By Adam Larson
Editor’s note: A complete version of Adam Larson’s in-depth analysis on the Douma chemical massacre of 7 April 2018, can be found at Monitor on Massacre Marketing.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES
The latest report from the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) on the 2018 Douma chemical massacre maintains the blame on Syria’s government, and even offers clues to help narrow accountability efforts. It’s been taken as another sound basis to pursue the 12-year regime change agenda, now by punishing the Syrian people with widening sanctions (both de jure AND de facto) for their general refusal to play along so far. This continues even as Syria reels from the massive earthquakes that killed thousands in both Government and Terrorist-held parts of Syria.
Continuing the tradition of the preceding FFM investigation, the IIT proposes a chlorine gas cylinder was dropped from a helicopter at “Location 2,” impacting with a velocity too low to penetrate the ceiling but so high it blew the ceiling open much like a mortar shell would do. Then an optimally swift gas release caused acid injuries of an extreme nature, but with oddly limited visual signs, leading to a delayed-then-sudden paralysis or unconsciousness in 35 cases, when we should expect that in about zero cases.
All these rather dubious conclusions were posed exclusively as “reasonable,” as the IIT acted like every alternate explanation had been ruled out.
My personal review tries to be open-minded, “chill,” and long on concessions. Part 1 considered the alleged airdrop of the cylinder at Location 2. The best explanation remains that it was manually placed next to two existing mortar shell impacts. Part 2 went through the likely release and possible concentration of chlorine gas in Location 2, and how it could not well explain those 35 fatalities. The victims were quite possibly killed somewhere else and then arranged beneath the cylinder “impact” for an entirely staged crime scene. Nothing in the IIT report adequately addresses my arguments, although it did entertain some other theories that were suggested to them.
All of that would mean this crime remains unsolved. And that brings us to this part 3, to explore what else might have actually happened to those people. The truth can’t be known with certainty, but the available evidence reveals signs of a managed and marketed massacre of civilians, held prisoner by foreign-backed terrorists. Unusual signs suggest the toxic agent used was probably not chlorine. I propose it might have been diesel exhaust. The same signs also point to direct bondage at the time of exposure, probably in what we call a gas chamber. Finally, there’s a strong case the ruling Jaysh al-Islam saw the specific victims as enemies, including a central targeted family whose members they might have kidnapped and later executed. I’m not saying they “gassed their own people.”
This all runs long enough it could made into a part 3 and 4, but I feel all this needs to be seen together here, for the full impact it deserves.
A Managed Massacre Was Ruled Out?
In his IIT report review thread, OPCW coverup helper Eliot Higgins said: “some of the loudest voices in Douma denialism claim the victims were killed elsewhere and placed at the site, rather than killed by chlorine gas exposure at the site. The OPCW IIT makes clear this is a fabrication.”
How? As covered in part 2, they decided on a chlorine gas level that killed swiftly, probably based on a prior assumption the people died swiftly (circular reasoning). But that wouldn’t be swift enough, so they also suggest some unexplained instant immobility making escape “impossible” and death certain. They only made a case – a possible but not a compelling one.
But, as Higgins also noted, “The OPCW IIT again addresses the claim bodies were moved to the site at location 2, a claim from the tankies that unsurprisingly is not supported by any real evidence.” He cited a passage from the report to explain. Summarized: The victims were not shot, stabbed or bludgeoned. They died around the time of the alleged chemical attack. The IIT haven’t seen any videos of bodies being planted, and they never noticed any visual evidence for it. Therefore, the victims most likely died at Location 2, from chlorine exposure, as implausible as that is in reality.
