So far we've been very successful in collecting and analyzing evidence from the Zamalka attack, with every conclusion backed by multiple independent sources. But the Moadamiyah attack still remained with its highly inconsistent evidence. It's easy to dismiss it as just another one of the many slip-ups in the UN report and forget about it, but that's not how things are done here... So I went through all the Moadamiyah videos, reports, and UN findings and tried to settle all the discrepancies.
First, a summary of the problems with the Moadamiyah chemical attack report:
- No UMLACAs were found there, compared to multiple findings in Zamalka. This is especially weird as Moadamiyah is within UMLACA range of Mazzeh airport, a site from which we have multiple sightings of UMLACA launches.
- The only munition suspected to be associated with a chemical attack is an M14 rocket body. Its warhead was not found, even though chemical warheads should survive impact, and the UN reported that locals were bringing them various munitions.
Update: some have claimed a strong boosting charge can destroy the warhead. In that case, serious damage should have been evident on the rocket body.
- While images and videos of UMLACA impact sites were uploaded by activists within hours of the attack, the first (and only) M14 video was uploaded only after four days. Furthermore, it was recorded at an arbitrary location and not in its impact crater.
- The M14 rocket body shows no signs of damage from impact with the ground, while all UMLACAs are bent or broken. Especially interesting since its terminal velocity is supposed to be higher due to its aerodynamic design and better fuel-to-weight ratio.
- No other M14 rocket bodies or warheads were reported. This is especially interesting since the UN reported another impact site it believes originated from the same launcher.
- The M14 has an optional 2.2 kg sarin warhead. To cause the amount of deaths reported in Moadamiyah would require between 13 and 66 M14 rockets (see full calculation by pmr9 in comments below).
- The M14 is an obsolete weapon, with the markings on this one indicating it was manufactured in 1967.
- There are no videos or images of the Syrian Army (or anyone else in Syria) using an M14 or its launcher (if anyone has it, please share).
- The UN team wore gas masks near Zamalka impact sites, but not in the Moadamiyah impact site - probably since their mobile chemical detectors beeped only in Zamalka.
- While the UN report found sarin in 90% of samples taken around UMLACA impact sites in Zamalka, none of the samples in the vicinity of the rocket were positive for sarin, despite being taken 2-3 days before the UMLACA samples. A few of them tested positive for sarin breakdown products (DIMP, IPMPA, and MPA): 2 out of 15 tests in one lab, and 5 out of 15 in the second lab.
- Still, 14 out of 15 blood samples taken from victims in Moadamiyah tested positive for sarin exposure, a higher rate than in Zamalka.
- While in Zamalka we have videos showing the disarray in the streets, all Moadamiyah videos are taken in the hospital.
- The UN report provides 8 indirect quotes from victims who report being infected in Zamalka (one on Page 16, seven on 36-38), but none for Moadamiyah.
- While hundreds of eyewitness accounts can be found for Zamalka (see here, here, here and many more), I could only find two for Moadamiyah: One that is constantly interrupted by a local doctor and is cut off when the witness starts mentioning an "explosion", and another taken over skype by HRW (page 4) which describes no odors at the scene (highly inconsistent with Zamalka), and claims a shirt dunked in water protected him at ground zero (impossible).
- Reports in social media from Moadamiyah were inconsistent, alternating between descriptions of chemical and conventional shelling. 13 hours after the attack seven casualties from chemicals were claimed, and only later did this change to 56.
- When the UN team approached Moadamiyah, they were targeted by sniper fire. No such interruptions were reported in Zamalka.
So what happened here?
First, the positive samples from victims can be explained as Zamalka victims rushed to Moadamiyah hospitals. