Bellingcat

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Claims Of Opposition DIY Weapons Used In This Week's Alleged Chemical Attack

Since the alleged chemical attack on August 21st, there's been a debate over who was responsible.  Initial claims made on the internet that Youtube videos showing the attack had been uploaded on the previous day, repeated by the Russian foreign ministry and on Russia Today were easily explained when properly investigated (see here on Storyful's Open Newsroom and The New York Times' The Lede).


Now with the munitions recovered from the scene of the attack (pictured above) coming under scrutiny, there's been claims that a DIY weapon used by the opposition was responsible.  Posts on various social media sites, such as Liveleak, have attempted to link the the DIY weapon know as the "Hell Cannon" to the alleged chemical attack


The video opens with a claim that the first images of the Hell Cannon appeared after the alleged chemical attack in Khan al-Assal on March 19th, something that might actually be significant if the images appeared before the attack.  It then shows a video of one of the cannons being loaded with it's rather unique munition, which uses a gas cylinder as a warhead.  I'm assuming the use of the gas cylinder is the only (rather weak) piece of evidence that this is a chemical weapon, especially when the only times this munition has been pictured being loaded it with a fill that's fertilizer based explosive, as seen in this promotional video for the Hell Cannon.

It's also notable that the Syrian government claimed the Khan al-Assal attack involved a rocket launched from 50km, while the Hell Cannon has a range of around 1.5km, according to the oppositions own promotional material (pictured below), and the only way that munition is travelling 50km is if someone drives it there


Name: Hell
Function: Explosive barrel Cannon
Specifications: It can fire more than fifteen types of shells that weigh more than forty kilograms. It also has two locally-made rocket launchers (Rohingya).
Range: 1.5 kilometers.
Effectiveness: Up to 200 square meters.
Projectile: Propane gas cylinder.
Cost of the shell: 15000 Syrian Pounds.
Country of Origin: Syria
Manufacture: Ahrar Al-Shamal Battalions.
Another point that's been made by people attempting to link the chemical attack to the opposition is the projectile used by the Hell Cannon and recovered from the scene of the attack is the same.  Anyone taking more than 5 minutes to actually investigate this point will quickly conclude that's not true at all.  For example, this video clearly shows the munition as it's loaded onto the Hell Cannon.  Two things to note are it's size, around 4 feet long, and how the tail fins are attached to the warhead so they can go over the outside of the barrel.  Now lets look at the munition recovered from the latest alleged chemical attack in Damascus


As you can clearly see, the tail fins in this munition are welded to the base of the munition, which would make it impossible to load onto the Hell Cannon.  There's also the matter of length


The tail alone is nearly as tall as the man holding it, so unless he's a midget, the munition is much longer than the Hell Cannon munition.  It's also worth noting the Hell Cannon has been used widely since it's invention, with no reports of chemical attacks on government controlled areas reported despite this widespread use.  More videos of the Hell Cannon can be found here.

It's apparent attempts to link the Hell Cannon munition to this week's attack really holds no water at all, but I am always open to anyone who can provide evidence that these munitions were actually used in the attack.  So far, however, no evidence exists.

Speaking of evidence, I've put together this playlist showing all the videos featuring the munition linked to alleged chemical attacks in Syria, and images of the munition can be found on this gallery and ITV News report.  Arms expert Nic Jenzen-Jones also has put together his thoughts on the evidence gathered so far on his blog, and that's well worth a read.

Related Articles
More Videos Emerge Of Chemical Attack Linked Mystery Munitions
Are These The Munitions Used In Today's Alleged Chemical Weapon Attack?
DIY Weapon Linked To Alleged Chemical Weapon Attack in Adra, Damascus
A Mystery Munition - Syrian Army DIY Rockets?
Collected Chemical Weapon Posts

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

5 comments:

  1. That's almost as sad as the attempt to pass of something that looked like swimming pool chemicals in a bag marked "Made in Saudi Arabia" as chemical weapons because there was a hazard symbol on it. I suppose that if Assadists can fool five people and those five each tell five people who know nothing about Syria you have 25 people fooled so it's worth looking stupid.

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  2. As far as I can tell, the "Hell Cannon" seems to be similar to the German idea of using obsolete 37mm anti-tank guns to fire shaped-charge "muzzle bombs" which were in effect gigantic rifle-grenades.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PaK_36_with_Stielgranate_41_displayed_Military_Vehicle_Technology_Foundation.jpg

    The projectiles that have been discussed on this blog at length are clearly rockets. In one of your images in the last article on this subject, the (black) rocket nozzle was still present at the base of the tube, but in many other examples it's not visible, perhaps having driven itself up the tube on impact.

    The fairing around the fins suggest that this has to be a tube-launched rocket, but the tube could be fibreglass and quite light.

    Previously we've seen the disposable storage/launch cannisters from Roland SAMs re-used to fire short-range siege rockets across a street.

    It looks to me as if these were made to fit a launcher rather than vice versa. There must be something pre-existing which is brought back into use by the invention of these projectiles.

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  3. this sounds like an attempt to blame SAA for the chem attack

    well consider this
    Lest we forget Turkish police apprehended Jabhat al Nusra with 2 kilo's of sarin http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-al-nusra-021/

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    Replies
    1. Sarin degrades chemically quite fast, which is why talk of "stocks" of Sarin is a bit meaningless, because the stockpile would have a very short shelf-life. It's a bit like building a strategic stockpile of fresh fish.

      This is also why the sarin attacks on the Tokyo underground produced so few serious casualties: by the time the terrorists had made and distributed their jars of sarin ready for the attack, most of it had degraded.

      There have been several chemical incidents in Syria, where there have been some sarin symptoms, but not the huge number of casualties that everyone expects of a Sarin attack, and the natural degradation may be the reason there, too.

      So someone being caught with 2KG of sarin, some time ago, is probably less relevant than it seems. To be as effective as last week's attack was, I think the Sarin must have been made no more than a week or two before the attack, and more probably what was done was that the two precursor chemicals were loaded into the munitions, probably the type described above, and sarin was formed in the munition just before launch. Almost like a binary munition, which would probably be too complicated to make if the munition we see is what the culprits can do.

      None of that answers the question of who did it, but it's worth considering the question of who COULD have done it, and the answer doesn't include many of the rebel groups.

      The more recent post may be of more help, as there's an analysis of where one of the munitions landed, and which direction it came from. How far it traveled is still unanswerable.

      But assuming it was aimed at where it landed, more or less, then someone hostile to the inhabitants of a rebel-held area would be a logical assumption. The alternative is to suppose that the rebel leaders and most of their troops are absolutely psychotic, and there's no evidence for that.

      I find it surprising that none of the "experts" being touted around the TV studios are prepared to say that sarin has a limited shelf life, because this is very relevant indeed, not just as to who could have used it, but also as to why:
      "use it or lose it" might be a deciding factor in any decision to use such a weapon.

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  4. After I subscribed to an Australian broadband service provider, I have been exposed more on how the world has changed a lot. Now, chemicals are being used to kill innocent individuals. Let us pray for the souls of the victims.

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