What the OPCW Did and Didn’t Find in Douma

Reconsidering the Science and the Open Source Evidence By Adam Larson.   1. Introduction. Why The Lack of Sarin is a Problem   This article considers in detail what was and wasn’t found by the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in their investigation of the Douma chemical incident of April 7. Douma […]

Reconsidering the Science and the Open Source Evidence

By Adam Larson.


1. Introduction. Why The Lack of Sarin is a Problem


This article considers in detail what was and wasn’t found by the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in their investigation of the Douma chemical incident of April 7. Douma is a Damascus suburb, then under Islamist opposition control but on the verge of surrender, when activists reported a helicopter attack with two chemical “barrel bombs” containing chlorine gas and perhaps something deadlier. A reported 43 civilians or more were reportedly killed, and for supposedly obvious reasons, the ruling Islamists finalized their surrender the next day.

An OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) was swiftly formed and assembled in Syria by April 14, when the U.S. and allies launched missile strikes nearby. But the FFM had to wait another week before they were able to first access the attack sites on April 21. This delay was blamed on Damascus and their allies in Moscow, who were accused of buying time to scrub the crime scenes of clues. But in fact the UN’s security agency UNDSS (Department of Safety and Security) was behind the small initial delay, and it was reasonable, considering the unknowns in an area ruled for six years by hard-line Islamists, and only formally liberated for a few days. The April 17 attack on the UNDSS advance security team by unidentified militants, wounding a Syrian officer, shows that the concerns the UNDSS shared with the Syrians and Russians were valid. In fact, this bad result to the rushed first try is what caused the ensuing four-day delay to re-plan the mission. [1]

With the release of the OPCW’s interim report on July 6, we now have some information from those visits that might contain clues of any meddling. This report will be cited heavily in the following article. [2]

From this report, we learn that in the environmental and biological samples so far tested, a variety of chlorine-related compounds appear. There is some room to question what each and all of these truly proves, but it seems likely the OPCW has confirmed a chlorine release at each of the two alleged attack sites, or will in time. But the important development is how tests come up negative for  organophosphorus (OP) nerve agents – like sarin – or their breakdown products.

  • The results of the analysis of the prioritised samples submitted to OPCW designated laboratories were received by the FFM team on 22 May 2018. No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties. … Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is ongoing.

The report explains how 31 samples – those deemed most important or fragile – were selected for a first round of chemical analysis. By the report’s annex 3, these are 11 biological (blood and plasma) samples and 20 environmental samples (items, wipes, scrapings and scoopings from various noted spots and objects). The latter showed chlorine-related compounds, unexplained explosives residue, and other things of no clear consequence. But over and over it says for all 31 samples “No chemicals relevant to CWC have been found” or “No nerve agent related chemicals detected.”

That’s a big problem for the opposition’s claims, because chlorine alone can hardly explain 35 people dropping dead on site, as seen in Douma. Sarin or similar very well could, if it even makes sense to deploy it along with chlorine, or in fact premixed with it (since there was no separate sarin device identified, just a crude gas cylinder at each attack site). Such mysteries seem to be resolved.

But if chlorine alone was used, the victims would mainly cough and walk away, and probably would have all survived. Anyone who died would probably do so hours later, long after walking away. MediaLens ran a good analysis, noting: “It is worth reiterating again – as media responses to the OPCW’s latest report, conspicuously, have not – that chlorine was not a sufficiently deadly agent to cause either the claimed level of carnage or the claimed level of Western moral outrage.” [3] The death toll seems to be real and chemically-induced, but it’s poorly explained so far, and this is extremely important.

Activists reported symptoms of nerve agent exposure like convulsions or paralysis, constricted pupils, and secondary contamination. But none of that is proven by any visual or scientific evidence. The apparently sudden death of so many did highly suggested it should be an OP nerve agent, but that appearance could be false.

