Bellingcat

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

American Anti-Tank Missile Filmed In Syria

The following video posted on an activist channel for Talbiseh, Homs shows a very unusual projectile previously unseen in the conflict



The projectile belongs to an American M47 Dragon, a wire-guided anti-tank missile in service with the US military until 2001.  A diagram of the projectile is shown below (source


The video provides a close up of the markings on the projectile which provides additional information


"Octol" refers to the type of explosive used, more details of which are here.  M225 is the type of warhead, and HE refers to high explosive.  What's interesting is there's also a P/N reference, which means that with the right reference material it would be possible to track it down to it's original source.  With a history of use in Iran, Iraq, Israel, and Jordan, as well as the US, it leaves the question of the source wide open, but hopefully the P/N reference will make tracking the origin much more straight-forward.

More Background On Croatian Weapons In Syria

Some more information for those of you interested in the recent New York Times piece of Croatian weapons being sent to the Syrian opposition by Saudi Arabia.

Myself and others made a number of earlier reports on the subject, before it was clear who was providing the weapons, with my first post on the subject back in January 16th followed by two more updates as I discovered more information

From February James Miller and Scott Lucas of EA Worldview also produced a number of posts on the subject

Michael Weiss examined the appearance of these weapons on February 20th with "Who just started arming Syria rebels?".

As part of my research into the weapons in questions I've put together a number of Youtube playlists with all the videos I've come across showing these weapons in the hands of the opposition:

It appears Croatian weapons aren't the only recently sighted foreign weapons in Syria, with Chinese MANPADS (surface to air missiles), and French rockets appearing on the field in recent weeks.

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




Thursday, 21 February 2013

Hackgate - Elveden - Murdoch's Catch 22

From my regular contributor.

A new investigative strand has opened up in Operation Weeting. Charging decisions from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are beginning to roll in Operation Elveden.

It's an opportune time to take stock, reflect on what may be happening with Hackgate, and posit some emerging patterns.

Weeting (phone hacking) arrests and charges have a tendency to be linked in marked clusters. Groups of those arrested or charged tend towards a cluster of accused, with alleged illegalities enabling and functioning around a single 'private investigator'. Three examples - 
  • Operation Weeting charges (July 2012
  • Operation Sacha (sub-investigation of Weeting) charges of conspiracy/perverting the course of justice (May 2012
  • Operation Weeting arrests (February 2013), the new investigatory strand. Significantly this cluster - NOTW Features rather than News- may relate to a different and as yet unidentified 'private investigator' 
Each relates to alleged offences at the News of the World (NOTW) - even where those identified previously or subsequently worked at other titles.

But Operation Elvedon is very different.
  • It is the only hackgate Metropolitan Police (MET) operation supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC). An operation 'supervised' by the IPCC is not freestanding or completely independent. Neither is it 'managed' closely by the IPCC. It is lower level and pretty much hands-off - where the investigation is "carried out by police Professional Standards Departments under their own direction and control. The IPCC will set the terms of reference and receive the investigation report when it is complete." (IPCC
  • Elveden arrests and charges, as yet, do not cluster in the same way as Weeting. Its charateristic pattern tends to a single police/prison service/ public official allegedly leaking confidential information to one or more press contacts - whether for money or not. Here are two examples where it is accepted no payment was involved: one conviction, and one recent arrest
  • Elveden charges of police/public officials are to date 'Misconduct in Public Office' or conspiracy to same. The issue at the heart of a misconduct offence is the public trust - NOT whether payment was offered, paid or accepted. There is however a whistleblower-type, public interest defence on motivation if the accused can demonstrate they had 'reasonable excuse or justification' (Misconduct in Public Office). Misconduct offences can carry more severe penalties than Weeting conspiracy to intercept voicemails, up to and including life imprisonment. 
  • Elveden arrests and charges also include instances where payment IS alleged. For example, £6450 specified (here), £3350 (here), and £1750 (here). We don't know if these are selective, specimen charges and whether, hypothetically, there are other instances to remain unprosecuted where sensitive confidential information was leaked. Now then, now then - speculation is neither use nor ornament. 
  • Weeting largely Involves the defunct NOTW but Operation Elveden applies mainly (but not exclusively) to the Sun. With the exception of a selected senior few, arrested NOTW employees are getting no support from News International for legal defence. Conversely, arrested Sun employees are having their legal costs paid by News Int. 
The very specific amounts noted in some charges are enlightening. They indicate MET/CPS/IPCC confidence in their evidence that must therefore include specific audit trail. In each case, the information leading to arrest is acknowledged to have come from News Corporation's contraversial Management and Standards Committee. Much of that evidence provided by the MSC comprises the mammoth Datapool 3 email archive. Despite court order, News International were forced to make "limited admission” that senior managers tried to conceal the voice-mail interception scandal from police by destroying e-mail archives...new searches that could reveal more damaging evidence before a trial... "They are to be treated as deliberate destroyers of evidence,” Vos J said of London-based News International at the hearing." Further "secret e-mails were disclosed in December by Paul Cheesbrough, News International’s chief information officer since 2010...The names of the people who sent and received the messages are secret because of the ongoing police probe....News International spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop declined to comment on the computer searches."