Full passage (optional):
“Finally, with regard to the alternative scenario in which the fatalities would have been killed elsewhere and subsequently moved to Location 2 in an attempt to “stage” an attack, the IIT notes that signs of blunt-force trauma or penetrating trauma are not visible in any of the fatalities observed in verified videos and images from Location 2, and that neither witnesses nor medical personnel recount observing blunt-force trauma or penetrating trauma in any of the fatalities, and that those signs are not observed in verified videos and images from Location 2 either. Furthermore, fully established rigor mortis, observed in fatalities being carried out of Location 2 in the early hours of 8 April 2018, indicates that the time since death was no more than approximately 9 to 16 hours. The IIT also notes that it did not obtain from the Syrian Arab Republic or other States Parties, nor was it able to identify, any evidence—including videos, photographs, satellite or drone imagery, open-source information etc.—which would corroborate that the aforementioned staging actions were performed at Location 2.”
Four bodies are laid by the curb at the entrance, one of them on a stretcher, and another laid as if being carried head-first into the building, OR feet-first out of it. This looks like an interrupted body planting OR an interrupted rescue, depending. All 4 bodies are there from the first images around 10PM, and not moved until daylight next day (see here – NEW images to me = new to most). If that was an early rescue, it’s strange, and it was never resumed.
At least 5 doors at Location 2 were visibly forced and/or removed (see here), reportedly by rescuers. But at least one door, just inside on the ground floor, that had many bodies behind or next to it (right), would almost have to be removed by the victims (immobilized or soon-to-be), or by some body managers.
The bodies are seen in debatably unnatural positions – people just laid on their backs spread-eagle, etc. One victim (right) was laid by the removed door with skirts and socks askew, black soles free of dust after “walking” up those dusty stairs (but then again: knees? crawling?). Babies were left just lying there nowhere near any protective mother. Bodies were piled, left in strange poses, or re-arranged in different familial embraces, some with vanishing jewelry, as noted in Stephen McIntrye’s useful timeline.
Activists had surmised and “witnesses” had claimed the victims washed their own faces before they finally couldn’t move. But that’s kind of absurd, and all this wet hair is seen 2.5 to 3 hours or more after their alleged deaths.
Some victims had been coated with soot, but some of it was washed off their faces, perhaps, using soot-smeared water basins. It seems they were also trying but failing to erase the unusual yellow-brown skin discoloration beneath that (we’ll come back to this).So to be clear, scene and body manipulation aren’t certain, but they are supported as possibilities by plenty of evidence.
It’s been argued that if bodies were planted, someone in the neighborhood would almost surely witness the crime, and they would report it, perhaps with video documentation. That certainly is a risk, but an overrated one.
This part of Douma was largely in ruins and seriously depopulated by then. It was under active bombardment that had people sheltering, and there had been orders communicated to stay inside and away from windows, due to the shelling and the toxic gas allegedly coating the whole area. Furthermore, if anyone saw the perpetrators – and were seen seeing them – they could be arrested or killed on the spot.
We don’t know where the victims would be killed. It could be somewhere inside Location 2, but there was no sign of another lethal chemical (and the evidence points away from chlorine – see below). It would probably be a remote place never tested by the OPCW, and the bodies were likely brought to Location 2 via the underground tunnels, which are big enough to allow pickup trucks. The tunnels open some 50 meters from Location 2, and the last stretch would be traveled under cover of dusk (sunset 6:59PM vs. rep. attack ~7:30, on average of a few versions).
So it would run a risk, but no guaranteed exposure, and this does nothing to prove there was no planting. The evidence for it cannot be dismissed.
The OPCW FFM consulted some German toxicologists who doubted simple chlorine would explain the scene. The chief expert suggested on his own that the bodies could instead be part of a “propaganda exercise,” offering some unspecified “elaboration.” It’s not clear why the OPCW was consulting “tankies” like that, but they were clearly unhappy with the results.
Finally, grubby hands and clothing – in many but not all cases – might indicate captivity under poor conditions, which could have extended to murder.
But whatever your doubts or questions about this circumstantial evidence, the evidence we’ll consider below strongly suggests the victims were prisoners, were deliberately poisoned, and did have their bodies planted here.
The “Mask of Death” Clues
One issue I noticed immediately was a very unusual yellow-to-brown discoloration on some of the victims’ upper faces, and assorted issues in the same area of other faces. I established the basic cause quickly, as explained in some detail at the post Douma’s Mask of Death (2019 re-write). I stand by that assessment, which I’ll re-explain here with important expansions.