In fact unnamed U.S. government officials claimed they also had blood samples showing that. As NBC News reported on April 12: “The U.S. now has blood and urine samples from last Saturday’s deadly attack …The samples suggested the presence of both chlorine gas and an unnamed nerve agent, two officials said.” It’s unlikely tests could detect chlorine exposure (see below), so they can’t likely show this plus anything else. “The officials said they were “confident” in the intelligence, though not 100 percent sure.” [4]

With this assessment aired, on April 14 president Trump ordered the launch of missiles at Assad’s alleged nerve agent factories, primarily one at Barzeh that was recently cleared by the OPCW as in compliance. [5] Soon U.S. officials were specifying sarin was the agent, but not citing blood or urine tests – just “information” suggesting it (DoS briefing, 4-17 [6]), and deduction from reported symptoms (DoD report, 4-18 [7]). Was the talk of samples just a prediction? If so, that “confidence” was poorly placed.


2. Incomplete Site Search

 There is at least one important point to consider, as it’s likely to come up. The OPCW report mentions how during their visit to location 2 (the crucial site with 35 bodies found inside), Syrian authorities “did not provide the access requested by the FFM team to some apartments within the building, which were closed at the time. The Syrian Arab Republic representatives stated that they did not have the authority to force entry into the locked apartments.” (point 8.10)

In fact their access at location 2 may have been quite incomplete. By implication, all spots not listed here wound up off-limits: “8.11 The FFM had full access to other areas of interest within the same building, namely the balcony where the cylinder had allegedly impacted, the apartment directly below this, and the basement of the same apartment block.” All listed samples are from levels 3 (balcony), level 2 (apartment beneath that) and level -1 (the basement). None are from the floors in between (levels 0 and 1 as they’d say, or floors 1 and 2 as we do here).

Two samples were collected at level 0, but these were two pieces of concrete found in the street outside the building. Inside on the ground floor, and on the level above, is where all but 7 of the 35 bodies were found on the night of the attack. Chlorine supposedly made people drop dead pretty suddenly in those spots. Did it mix with something here? That doesn’t seem likely, but perhaps no clues at all were gathered to help shed light on the mystery.

It is noteworthy that rescuers and media activists had full access on the night of the attack, apparently even unscrewing the ground floor front door from its hinges, setting it aside just around the corner from the bulk of the bodies in the washroom. When the OPCW’s FFM came through, the door was back on and apparently all locked up. We may not have the full story here.

Considering the gravity of the situation, with chemical “inspectors” flying into a war zone and Syrian officers getting wounded trying to get them to the site, with acts of war already carried out based on someone’s impression of this crime, and with the mileage made of any possible sign of obfuscation from Damascus … it might have been wiser to force some doors anyway, to leave as little as possible to speculate over. Valid or not, this limited search will be reason enough for some to write-off the whole investigation. It could be concluded the scrubbed up sarin traces were piled and swept under a rug in one of these rooms. And they’ve probably been moved since, now hidden Raiders of the Lost Ark style along with Iraq’s vanished WMDs.

But then, inconvenient scientific findings can be ignored with no reason at all. And as we’ll see, there’s no reason to suspect a cleanup or any delay explains these bad results.


3. No Sarin Traces Rally Means No Sarin

Not everyone acknowledges it, but the evidence is broken. Some people would easily decide the Russians or Syrians broke it, by removing the traces of the necessary poison, or at least keeping investigators away long enough that it decayed beyond detection.

One CW expert didn’t think that was likely when he spoke to the Guardian for an April 17 report: “Jerry Smith, who helped supervise the OPCW-led withdrawal of much of Syria’s sarin stockpile in 2013 … said it was likely that residual samples of nerve agent would remain for at least another week, even after an attempted clean-up.” [8] Read literally, that would be at least until April 24 – 17 days after the incident. Investigators arrived April 21 at location 2, and on the 25th at location 4 (with the cylinder on a bed). By Smith’s assessment, they would be likely to turn up such clues then, if they ever existed. But as far as we know, he’s no expert in regime-blaming, where different standards of science seem to apply.

In contrast, British CRBN expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is a stalwart regime-blamer, and told Josie Ensor at the Telegraph in July, after the OPCW report, “He believes a nerve agent was likely used alongside chlorine … but that the material had badly degraded in the two weeks it took inspectors to get to the site.” He thinks a lack of “timely access from the (Syrian) government” allowed the sarin, and even its breakdown products, to diminish to invisibility. [9]

So experts disagree; all sarin traces are either likely to vanish from the site within 14 days, or likely to persist for at least 17 days. It’s hard to find information on delayed environmental samples, but it seems likely both of these estimates are short, one out of caution and one out political expediency. It may well turn up for a month or more, probably breaking down slower than it would inside the human body, to which we now turn.