Paul Cheesbrough was later promoted from News Int to a more senior role working for News Corp, as was Daisy Dunlop, and MSC member Will Lewis - so some key News Int personnel being defensively withdrawn from Wapping stateside to News Corp. 

From the sustained efforts put into its attempted destruction, it seems clear the Datapool 3 emails (see here) are the ticking 'bombs under the newsroom floor'.  Most of the Elveden case-building is reliant on Datapool 3 as admissible evidence.  If one case falls then the others may fall over like dominoes - it could be argued the stakes are far higher in defending Elveden than Weeting.  Paying legal costs for arrested Sun journalists may be an altruistic drain on News Int's bottom line, but it does mean accusations of 'conflict of interest' have been levelled: 'Arrested Sun journalists are between a rock and a hard place'.  What Rupert Murdoch fears most is both UK and US authorities making further inroads into prosecuting corporate charges (Telegraph).

UK corporate charges were first announced as a possibility by Sue Akers in evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.  Home Secretary Theresa May also confirmed US investigations in her evidence (Exhibit TM-1):
FBI Department of Justice - (are) conducting an investigation into allegations that News Corporation tried to hack into mobile phones of 9/11 victims and claims that Murdoch publications paid inducements to police officers and others.  News Corporation, a US company which trades in the US stock exchange as a parent company, can be liable for the acts of foreign subsidiary companies (News International/News of the World etc).
The MSC has proved very, very expensive to the parent company, News Corp.  However, the MSC is necessary for News Corp to demonstrate voluntary cooperation with police investigations.  The only way for Rupert Murdoch to mitigate possible US offences under (FCPA) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or (RICO) Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act is to be seen to be cooperating with investigations - hence the MSC.  Yet there are clear signals of a sea change in MSC cooperation from May 2012 (see here).  In addition, News Int is pulling up the drawbridge on its out-of-court settlement scheme for victims. It will cease on April 8th.


The logical imperative for News Int is to defend Elveden aggressively through pre-trial legal argument, objections on admissibility of evidence, case and plea management strategies and so on.  Each and every trial holds the prospect of more and more evidence emerging of illegal modus operandi.  For News Corp the priority is the necessity of continuing a gesture of voluntary cooperation. Murdoch has to orchestrate a delicate game of keeping everyone on side and playing conflicting loyalties - police, courts, US authorities, plus employees who may be under pressure to implicate senior executives.

The upshot is the internecine spectacle of News international paying millions to defend against evidence provided by News Corporation - with Sun journalists as mere collateral damage.


Related Articles
Hackgate - "Snakes And Ladders" At The Met
Hackgate - April Casburn's Conviction - Myths And Misconceptions
Hackgate - Varec Revisited - Dissent In The Ranks
Hackgate - Sue Akers' Swansong
Hackgate - "Newsdesk Here, Kelvin Speaking..."
Hackgate - Andre Baker - A Hackgate Footnote?
Hackgate - Ten To Watch For

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

Saturday, 16 February 2013

New High Explosive Incendiary Bomb Sighted In Syria

Thanks to Pieter Van Ostaeyen for sending me the following video


At first this looks like a FAB-500 M62, a high explosive bomb used by the Syrian Air Force since about October 2012, but two features point to this being another type of bomb.  First of all we get a glimpse inside the bomb

It appears to show a separator just before the second lug-hole, and as this cutaway of a FAB-500 M62 shows that's no present in the FAB-500 M62


The second clue is what's written on the bomb


It's very faint, but part of the lettering can be made out, and the first thing that points to it not being a FAB-500 M62 is that there's four letters, not three, before the dash, followed by the number 5.  The first letter is Ф, or F, the second is only partially visible, but the third letter is clearly an A, and the fourth is unclear.  The partially visible second letter matches the top of the Cyrillic letter З, which in the English alphabet is Z.  So we have "FZA_-5".  One visit to a Soviet weapon catalog later and I find a match for both what's written on the bomb and the unusual separator, the FZAB-500M, a high explosive incendiary bomb


You'll note that in the above image the separator for explosive and incendiary fill is positioned just behind the second lug-hole, exactly at shown in the video.  Previously only much smaller ZAB 100-105 incendiary bombs have been recorded in Syria, so this would be a significant increase in the size and power of incendiary bombs being used in the conflict.