The discolored area seems to correlate with the flow of pulmonary edema fluid, originating at the nose and mouth. They would cough this out trying to breathe, but from there it seems to flow over the face in a pattern similar to a “domino” mask. This is most evident on a woman dubbed W7 in my system (see here), also called Mask 1. She’s widely seen, including in the IIT report (see below). This extract shows what should normally not be there, without the disgusting foam and terrified eyes we don’t need to see here (and minus some details hidden under the foam).
If that face gives you the spooks like it does me, realize that’s not because Assad’s chlorine is so especially evil. It’s because part of you realizes that is truly bizarre, and something might be EXTRA-wrong here.
I’ve been looking at alleged chemical attacks in Syria and associated fatalities since December 2012, and I’ve never seen anything else like this. But in Douma, some form of this mysterious skin effect and/or its “mask” pattern appears on some two thirds of the seen victims. I’ll show some of them below. Some show it strongly and some fainty, and others not at all. But all 35 victims at Location 2, and 3 others also seen most likely suffered the same fate (as did the full reported 43 – if not even more).
Note this discoloration is not really a stain, but rather a process inside the skin, frequently accompanied by or replaced with a rash-like irritation in the same area. It seems the edema fluid has a strange effect on the skin. We’ll come back to that.
Almost all details of all cases suggest this fluid flowed primarily “up” their face from the nose and/or mouth, avoiding the chin and lower cheeks. Of course fluids can only flow down under gravity, so this requires a certain position with the victims’ faces upside-down, or with their bodies fully suspended upside down at the time of exposure, presumably bound to stay that way and so they could not wipe their faces of the edema fluids, allowing for this readable pattern.
What a terrible detail. This is not something people at liberty would be doing in their home at Location 2. Some other points in favor of this: some display cyanosis that’s often worst at the upper face and ears – some burst capillaries in the face – hair needing washed along with faces.
The skin effect is deeper in areas where, it seems, the fluid moved the slowest, lingering in its contact. Here’s mask 1 extract again, flipped so we can see it how gravity would have: the flow was quickest at the origin, for less staining at the mouth and nostrils, and slower where it was obstructed and piled up – intensely along her nose, and less so in a widening area “up” the mid-cheeks. The clear lines here across the cheeks and crossing at the bridge of the nose are unusual – likely straps in her case, slowing the fluid on her nose.
Note, 2/13: to drip from these forehead points would almost require the victims were suspended upside-down AND craning their necks to face the floor (like at right, or more so). That was probably the best way to cough the fluid out, but you can see how some of it might roll “up” the face as well. I’ve seen boards JaI used to strap people to. These turned upside-down might explain it, or maybe leaned against the wall at an angle – whatever best explains it. And if the gas used were heavier than air, any position like this would keep their heads down in the worst of it. End note.There are unclear cases and a few exceptions; a pregnant woman (W5), an infant girl (or toddler? G10), and a younger infant (I2) at least, seem laid just on their backs, with fluid to the sides “across” the cheeks and ears, on the back of their clothing, over the chin, and less “up” the face. We also see effects of later flow matching different body positions in Location 2 (see Mask 2), so these only testify to body arrangement after the killing.
The OPCW’s early FFM final report made the briefest note of a “periorbital discoloration” which they found “is not associated with any specific known toxic exposure.” It was a mystery. “To determine whether it is due to a physiologic response to exposure to a toxic substance or simply post-mortem changes would require additional steps.” (8.101) It’s not clear if those steps were ever taken, by them. The IIT report twice lists symptoms including “discoloration of the skin” – no longer “periorbital” – as supporting reports of a chlorine attack, and as unlikely to result from simple dust inhalation. Nothing else of what I’ll cover here was even noted by either investigation.