No one has accused Russia and Syria of holding up the OPCW’s investigators so they could finish removing sarin traces from the blood of the victims. That would be absurd. But somehow, there are no traces left there either. As mentioned, the labs found “no organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products” in samples from the area, “or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.”

The definition of “casualties” isn’t clear except that, as the report explains, none of those actually killed is included. As happened with the Ghouta attack in 2013 with an alleged 1,429 killed, none of the dead was sampled – at least not reliably enough for their standards – prior to burial in mass graves. [10] Perhaps they alone also show (showed) signs of sarin? We’re left wondering. So those tested in Douma could be people who claim to have been in one of the gassed buildings, or to have encountered the gas in the streets, or elsewhere. We’re not sure even what’s alleged about their exposure except that, allegedly, it’s to the gas Assad dropped that day.

A table A 3.2 lists the 11 samples selected for the first analysis. Nine were taken on April 21, with two taken on the 18th. Lab DL02 was only given the later nine to test, and “no relevant chemicals [were] found.” Lab DL03 looked at all 11 and offered a more specific blanket list of what wasn’t found: any of 3 major signs of nerve agent exposure to G type agents (including sarin, or GB as NATO calls it) and V-type agents (like VX).


This all says nothing for or against chlorine exposure, which doesn’t leave traces that can be tested for. A US Centers for Disease Control document says “there are no medical tests to determine whether you have been exposed specifically to chlorine.” [11] Physicians for Human Rights has a PDF that explains “diagnosis of acute chlorine gas toxicity is primarily clinical, based on respiratory difficulties and irritation,” or on advanced tests to look for related damage, which can be caused by very many things. Otherwise, the environment can be tested for release by air monitoring or testing the soil (or general environment). [12]

The blood and plasma tests do clearly rule out sarin or anything similar, at least in the cases of those alleged casualties. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon thinks the clues had all degraded, but he meant at the sites. In biological samples, it’s not likely to fade that much in 11 of 11 prioritized samples, collected between 11 and 15 days after the incident, considering a precedent from five years earlier.

There were several chemical weapon attacks against Syrian soldiers in the days after the infamous August 21, 2013 Ghouta attack, and in the same basic area (Damascus Suburbs). Two of these are basically verified by the OPCW as sarin attacks: 8-24-2013 in Jobar, and 8-25-2013 in Ashrafiah Sahnaya (near Daraya). [13] In fact, the Jobar attack was just meters from the apparent firing area for the Ghouta attack’s disputed “volcano” rockets. The area was rebel-held, just then being contested and hence the attack by cornered Islamists. The image here shows the approximate, estimated firing spot for the volcanoes compared to the 8-24 incident location, per the UN report that includes these cases (p. 62).  [14]

That UN report explained now no one died in either incident, but some soldiers were seriously affected. Plasma samples were taken by the Syrian Government on the day of each attack, and at least four from Jobar and five from the other attack tested positive for Sarin signatures. Those nine samples were re-tested by UN-OPCW investigators on September 26 and 28, about a month later (the cause of the delay is unclear or debatable, but the OPCW and everyone was pretty busy in the days surrounding these incidents). The samples were DNA matched to the same soldiers, analyzed in OPCW certified labs, and found mostly to be negative. But one sample from the August 24 incident, likely the most severely exposed, still tested positive for sarin signatures. [15] That’s enough to suggest they all did at one time, but the signs had faded by then.

So 3-4 weeks seems like a rough but fair limit for detection in most cases, while a truly severe, near-fatal case might register even longer than this soldier did at about 33 days.

