Sep 25, 2013

Mapping the Source of the Attack

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

As it seems that we're reaching an agreement about the UMLACA's range, and we have multiple independent indications of the rocket azimuths, we can now make a reasonable location estimate for the chemical attacks' launch site.

I prepared an area that roughly matches the calculated azimuths and falls within 2.0 to 3.2 km of the farthest impact sites (which also happen to be the ones for which we have an azimuth). 

Here it is:

And zoomed out: 

See the area in an interactive map.

It is interesting to note that the 12 impact sites seem to form an arc around the southern part of this area, which may indicate a series of launches made from the same point at different directions.

By the way, does anyone know who geolocated the other 10 impact sites? I copied it from the HRW report and saw it also in another map. I currently don't use them for the estimate, but would be helpful to know.
Update: In a comment, 'CE' referred me to footnote 16 in the HRW report indicating the site locations were collected from local activists via skype, and in some cases were based on GPS readings.

At this point, I would like to ask your help in gathering information about this area:
  1. Who controls it? How tight is that control?
  2. Are the residential areas in it populated or deserted?
  3. Any other interesting events happened there during the war? 
  4. It would be especially interesting if anyone could think of a way to contact residents of the buildings surrounding the area. They couldn't have missed the sound of 12 UMLACA launches, and must have valuable information or perhaps even a video.
Findings so far:
From the discussion here, I got this video published 3 days after the chemical attacks showing a rocket launched from Qadoum (I identified the minaret in the video to belong to Ghoufran Mosque). The launch is from the Special Forces HQ, which is 1.5 km northwest of the center of our suspected area. 
After examining the video frame by frame I could not determine if this is an UMLACA. Some frames seem to show an oversized payload and others do not.
The discussion provides reliable evidence that the area has been deserted and outside regime control for a long time, and indeed on the same day another video was published showing an attack on the area attributed in the title to "Assad's Gangs".


  1. I have found my reference to rockets fired from a bridge on 21 August.

    It appears to probably be fake. It also appears to not be the motorway intersection in your proposed launch zone.

    "The Syrian Support Group (SSG), a U.S.-licensed rebel aid provider, cited one very early report that preceded the HRW briefing that was relayed by Mohammed Salaheddine, a journalist with Al Aan TV and an eyewitness to the early-morning attacks. Salaheddine claimed that four rockets hit Eastern Ghouta, the first striking Zamalka, the second Ayn Tarma, the third Jobar, and the fourth Zamalka again. He said these were all Grad 122-mm rockets and came from the Damascus-Homs highway near the Baghdad Bridge (southern Damascus), and the other two came from Qabun (north of Jobar). (Note that the Baghdad Bridge is near the Nusariyeh chemical research facility, which the regime currently controls.)"

    1. Well they basically gave all possible directions in this report except East... Probably not much we can do with it.
      Thanks anyway!

    2. Actually, this is not the specific report I remember and I can't for the life of me find it.

      The report I saw talked about a particular military unit and talked about firing from a motorway overpass.

      It may have been the same report but with more detail? Or it may have been a different report.

      I think it's interesting (legal term) that your potential launch location includes a motorway interchange.

  2. Baghdad Bridge is seen at

    and Qaboun is at

  3. How do you know, that it was opposition rocket in the first video and government attack in the second? And Brown Moses also has a video ( of launched rocket from Qadoum - it´s probably launch from the same area as in your first video or even the same launch taken from different angle. You can see the rocket used is UMLACA.

    1. As you noted below, those are different locations, but I still did some work to better support the claim. Updated above. Thank you!

  4. Oh, sorry. I can already see that your a Moses´s videos are from two completely different areas.

  5. Brown Moses dismissed the videos allegedly showing Liwa al-Islam with gas masks firing UMLACAs on August 21st as a hoax. I have dismissed them as unimportant. They seem to be somewhere outside Damascus, in the "Ghouta", with open spaces, orchards and trees. One thing sticks out though: the first video seems to show the pole of a street light.

    I looked on Google Earth. I can now point out a possible launch site that matches the videos. It is right in the middle of your launch area, at the center of the double cloverleaf intersection to the east of Jobar and Qaboun. The spot is on the north-south (or northwest-southeast) road, between the two underpasses under the two east-west roads. Incidentally, the spot is just 200 meters west of the Air Force Intelligence Branch.

    This image on Panoramio has almost the right coordinates.

    I am able to pinpoint two roads and one small tree. The rockets are aimed in the right direction. The videos shows other trees in background, the map shows some, maybe not as many. This is not yet a location match by our standards. but as everything else fits, this is starting to look like a smoking gun.

    I have posted upright frames of the videos showing the launch here moment:

    1. Is the Airforce Intelligence Branch in Government or insurgent hands?

    2. Petri - Interesting work. It is hard for me to assess the accuracy as a lot of data is involved. Do you think you can prepare a few images side by side showing that the match is not a coincidence?

    3. I have collected the best frames here:

      What is important is not, that the launch site has been exactly located, but that it is possible for it to be in Qaboun. It cannot be in the built up areas but it can be in this intersection.

    4. Petri,
      The frames show some features that I didn't notice before - Thanks for uploading. Since at this point the video's reliability is low (analyzed in my next post) and the features are not distinctive, I think it's premature to use it for geolocation. Let's see if it becomes relevant as more information comes in.
      Thank you!

    5. @Charles – Re: Is the Airforce Intelligence Branch in Government or insurgent hands?

      This story implies the site was controlled by government on July 2, 2013.
      Escape of detainees reveals the horrors of murder in Harasta intelligence branch
      (I would not believe a word of this story without verification.)

      Syrian Perspective with contacts in the Air Force Intelligence says the intersection area was controlled by rebels on June 17, with rebels making further advances into Qaboun.

      The issue of who controls Qaboun has been covered in our wiki here.

  6. Please take notice of the VEHICLE TRACES that are currently visible in our "green field" on Wikimapia. They are in a few of the loops of the intersection and often passing the big street lights very close.

    Do we know from which time and date the satelite pictures are and when google will change them?
    Maybe the next change will not show them anymore.

    Screenshots of Wikimapia showing vehicle traces at possible launch site

    As well as this possible howitzer location. This would indicate howitzer was firing at Qaboun like they say in the video.

    1. It seems there is no information about time and date of pictures available on Google maps etc.
      But if one looks down the highway where the battle took place that ANNA reported of in August, he can see that the destruction indicates it was after that time.

    2. Thanks to CE for the hint in ACLOS that those pictures are from summer 2012. Then is when the destruction between the streets 6th Tishreen and Kenzi happened. No newer pictures available yet.

      So the traces are useless.

  7. It's interesting to note that the suggested sites of Liwa launches on Aug 21 coincide with the areas adjacent to Qaboun where extensive demolitions had taken place (by the Syrian authorities since 2012). See Sasa's location suggestion to orient you to the area.

    Compare to the area marked in this HRW graphic.

    For contrast, Bing's pre-demolition aerial depiction of the same quarter.