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



Friday, 15 February 2013

First Sightings Of Foreign MANPADS In Syria

Thanks to Bjørn H Jespersen ‏and Mads Dahl ‏who have highlighted two videos that show the first appearance of foreign MANPADS in Syria





There's been various claims of US made MANPADS being sent to Syria, but what we have here closely matches the Chinese made FN-6 MANPADS, or variant, shown below (source)



Unusually it appears the nearest country to Syria that uses this weapon is Sudan, with Malaysia, Cambodia, Peru, and Pakistan being other users.  Not only is this the first foreign MANPADS recording in the conflict, but it really seems to have no business being anywhere near Syria, leaving some big questions with regards to it's source.


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Something Everyone Should Know About SA-24 MANPADS
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Youtube Playlist MANPADS Sightings In Syria

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

Sunday, 10 February 2013

First Images Of Grad Rockets Used By The Syrian Opposition

For a number of months there's been increasing evidence of the Syrian military using BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers in the conflict, including leaked videos showing launches, and unexploded rockets, as shown below


Recently images have been posted online showing the use of the 122mm rockets fired by the BM-21 Grad being used by groups belonging to the Syrian armed opposition, including this photograph from Jabhat al-Nusra


As you'll note, this is not the usual firing platform for a 122mm rocket, but a series of videos posted by the Syria Martyrs Brigade (Shuhada Souria) shows that this isn't the only example of a 122mm rocket being launched in less than ideal conditions


As Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch stated during the Libyan conflict "the Soviet-made Grad in particular is one of the world's most inaccurate rocket systems", and I'd imagine propping the rockets up against rocks and trees instead of using a BM-21 Grad to launch them does nothing to help their accuracy, and makes their usefulness rather questionable.

Update February 16th It now appears the opposition has dropped trees as their launching platform and have instead opted for a DIY launcher, which can be seen in the below video



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

French Rocket Pods Sighted In Syria

In early January I wrote about French SNEB 68mm rockets that had been shown on Syrian State TV and filmed being used with various DIY launchers.  As I pointed out, these types of rockets had a history of being used in the Libyan conflict, and were part of a shipment of arms from Libya destined for Syria stopped by the Lebanese authorities.

Now we have this video that takes things one step further


What we have here is a French MATRA rocket pod, designed to fire 68mm SNEB rockets, with this photograph from AFP appearing to show another example of the same type of rocket pod.  Examples of this same type of rocket pod mounted on vehicles in Libya can be seen here, and here in a very informative post about the SNEB rockets in Libya.

As with the SNEB 68mm rockets I wrote about earlier the rocket pods also showed up on the Lutfallah 2 cargo ship that was stopped by Lebanese authorities (source)



The Syrian air force does have a small number of French SA-342 Gazelle helicopters, but as yet the opposition has not overrun any of the locations where these are based, nor has their been footage of these types of rocket launchers being captured by the opposition, so it leaves open the possibility that these are part of one of the rumoured cargoes from Libya that made it into opposition hands.


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Unexploded Cluster Bomblets Repurposed As DIY Rocket Warheads
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Improving Syrian Oppositon Armaments Demonstrated During The Taftanaz Airbase Attack
Clear Evidence Of DIY Barrel Bombs Being Used By The Syrian Air Force 

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

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Disposing Of Unexploded Cluster Bomblets, Jabhat al-Nusra Style

Over the past 6 months vast numbers of cluster bombs have been dropped by the Syrian Air Force across Syria, leaving a massive long term UXO hazard for the citizens of Syria whoever the victor in the conflict may be.  This presents tremendous problems for civilians caught up in these attacks, and as this following video shows attempts to dispose of them leaves something to be desired


Enter Jabhat al-Nusra, who in a recent massive bombing campaign in Palmyra, 120km east of Homs used a variety of UXO in the construction of their bombs, including at least 30 unexploded PTAB 2.5m cluster bomblets, shown below


Jabhat al-Nusra claim in their statement to have used multiple vehicles loaded with around 3 tonnes of explosives each, much of which appears to be unexploded ordnance.  This is not the first time they've done this, with a previous truck bomb using at least 2 unexploded FAB 500 M62 high explosive bombs, but this is the first time I'm aware of cluster bomblets being used as part of a VBIED.

As a slight aside, in this picture we see a bomb I've as yet been unable to identify


At the back of the picture appears to be a bomb I've recently come across in this video, but as yet I've been unable to identify it


This was filmed near Meng Air Base in the Aleppo region, a few hundred kilometers away from the Jabhat al-Nusra attack, so it's highly unlikely it's the same piece of UXO, so if anyone has a clue what this could be please let me know.