The exact method of testing will be an important variable, and methods have been improving in the last years. In fact, the table of Douma samples above shows that lab DL03 ran tests for peptide/nerve agent adducts, specifically nonapeptide. A December, 2012 paper explains a new type of testing looks at “OP-adducted enzymes” involving peptides, with half-lives that are “generally much longer than the half-lives of the parent OP compound or its metabolites, providing a longer window for detection ” than previous tests. [16] It’s not clear if this is what was used in 2013, or better than that. But already detection up to at least 33 days is recorded, and capabilities won’t reduce over time.

Just 11 and 15 days after the Douma incident in 2018, traces existed in zero out of 11 samples.

And finally, the OPCW should have mentioned it if there was any serious chance the time delay caused the false negative in blood or plasma samples, or meant there may have once been sarin at the sites. They don’t mention this. Implicitly, all samples were gathered within what they consider the time frame of detection.

In contrast to this, and to the 2013 attacks on soldiers, UN-OPCW investigators were then quite busy  studying the August 21 attack, including a portion in Moadamiya, southwest of Damascus (near Daraya, and Ashrafiah Sahnaya). Just a couple of days after the incident, they found no reliable sign of sarin in the Moadamiya environment, but an almost total positive for people allegedly exposed there. [17] It’s trivially easy to plant real sarin in the environment or even in selected volunteers, considering the very sensitive tests the OPCW uses, apparently with no consideration for quantities detected. [18] In Moadamiya, perhaps the plotters succeeded in dosing their stand-in victims with token doses, but had some logistical problem lacing the site.

The same could have happened in Douma, especially under the losing conditions, perhaps with depleted supplies and disrupted communications. But this would be a double-fail, where no sarin was planted in the people or the environs, maybe because they ran out, or just couldn’t get either done in time, or for some other reason. That is, if it was ever supposed to be a nerve agent attack, as it seemed to so many observers.

In conclusion: any sarin used is most likely to have persisted until sampling time, but none was found. The clear conclusion: none of those people was ever exposed to it, and none was released at either attack site. The crime scene was found just as nonsensical as the Islamist left it; some non-lethal chlorine was released, 35 people with non-red eyes dropped dead in piles, Assad was blamed, and some “confidence” was misplaced.


4. A Sampling of Evidence Manipulation: Unexplained Fire, Missing Valve

And there are some other strange things about these crime scenes that could stretch this article to five times its size, or be skipped entirely, or considered by way of one fascinating sample. Let’s consider two related clues in adequate detail, with some OPCW findings to go along with them, and leave some serious questions raised as to who actually manipulated what evidence prior to the FFM’s visits.

We start with  the sizable fire someone set beneath the gas cylinder at location 2 above all those bodies. This is a real mystery few have noticed. A New York Times video report of June 25, claiming to be based on the most detailed investigation to date, didn’t seem aware of it. This report even tried to explain the apparent soot from that fire on the underside of the gas cylinder as some kind of “dark substance” caused by chlorine contacting the metal. [19] However, that would be an orange rust, the usual kind seen after chlorine attacks, as Bellingcat’s people should know. In fact, this is seen on the bare steel parts of the same cylinder. This black stuff is on the paint, apparently rinses back off it in the rain, and looks like soot.

The open-source investigators at Bellingcat are cited as helping with that Times report, and didn’t bring this fire evidence to bear. In fact Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins seemed uninformed, questioning on July 7 how this fire could explain the black any better than chlorine, asking to see the burnt hole to show a connection. Eventually, I gave him a chance to see the combined image below explaining it. [20] Perhaps I should have added a reminder to complete the picture: heat and smoke rise, coat the ceiling, and look for an escape to higher places yet. There was a smaller vent in the corner, and there was this much larger hole, mostly covered with that gas cylinder. And this is probably why its underside exactly above that hole turned the same black as these burned walls we now turn to.


We can see two cleaned spots along the left edge of the black area as seen below. Did the Russians or Syrians try washing this off and stop early? Or was it the locals or militants who decided it would take too long? For this bit of work, neither is probably to blame. The OPCW interim report lists samples 21 and 22 as wipes taken “from the burnt wall in the room located under the cylinder” on level 2 . Entry 21 was taken with water, and 22 with DCM (Dichloromethane – a standard solvent). These samples are not tested yet, or testing results were not published in the July report. It will likely show what kind of accelerator was used to start the fire, at least.

