Earlier this week I wrote about two photographs I had been sent by a journalist working in Syria who had been hunting for the gas grenades linked to two alleged chemical weapon attacks in Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo, and Saraqeb, Idlib. I've now spoken to the journalist, Alfred Hackensberger, who recently wrote about his investigation in Syria for Die Welt, and provided me with more details of his investigation. I began by asking which areas of Syria he visited
Alfred Hackensberger - We (my photographer Victor Breiner and I) went to Aleppo and visited the area around the city, including some front lines, like Kafra Hamra (close to the Shia villages of Nuba and Zahra) and Assafireh, where rebels were besieging a military complex with chemical and ammunition materials inside.
At the al-Nusra Base fighters recognised the grenade immediately, and showed grenades of same type or series. They said: "All are smoke grenades, and we got them from Syrian Army depots." Again, they pointed out that their grenades are not "chemical weapon" grenades. Regarding whether or not they used them in combat, they didn't mention, or didn't want to mention anything.
To my understanding, nobody we were talking to was aware that these kind of grenades were used in the alleged chemical attacks in Saraqeb or Sheikh Maqsoud. We had to explain to them, that these ones were used. I mean they really didn't know anything about them.
After their statement that they got them from Syrian Army, we were looking for former officers, soldiers who might recognise them. It took a couple of days asking and, again, showing around the picture of the grenade to former soldiers till we found one who had seen it.
It was a rebel fighter, who goes back and forth to the Turkish border to organise weapon transports. He said, that he saw these grenades (the original one from Saraqeb and Maqsoud) during his military service over one year ago in Daraa (before he defected). An elite force, supposedly from the 4th Division, was training with these grenades. His officer told him that the grenades were delivered by Iran and would contain, beside smoke, a certain nerve relaxant, to calm protesters down. The former soldier also said that these grenades were not used at that time.
Some very interesting details there, especially when you consider these are the only munitions that appear to be linked to the Saraqeb attack, which I've examined in great detail here.
In the coming days I'll be posting a series of interviews from a number of chemical weapon experts, discussing the finer points of sarin, the attack in Saraqeb, where the US claims sarin was used, and the attack in Khan al-Assal, where Russia claims sarin was used.
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