Bellingcat

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Hunt For Chemical Weapon Attack Linked Gas Grenades In Syria

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.

When we were driving around meeting rebels and their commanders we showed them a picture of the grenade used in alleged chemical attacks. At beginning, nobody recognized them and we thought we are at a dead end. But later, we found two rebels at front line position in Assafireh who immediately recognized them. They were sure of seeing them on rebels, but didn't remember if the were from Liwa Tawhid or al-Nusra. But anyway, they said this were smoke grenades, not chemical grenades. Later in Aleppo we found two more men who said same thing.

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.

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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.

Related posts
More On The Gas Grenades Linked To Chemical Weapon Attacks In Syria
Was The Attack In Saraqeb Chemical Weapons, Or Something Else?
Jabhat Al-Nusra Photographed With "Chemical Weapons"
Comments On The Use Of Chemical Weapons In Syria
Video Claims To Show A Chemical Bomb Dropped On Al-Bab
A Great Example Of How Not To Write About Chemical Weapons And Arms In Syria
Links Between Alleged Chemical Attacks In Saraqeb, Idlib, and Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo

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

2 comments:

  1. Interesting (article, not spam). I note the info Hackensberger adds is words, from the mouths of people with possibly mammoth reason to lie about this issue. The only army guy who "confirms" their origin with the Syrian military is a defector who says they're supplied by sneaky Iran, and have a mysterious nerve agent inside. They trained with the actual item, ergo his recognizing it, which either means just throwing or pulling and throwing, right? It keeps testing as Sarin and peddled as cause for war. Also, he failed to implicate Russia in this little story, so not convincing enough. ;)

    I still consider "al-Nusra gas grenade" fair shorthand. They alone obtained/found, and know get seen with them in the north. Yet they don't use or admit using them, and whenever one is lobbed in an area they occupy, it must be one still held by the regime, dropped from a helicopter just to be sure.

    Mmmmnotbuyinnit. I also doubt it has much directly to with any deaths or any Sarin results, but just what's missing there, I don't know. Why it's included in their narratives at all I don't know - maybe poor coordination or, quite likely, it wasn't supposed to become known as the al-Nusra gas grenade along the way.

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