So no one cleaned that up or tried, but someone might eventually regret this evidence. That fire was lit on top of the concrete rubble and dust, apparently on purpose, and sometime before the first video around 10pm on April 7. This is best explained by some visuals in my June 29 response to the mentioned New York Times video report. [21] If one accepts that rubble is from the cylinder’s impact around 7:30 that same night – as most do – it would be very strange for someone to sit in that gas cloud to light a fire there as a first order of business. There’s also a pulled curtain, a packaged blanket, perhaps, and a coat dragged on top of that rubble and dust, perhaps as fuel for the fire, not knowing how much was needed for … that unclear purpose.

As seen at 10pm, the fire is done and its soot is deposited around the upper walls and ceiling, and presumably on the cylinder as well. But there we can’t see it, because now it’s releasing its gas slowly, causing auto-refrigeration and the frosted underside in that same area; the part with the lowest elevation. [22] This is still contested by some, but it perfectly explains the ghostly white glow of this shape, that does line up very well with the gas cylinder relative to the hole (which appears as black all around that in this inexact but useful comparison graphic).

One compelling possibility is the fire was set beneath the staged cylinder to melt the fusible plug of soft metal in its valve assembly. Set just above the screw-in point (see annotated image), this safety feature provides a little-known but fairly safe and easy way to release the gas inside in case of a fire, rather than having the cylinder explode. The purpose would be just for some “realism” in a staged chemical attack scene. The smell doesn’t help with video, and no gas is visible (perhaps too thin to appear, or already dissipated by 10pm). But the frost comes through, and it seems chlorinated compounds resulted. Mission accomplished?

It’s noteworthy the valve assembly of this cylinder, or at least its visible outer portion, is missing the whole time. It could be broken in half on impact (along the red line above), or unscrewed manually, completely removed, and hidden from view. Its twin found on the other cylinder didn’t vanish (see below, left), but most others we’ve seen over the years do, at least by video time if not on impact. In such a case, if the cylinder itself didn’t rupture, the gas would pour uncontrollably out of the broken stem.

It’s plausible that happened in this case, despite the less-than-usual damage seen with both cylinders. Below right is the first known view of the gas cylinder after the attack, during a time of complete Islamist control, midday on April 8. Compare that to the intact valve on the cylinder on the bed, at left. From a side view, it’s impossible to say if it’s broken off or unscrewed. Those oddly-placed slats of metal prevent a good view of the valve area from below in every view. It’s possible they were placed there just to block our view of this point of evidence.

However, the OPCW’s samples 3 and 4 are swabs taken on the 21st from “inside the cylinder orifice (level 3),” meaning this one. This suggests the valve was removed by then anyway, and they wiped from the exposed threads. Chlorine traces were found, but very faint; a dry swab revealed nothing, and one with water yielded “chloride” (an incomplete answer) and dichloracetic acid, which is caused when chlorine mixes with water. That’s natural, as the valve was in place during gas release, and only a trace amount came in contact later, probably as it was unscrewed, removed, and never again seen.

It’s impossible so far to be sure when this key piece of evidence was removed from the scene, other than before the OPCW’s FFM had their look. But if the culprits were trying to hide the extra hole melted in the side of the valve, they were covering for serious evidence manipulations carried out when the Islamist were still in control.


5. Conclusion: Considering the Who, the Help See the How

Alongside the physical evidence are circumstantial clues familiar to researchers of such events: the lack of a rational motive for the government to carry out such an attack, the all-seeing fighting-age male miracle survivors who labor to explain their alleged share of the dead, the illogical provided narrative(s) that fail to fully explain the evidence, and so on. These consistently give reason to doubt the opposition version of events and to wonder – if there was a real crime – just what it was and who was truly behind it.

We also have, even more so than usual, a rather strong candidate for the true villains. The reader should understand that Douma had been, since mid-2012, controlled by the hard-line faction Jaish Al-Islam (Army of Islam). It was founded there in Douma in late 2011, first under the name Liwal al-Islam, by Zahran Alloush, the son of a salafist cleric exiled in Saudi Arabia. With Saudi backing, this force grew to dominate all the East Ghouta area around the capitol by mid-2013. Zahran was killed in late 2015, but others carried on, and his brother Mohamed Alloush, Jaish al-Islam’s political leader, was for some time the chief negotiator in the Saudi-backed opposition bloc at the Geneva talks.