I could find no information about chlorine discoloring the skin like this, across the upper face or anywhere. As far as I could find, there is no post-mortem “masca mortis” like this, and there’s no other cause I could find or think of that wasn’t some kind of strange. And an important distinction helps us get on track; the “periorbital” part is not so relevant. This is a skin effect where edema fluid ran “up” their faces, including around the eyes, in an area better called peri-periorbital. In fact, there is a total LACK of skin effect within the actual periorbital area (immediately around the eyes, or inside the eye socket).
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES BEGIN HERE
The completely clear patch immediately around the eyes has exactly the shape and size of swimming goggles, everywhere the shape can be discerned. Victim G6 aka Mask 5 is especially typical. There’s usually a full and sharp outline on the bottom, where fluids rolling “up” the cheeks would accumulate against the projecting lenses, thence rolling over and around them, but more slowly. A wide backup with deep skin effect continues for the entire curve, and then there’s a clear outline around the outer rim where it would flow “up,” and a thinner line along the top up to the middle. Any fluids clinging to the curved rim might drip off under gravity here, or just roll up the brow quickly, leaving little sign until the forehead spots.
4 other clearest examples of varied issues surrounding ovals of no such issues at right, Masks 2, 3, 5 & 6. (Examples were numbered upon identification, with #4 less clear) Images saturation and contrast enhanced to clarify, and some “smart blur” to smooth out artifacts, but nothing added. What unifies them is the shape of the affected area – widening up from the mouth and nose, and most extreme around the implied goggle lenses and the bridge of the nose where they would secure.
Mask 1 displays the colors of burning toast, and in these other cases, the mask area is filled with: yellow discoloration with a red rash surrounding it (Mask 2), skin turned almost black and seemingly hardened, perhaps with blood involved (Mask 3), vivid orange-brown surrounded by mottled and purple-shifted irritation (Mask 5), and a late-appearing red rash with just faint yellow (Mask 6).
A case study with example images – paywalled: I lost the copy I had, but this image can be shared. Victim splashed with liquid NA, direct skin contact – probably not what we see in Douma. The victim washed early, and effect initiated by then is mostly mild – just a golden yellow color, mainly around the facial hair where it might linger. A more brown color, albeit faint, can be seen at the forehead and presumably on the scalp – maybe he didn’t rinse as well here and had wet, partly contaminated hair over his forehead for a while, for longer contact. Other areas show red irritation, maybe with slight hardening. White patches are probably from a topical treatment.See also The Nitric acid burn trauma of the skin – Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery (jprasurg.com) and limited abstracts: semanticscholar.org/ – sciencedirect.com/ Several cases of accidental exposures to liquid NA are described. Photos show “IIa-b chemical burn on day 1 with relatively pale staining” vs. “intensified yellow-brown staining” seen on day 2 (unclear if this is 24 hours after exposure, less than that, or more than that). This is from brief exposure with early treatment, maybe slowing the effect. A shoulder is shown with small liquid splashes all over, but connected by a burnt line along a shoulder seam that held more soaked-in liquid next to the skin, and it gets worse at the underarm creases.
Some cases in Douma show a widening and deepening of the skin effects over time quite similar to this, but seemingly faster from a lack of early management: clear-looking areas grow an irritated red, red areas turn yellow, yellow ones shift to orange and brown, and brown to darker brown.
Time-frame (approximate, worth refining): death rep. around 7:30 or as I found sometime between 7:00 and 9:00 – first seen 10:15-11 pm, then around 1 am, maybe later in the dark hours, in some inside view after sunrise and up to mid-day – then some bodies are seen outside Location 2 mid-day, including 12:30-1pm, then inside the tunnels, and finally at an underground collection spot near medical point 1, between 5 and 6pm. Some are seen for nearly 24 hours after death before being taken off to a secret burial.
Here the expansion and deepening of the color are quite evident in images taken hours apart, but all at Location 2 (to pin down: best estimate of time between images). This victim is one of the few that’s never seen again after the bodies were moved mid-day on April 8. The latest view is probably 14-18 hours after death. Again, the clear stripe in the middle of this is probably where a tight strap ran across her cheek. Also less affected: an odd spot on her nose might testify to other masking, or to something randomly stuck on there, shielding the skin from most of the fluid – even at the end it’s partly unaffected.
