missiles, with this shot showing a clear example of a S-75 Dvina


This reference image clearly shows the distinct fin arrangement on the S-75 Dvina, quite unlike anything seen on any type of Scud missile


Next the authors take a look at a video of a Scud launch, stating "And just when you think that these rebels are too primitive to figure out how to fire these missiles, here is a video of them actually launching one"


While in this case it's an actual Scud missile when it was originally posted on Youtube by Syrian activists it was claimed this was a clip taken from the Syrian army, and there was a great deal of debate about it's authenticity, with a number of people claiming this was from an earlier military training exercise.  Of course, there's no way to know the exact origins of this video, but there's no way to any serious person could state with 100% certainty that this is the Syrian opposition launching the missile, and certainly wouldn't use it as the basis of making such a serious claim about the Syrian opposition's capabilities.

The article then goes on to repeat various claims made by the Syrian government and military about the latest alleged chemical attack in Khan al-Assal, with the latest claims being that the Syrian opposition fired a DIY rocket from Al-bab to Khan al-Assal, loaded with saline solution suspended "CL17, a type of chlorine that can be found at your local swimming pool".  This would require the following to be true:

- The Syrian opposition has developed a rocket with a range of 40km+
- That rocket is accurate enough to hit a target at that distance
- It carries enough saline solution suspended chlorine to kill 26 people, and injure dozens more
- The rocket is capable of dispersing that liquid in such away that it can cause those many injuries

Now if you look at the history of chlorine being used in recent conflicts the one series of events that stands out are the chlorine bombings in Iraq from 2006 onwards.  One thing to note about these attacks were they were all ground based attacks, a variety of IEDs and VBIEDs, and only in the largest examples were there the same number of injuries and death seen with the Khan al-Assal attack.  These attacks used massive amount of chlorine gas with explosives, with many deaths coming from the initial explosion rather than chlorine gas.  So it would seem that to produce the amount of injuries and deaths seen at Khan al-Assal a massive amount of chlorine would have to be delivered, far greater than could have been delivered by a DIY rocket, especially if it's the chlorine is suspended in liquid.

It's fair to say that the claims made about the Khan al-Assal attack are highly questionable, and will no doubt face great scrutiny by people who specialise in the area of rocketry and chemical weapons, but I think it's fair to say the authors themselves are not experts in these areas, nor have they spoken to experts in these areas.  One thing I have been following closely are the various DIY weapons used in Syria, and looking at the DIY rockets I've seen used, most of which are about a meter or two long, and would have trouble going 4km, let along 40km, I would be stunned if they had suddenly developed an accurate rocket capable of reaching a distance of 40km, especially one that was able to carry a warhead large enough to cause the deaths and injures seen in Khan al-Assal.  I'm happy for anyone to prove me wrong on that point, and if they can I'll dedicate a new post to this amazing new development in DIY rocketry in Syria.

In conclusion we have a selection of videos that don't support anything the authors claim, along with a few theories on the Khan al-Assal attack that don't really seem to be based on much more than claims made by the Syrian government and an extremely limited understanding of the DIY weapons used by the Syrian opposition and chlorine based weapons, not really something I would personally feel that proud about putting online for the world to read.


Related Articles
American Anti-Tank Missile Filmed In Syria
French Rocket Pods Sighted In Syria
Are Assad's Forces Using IEDs In Syria?
Unexploded Bombs Used In A Truck Bomb By Jabhat al-Nusra
Clear Evidence Of DIY Barrel Bombs Being Used By The Syrian Air Force
Unexploded Cluster Bomblets Repurposed As DIY Rocket Warheads
The DIY Weapons Of The Syrian Opposition

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com


8 comments:

  1. Excellent as always. Not to be that guy, but I'm guessing "termite based ZAB incendiary bomblet" was probably meant to be "thermite based ZAB incendiary bomblet"

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    1. Thanks, as terrifying as flaming insects would be, it was meant to be thermite.

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  2. What a breath of fresh air you are. The amount of bullshit published by so called reputable media outlets is shocking. For example RT carried the story about the rabbits saying look at who the evil west is supporting. They even cut the film short saying it's too shocking for views. RT does not seem to mind children being blown away by MIGs. It's a shame that no one at RT could find a chemist, because the only danger the Syrian army would face is if they got into the tank with the rabbits.

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  3. At this stage one shouldn't take it for granted, that the missile was fired from al-Bab. The syrian intelligence could be wrong, the information was distorted at its way through, or it could be psyops disinformation bit.

    But even then it is not that out of the way as you put it. The rich sponsors of the insurgents could easily afford a larger rocket.

    At first glimpse a candidate could be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fajr-3 - Hamas got some from iran. And Hamas has been put up against Assad. Its a speculation but its possible.

    And it is not necessary that the rocket is accurate enough to hit a target at that distance, not for primitive killers. They just had to hit - somewhere.

    And that gave me now the idea that they indeed tried to hit one of their own areas. To blame Assad for it, the long-awaited false flag attack.

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  4. I would be stunned if they had suddenly developed an accurate rocket capable of reaching a distance of 40km, especially one that was able to carry a warhead large enough to cause the deaths and injures seen in Khan al-Assal. I'm happy for anyone to prove me wrong on that point, and if they can I'll dedicate a new post to this amazing new development in DIY rocketry in Syria.
    Well, to that end... rebels claim one of their homemade rockets has a range of up to 60 km. How did you miss that? Or was it untrue? Ugarit News, Feb. 10:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_z5rf38ZwY
    Plus, that's just one example.Like we'll get to see everything they have.

    Otherwise, good article. Agreed on most points. Nonetheless, I suspect rebels gassed Khan Al-Assal with Mohammed Sabbagh's 400 tons of stolen CL17. Not so sure whether the rocket came from Al-Bab or where.

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    1. I take any rebels claims like that with a huge pinch of salt, especially if you look at other types of rockets of the same size and their ranges, for example what Hezbollah has been using. Hopefully the UN investigation might fill in some gaps.

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    2. Grains of salt, always, all around the rim. Another point - your still showing the S-75 Dvina seems solid enough. What I'm not so sure about is the longer, fin-less, truck-mounted missiles you see in the video freeze-frame, and the first seconds. Are those more of the same? Doesn't look like it to me. They could be Scuds, or something quite similar.

      So was that an apples-and-oranges dismissal? Maybe they were in control of at least five Scuds or something comparable, once, at least. There is another story (with video) where they found at least 2 by Raqqah, etc.

      But the whole fixation with Scuds in particular is silly. Some rebel sources say it was a Scud, but at least two others insist it was an errant air strike (5 km+ off-target). So, whatever. Had to have the right warhead - and not so powerful as to cook off the chlorine - but otherwise, hell, it could have been a mortar shell from some forward group (or maybe not??).

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  5. Reposted this here: http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-05-07-syria-who-are-the-good-guys-really/#.UYh5VrX-Hzk

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