Despite some branding as “moderate” Islamists, the group’s ideals are bound to reflect somewhat those of its founder. As Joshua Landis explained back in 2013, Zahran Alloush sought an anti-democratic Islamist state, “cleansed … forever if Allah wills it” of the “filth” of Alawites, Shi’ites, and anyone of Persian descent. [21] There was never a guarantee the list would stop there.

Jaish Al-Islam once kidnapped hundreds of religious minority civilians in Adra, in December 2013, after massacring hundreds of other civilians and defending soldiers, in often horrifying manner. [22] Later on, JaI openly paraded some of their Adra captives in cages before placing them as human shields on rooftops. Less publicly, these and other prisoners were kept in squalid jails and cellars, were poorly fed and sometimes tortured, and many were executed. Many were forced to labor on projects including the now-famous tunnel system beneath East Ghouta, just to earn their meager food rations. [23]

The number of prisoners Jaish al-Islam held at the end – criminals, infidels, soldiers, and rival militants combined – is disputed. They reportedly made prisoner swaps with the government on claims of a few thousand, but then only admitted about 500, and released about 200, mainly women and children from among the famous Adra captives. [24] They may have been bluffing about the rest, but the bluff had to at least be believable, and in fact thousands may be unaccounted for.

Any number of these might have been used over the years for managed massacres to falsely blame the government or, later, Russian forces. One well-illustrated example of such a thing is the August, 2015 “Douma market attack.” 120 were listed as killed: no girls, 3 women, 5 boys, 2 “FSA” fighters, and 110 civilian men. That suggests gender segregation, as with prisoners. The visual record proves they were largely or entirely killed, by unclear means, prior to the attack. For that, it seems four rockets were fired from the surface, app. 800 meters to the south, hitting 3 markets and an intersection between in a perfect arc. A fighter jet attack was blamed for killing these random shoppers, due to their continued support for Jaish al-Islam. [25]

To the extent the massive 2013 Ghouta chemical massacre may be an opposition false-flag, it would almost surely be done by the same group (then called Liwa al-Islam), happening mainly in areas they controlled. Someone flying their flag filmed themselves firing the blamed “volcano” rockets at night, wearing gas masks, and declaring it was the attack’s date, August 21. [26] The group claimed they were framed, and the video is a bit obvious and has strange provenance issues. But there are many less direct clues suggesting they really were behind it. They controlled the apparent rocket firing spot in Jobar, near which SAA soldiers were gassed with sarin on August 24 (as discussed above).

They’re also the only party in the Syrian conflict to seemingly admit to using chemical weapons – apparently chlorine – against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Aleppo (they had branches across the country by then). Jaish al-Islam responded to the credible charges by quickly announcing a rogue commander had used “prohibited” weapons and would be punished. Then later they claimed this didn’t refer to the CW charges, which it’s suggested they never did address. [27]

As it happens, that Aleppo incident was on April 7, 2016 – exactly two years before this event in their home base of Douma. By then the sectarian, civilian-hostage-holding, seemingly CW-using and deceitful Army of Islam were defeated in all East Ghouta and even in Douma. As they prepared to surrender and relocate to Idlib, they could not bring more than small personal weapons. They certainly couldn’t bring any chemical weapons, and no hostages. So on or around April 7 would be their last chance to use those last two holdings together to get Assad blamed for gassing Douma civilians – if they wanted to do such a thing.

Update from the author, Aug 16, 2018:

With these insights, one can grasp how that fire and valve evidence, and other strange clues might come together to suggest they took that last chance. The widely noted illogical impact damage is just the tip of a small and growing iceberg of carefully adduced clues suggesting the crime scenes were staged. There are in fact compelling clues the 35 seen fatalities were deliberately gassed in one spot, then moved and arranged here for more shocking war porn to get “Assad” in trouble.