2 views inside Location 2: early with almost no visible mask, but it’s strong by the yellow-tinted photo – probably later, around noon, and different camera & lighting as well). 1 view outside with advanced mask, just before the dried foam cone was hosed away. In 2 PM views at Location 1, it’s stronger yet. Last view is ~20-23 hours after death, and a bit longer since the skin exposure began. Note the later flow from the corner of the mouth sat longer than the original up-the-face fluid, for deeper brown stains along the edge vs. a deep-looking upper cheek burns just hitting the yellow-orange stage … and one hopes he was upside down for less than the 15 hours before they hosed that foam away.
Just irritation, appearing late but aggressive, especially at a chin scratch, a cheek spot – discoloration strongly at the yellow left earlobe, just faintly on the face. No visible foam/fluids, and no additional skin effect to go with its flow. Location 2 views are hours apart – one well before 1 am and one well after (it was around 1am that she was picked up by a White Helmets “rescuer” for a photo opportunity, moved a few feet, and set back down on top of other bodies). Left view enhanced for best view of any issues – almost zero aside from that earlobe, faint pink at the chin scratch. Later: orange earlobe, faint yellow, intense rash filling in a partial mask pattern. Time frame: same as above.
Mask 5 progression is shown below. Others also show some deepening of the effect, but let’s move on.
Compression and hardening of the skin also occurs with the XP reaction, and this is seen in at least some of the Douma victims with the more advanced effect. There is some indication with Mask 1, especially on the ring above the left eye, but it’s more evident with mask 5, a girl, and mask 2, a boy.
Mask 5/G6 (left): sunken appearance, orange color fading to brown at the upper boundary below the eyes, but not past that line – seemingly pressing blood from the capillaries to create a mottled flushing of the cheeks well below the orange patch, outside of a wide ring of pallor along the mask’s edge. Mask 2/B6 (right): deep yellow coloration under the eyes, perhaps blistered out, but likely compressed – a flushed area just below, with an extra-red band along the mask’s edge, just overlapping the yellow – Some brown patches near the mouth appear sunken, with a narrow band of squeezed pallor separating them.
And note in these 2 cases that whatever the effect, it remains in the surface affected area and not in unaffected areas – blood is displaced mainly into tissue that’s already flushed, with little to no creep into the undamaged skin. Clear skin is found lower on the face, sporadically in the middle, and inside those perfect goggle outlines. The boy has one spot of yellow beginning under his right eye, probably from after the goggles were removed, and nothing else inside those rims.
Finally, some points on the edema fluids that seemingly caused this.
IIT 6.105 “…some of the secretions observed were also pinkish/brown in colour, which is likely due to a combination of blood-tinged sputum and changes in its colour due to the time elapsed between when the exposure occurred and when the fatalities were documented.”
FFM: “Some of the secretions also have an additional light brown colour, which is similar in appearance to gastric contents or blood tinged sputum.”
Perhaps all of it is the relevant yellow-brown; white foam is more an optical effect of many reflective bubbles than it is the true color. Collapsed to liquid, this can be seen on faces and the floor in golden yellow, brownish yellow and brown states. Fluid by victim B4 at least does include blood (it’s seen on his face later), but most don’t seem to. This is quite possibly from the XP reaction with proteins in the mucous. It may happen slower than it does in the skin. Mask 5/G6 has skin change drastically, as her pool of edema fluid expands but barely changes color from golden yellow. Mask 1 foam collapses for less glare, but also seems brown-shifted in the late view.
This is a detailed process that is not known to result from chlorine exposure.
The evidence could suggest poisoning directly with pure liquid Nitric Acid, in a breathable vapor. But that might cause a quicker and bloodier death than we see. The NA was more likely produced secondarily to – for example – inhaling airborne NOx. NOx refers to nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO 2), one of which turns to the other in rapid order. NOx creates nitric acid on contact with water. This is much like what chlorine does, but it’s a different acid with different effects. The suggested skin contact is with NA only in a dilute form, in the edema fluids that were coughed up, but likely reacting further with particles still in the air. Eye contact, again, seems absent.