Warning and information posters in Arabic and English for the types of unexploded cluster bombs found in Syria can be found on the website of the RRMA (Responsible Researchers of Munitions and Arms) here.


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

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Syrian State TV Provides Evidence Of Anti-Aircraft Vehicles Destroyed In The Israeli Airstrike

Following Israel's reported air strike on Syria several theories and version of events have emerged from a variety of sources, with Syrian State TV showing the damage at the site they claimed was attacked near Damascus


At the end of the video we see a group of destroyed vehicles, shown in the pictures below






These appear to be the remains of at least three 9K33 Osa/SA-8 Gecko surface-to-air missile systems, with three distinct wheel arches, and the distinct radar area visible in the second picture.  Here's a picture of an undamaged system for comparison


One element that is missing are the missiles from the rear of the vehicle.  These come supplied in the launching tubes, and can be attached individually to the back of the vehicle.  

So what we have is three unarmed surface-to-air missile systems parked next to what the Syrian military has called a "military research centre".  We then have to ask why they were parked there?  It seems by the way they are parked and their lack of missiles they weren't their for defensive purposes, so that remains an open question.


Foreign Smuggled Weapons Spread Northwards Into Syria

Last week I wrote about videos from Syrian State TV and opposition Youtube channels in the Daraa region that appeared to point to the smuggling of weapons into Syria.  These weapons included the M60 recoilless gun and M79 Osa rocket launcher, both produced in the former Yugoslavia, as well as the RPG-22 rocket laucher and Milkor MGL/RBG-6 grenade launcher, both with links to Croatia.

Since then I've been carefully examining videos from the Daraa region looking for more examples of these weapons, and from what I've been able to gather it appears they first began to appear together on January 1st 2013.  From about October 2012 one group in that region, the Lajat Armour Brigade, posted videos showing them in possession of RPG-22s (for example here), although not in significant quantities.  What appears to happen on January 1st is a number of groups in the region join together to attack the Syrian military in the town of Busr al-Harir, northeast of Daraa city.  All the groups involved in the attack appear to be armed with the weapons mentioned above, with only the M60 recoilless gun appearing later than the other 3 weapons, around two weeks into the fighting.  During the fighting several tanks and BMPs are destroyed, and from what I can tell the fighters don't seem concerned about preserving the ammunition for these weapons.

While it's difficult to be certain about events my best guess is a large number of these weapons were delivered to one of the larger groups in the Daraa region, which then distributed the weapons to other groups in the region, who all participated in this attack. I believe one of the groups at the center of this may be the Omari Brigade, which appears to be one of the larger and more influential groups in the region, with details of their earlier activities in the region detailed on pages 22-23 of this Institute for the Study of War report.

One other interesting facet of this is that all the groups involved seem to be more on what you could call the FSA end of the Syrian opposition spectrum, as opposed to the Jihadi end of it.  This has made me think that perhaps these weapons have been provided specifically to groups that in the long term may oppose the growing power and influence of Jabhat al-Nusra and other Jihadi groups, but currently there's not enough information to come to a firm conclusion.

Since the battle in Busr al-Harir we are now starting to see these weapons appear elsewhere in Syria, for example, here we have the Ababil Horan Brigade, originally based in the Horan region surrounding Daraa, using a M60 recoilless gun in Aqraba, Damascus, the first video of them using this weapon in that area appearing on January 26th


Next in the Hama region we have the Descendants of the Prophet brigade and an Milkor MGL/RBG-6 grenade launcher


And this third video is what I think is the most interesting of all.  Filmed in Aleppo it shows a M79 rocket launcher, but what's interesting is who it is being shown to


The man shown in the video is Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, reportedly the former commander of the Free Syrian Army in the Aleppo province, and now part of the recently formed Supreme Military Council, acting as one of six representatives for the Northern Front, and maybe more tellingly, one of two members of the armament committee for the Northern Front, with this video being one of a series from his recent visit to opposition forces in Aleppo. 

So what does this all mean?  Well, it's hard to know if it's just a co-incidence that the newly smuggled weapons from the former-Yugoslavia end up being held by a senior member of the opposition in Aleppo, or that they only appear to be going to groups that seem to be aligned with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and Free Syrian Army, but it does seem for certain these weapons are spreading through Syria, and they must be coming into the country in significant quantities.

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Unexploded Cluster Bomblets Repurposed As DIY Rocket Warheads
The DIY Weapons Of The Syrian Opposition
Improving Syrian Oppositon Armaments Demonstrated During The Taftanaz Airbase Attack
Clear Evidence Of DIY Barrel Bombs Being Used By The Syrian Air Force

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