Consider, as the mentioned NYT report noted, one of the tunnels JaI had built opens just around the corner from the house these bodies were found in (see cropped and annotated screen-shot from that).  [30] The video only mentions a hospital linked to this tunnel, but it surely links to others that connect to a variety of Jaish Al-Islam and allied facilities. It could be blocked from unauthorized people, and that could enable a few dozen bodies to be moved from the gassing site to the planting site, unseen by the public.

The Douma-based opposition group Violations Documentation Center (VDC) had its founder Razan Zaitouneh abducted and vanished, along with her husband and 2 other activists, in December, 2013. Jaish Al-Islam is widely suspected in that. [28] So the VDC is no fan of the ruling Islamists, nor of those liberating Douma from their control. They reported April 9 on the Russian military police visit to the famous attack site, wondering if they tampered with anything as they kept locals away. But they note “Simultaneously, Jaish Al-Islam also made it difficult to hold independent investigation and documentation of the site yesterday [April 8] and tried to bar witnesses from documenting and photographing any evidence.” [29]

A review of the available photos and videos from the night of attack and the next day suggests only a very limited pool of people were allowed to document the scene and to publish the results. Such a controlled scene would help if one were manipulating the evidence. The many clues of just that run past the arbitrary limits of this article, but are explained in some detail at the original posting it’s based on [31], other posts at the Monitor on Massacre Marketing blogsite, and to be expanded and refined in future posts, and perhaps another article at The Indicter.

But in closing, consider this documented “rescue” by a first responder with the “White Helmets” or “Syrian Civil Defense.” Most likely affiliated with those controlling the scene, he arrived early enough to pick up this baby girl from her original location in the kitchen. He poses for a photo holding her body just a few steps away, wearing no gloves. Then he sets her down at his feet, atop some other bodies and leaves. She’s seen on top of that pile until carried outside with the rest of the bodies late the next morning, under the conditions described by the VDC.

That might be a telling glimpse of what so much other evidence suggests; these people were never meant for things like rescue, or Human Rights. They were only meant to die, to be seen, and to “prove” another alleged crime of what some call the “Alawite regime.”



[1] http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2018/07/swept-under-rug-part-1.html


[3] http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/874-no-nerve-agents-found-the-opcw-interim-report-on-douma.html

[4] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/mideast/u-s-has-blood-samples-show-nerve-agent-syria-gas-n865431

[5] Samples from a Nov. 2017 visit came back clear in February – OPCW report   https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/EC/87/en/ec87dg21_e_.pdf

[6] https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2018/04/280553.htm

[7] https://www.defense.gov/portals/1/features/2018/0418_syria/img/United-States-Assessment-of-the-Assad-Regime’s-Chemical-Weapons-Use.pdf

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/17/syria-crisis-medics-intimidated-over-douma-gas-attack

[9] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/23/british-chemical-weapons-experts-prepare-syrias-doctors-doomsday/

[10] in the 2013 Ghouta attack, the UN-OPCW consciously chose to ignore the bodies and rely instead on the alleged survivors. UN disarmament chief Angela Kane, who accompanied the OPCW’s “inspectors” to Damascus, explained “there were so many victims who are still alive that there was really no need to exhume bodies.” Her bizarre and completely incorrect reasoning: “a dead body can’t tell how the person dies … a living person can tell you that.” https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-ghouta-massacres-sarin-myth.html

Again in Douma, 2018, so far the pivotal people are left out of the science part of things. But this time, the OPCW understand the value of having a look if possible. Interim report:

“7.8 The possibility of exhuming bodies from mass graves to collect biomedical samples and examining bodies reportedly exposed to toxic chemicals from the alleged attack on 7 April 2018 was considered by the Secretariat. The intention to do so was communicated to the Syrian Arab Republic in note verbale NV/ODG/214827/18, and preliminary preparations were undertaken by the Secretariat for this eventuality.”

The bodies of all chemical victims (“some 50” to the reported total of 43) were said, by alleged CW program defector Zaher Sakat, to be buried in a secret location in or near Douma. This is reportedly a singular mass grave, as the Islamists usually do for useful massacre victims with really busy families, I guess. The OPCW was reportedly informed of the location, but the regime apparently didn’t know it. It’s reported to be “near the zoo,” perhaps as distraction. Mohammed Alloush, the Jaish al-Islam leader, “claimed on Tuesday night that Assad forces are digging up graves in a search for the bodies of victims, hoping to remove them before the OPCW inspectors can test for chemical exposure.” As the interim report suggests, they still hadn’t tested them by early July.