Atmospheric NOx can have many plausible sources, but perhaps most commonly, it comes from diesel exhaust. This is generated automatically as waste by all kinds of vehicles and machinery that burn diesel oil as fuel. Just fill the tank, turn the key, and the exhaust can be piped into a sealed room full of people.
The Nazis used this method in some of their extermination camps, including Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. As I’ve had explained to me, the diesel used then produced enough carbon monoxide that it was the primary cause of death in those gas chambers. As I gather, modern diesel produces much less CO and would, most likely, kill more slowly with the NOx it also produces.
I’m no expert, but Diesel exhaust also seems a likely source for the black, sooty residue seen heavily on some victims. At right: Infant I2, seen above, embraced by a sooty water basin, here at Location 1 much later, with some developing rash on the nose, upper cheeks, at some cheek scratches. This baby looks like someone who climbed up a chimney. Others who don’t look like that could just be the ones suspended across the gas chamber, further from the exhaust pipe.
A New Method?
Again, I’ve never seen anything like this before. It may have been a new method with unexpected results. Consider: This appears alongside sarin claims that fell apart. Maybe they still had some sarin, had meant to kill the victims with it, and/or spike the scene with it. But say it was blown up en route, along with its handlers, amid Jaysh al-Islam’s general military rout. If so, they might rig up a diesel exhaust gas chamber, and then find out about this downside later. Last-minute improvisation seems likely all around, and might explain a lot of the exposed seams.
Or maybe it was a known method, one used before less visibly, but some additional mistakes or developments messed it up here. For example, the gas chamber might have been damaged by shelling, delaying body removal and cleanup. And there are other possibilities, of course including that I’m completely off base.
It could well be another agent than diesel caused the NA. Maybe there was no NA and there’s another explanation for the process we see. Perhaps there’s another way to explain the skin effect, the flow pattern and/or the exclusions. But so far only one proposed scenario actually explains all this evidence.
When they stopped moving, I suppose the victims had their goggles and binding removed, were initially washed, and found to look fine. They were transported to Location 2, probably by truck via the underground tunnels, then carried and arranged inside. The chlorine cylinder was placed then if it wasn’t already, and the valve was opened however it was, filling the site and leaving a chemical footprint.
The gas release may have been rushed, causing the last body movers to drop and leave 4 bodies at the entrance because the gas cloud was coming. Maybe the mysterious 8 bodies of the reported 43 were simply in the bed of a pickup truck when the work team fled the scene.
The process might have been rushed due to that deepening skin reaction – it looked wrong and was getting worse. Even then, by the time the gas was thin enough to work the scene again, W7 and B3 looked terrible and others were getting there. They tried and found it did not wash off, so the first photo shoot was rushed before they looked even worse, and included wet hair on most victims. Then some later views look worse anyway.
Review of OPCW Consideration
I don’t expect to convince many people, or any of the coverup helpers, of this exact hypothesis. They can confidently assume the features noted must have another explanation, even if none is evident. Like everything else, from the cylinder “impact” forward, it “must be” whatever allows a definite Syrian regime chlorine attack that’s fit to impose new sanctions over.
But OPCW investigations never explained any of the related mysteries I’ve correlated here. The FFM considered the “periorbital discoloration” to be a mystery seemingly unrelated to chlorine. To find out what it was “would require additional steps” they probably never took before the IIT presented skin discoloration as probably some kind of chlorine effect after all. They listed it that way twice, alongside miosis, which also has nothing to do with chlorine.
The IIT report’s figure 6 shows a baby, a boy and a woman killed, labeled “PERSONS WHO DIED AS A CONCEQUENCE OF BEING EXPOSED TO CHLORINE.” End “fact.” The pixelated vs. clear areas indicate they want to show us clouded white eyes and edema foam, and perhaps the discoloration as well.