[11] https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp172-c1.pdf

[12] https://s3.amazonaws.com/PHR_other/PHR_Chlorine_Fact_Sheet_04-15.pdf

[13] see incident listings here in the verified half (chronological) http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/11/sarin-and-foul-irritants-events-list.html

[14] firing area: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/07/impact-site-number-4.html – UN report, p. 62 https://unoda-web.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/report.pdf

[15] https://unoda-web.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/report.pdf around p. 62

[16] Marsillach J, Costa LG, Furlong CE. PROTEIN ADDUCTS AS BIOMAKERS OF


doi:10.1016/j.tox.2012.12.007. http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC3747771

[17] http://whoghouta.blogspot.com/2013/09/what-happened-in-moadamiyah.html

[18] https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/10/sarin-faking-in-syria.html

[19] One Building, One Bomb: How Assad Gassed His Own People

By Malachy Browne, Christoph Koettl, Anjali Singkvi, Natalie Reneau, Barbara Marcolini, Yousur Al-Hlou and Drew Jordan. New York Times June 25, 2018.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/06/25/world/middleeast/syria-chemical-attack-douma.html  timestamp 8:11– a metals expert is cited, but he should have described it as similar to orange iron-oxide rust, not black. Further, the black substance appears on top of the yellow paint, not the metal itself. They did not consult a paint and coatings expert.

[20] https://twitter.com/kraaiiii/status/1015509951089987584 (and responses)

[21] https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2018/06/nyt-one-really-stupid-attempt-to.html June 29 with later edits

[22] Auto-refrigeration: I don’t claim to understand the process in detail, but in effect, as I gather, the gas is compressed inside to a liquid, and it drips out that way, instantly evaporting to gas form from the drips. in the process of coming out, somehow it makes the liquid and the metal touching it quite cold, pulling moisture from the air that forms a frost of the part of the cylinder still containing liquid. That will be the bottom portion, depending on slope, etc.  NYT video (see [19]) explains it somewhat around 7:45

[23] https://www.joshualandis.com/blog/zahran-alloush/

[22] http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Adra_massacre


[23] I had a number of sources gathered, but lost the list and couldn’t re-locate them in time. These stories are around. Some of it is included and linked in this article: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2016/04/jaish-al-islam-protecting-syrian-people.html

[24] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/revealed-thousands-missing-syrians-not-jaish-al-islam-1492653856

[25] http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2015/08/douma-market-attack-masterlist.html http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Douma_Market_Attack,_August_2015

[26] http://whoghouta.blogspot.com/2013/09/liwa-al-islam-videos-improved-quality.html

[27] http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_April_7,_2016

[28] https://vdc-sy.net/russian-military-police-inspects-chemical-attack-site/

[29] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Razan_Zaitouneh

[30] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/06/25/world/middleeast/syria-chemical-attack-douma.html  timestamp 2:02.

[31] http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2018/08/swept-under-rug-part-2.html


Note: This article originally appeared in a different form at Monitor on Massacre Marketing as Swept Under the Rug, The Plot to Delay the OPCW Douma Probe and Manipulate the Evidence, part 2: Scrub Marks?


The author

Adam Larson is an independent investigator in Spokane, Washington, United States. He studied history at Eastern Washington University. He has since 2011, on a volunteer basis, studied events in Libya, Syria, and Ukraine following Western-backed regime-change operations, often under the screen name Caustic Logic. Using open sources, with an emphasis on video analysis, Mr. Larson and research associates have often deconstructed or disproved alleged “regime” crimes from shooting protesters to sectarian massacres. He’s the co-founder of Citizen’s Investigation into War crimes in Libya (and Syria, Ukraine, and beyond – CIWCL-SUB – website), a core member of the wiki-format research site A Closer Look On Syria, and runs the site Monitor on Massacre Marketing. He can be contacted at adam@ciwclibya.org/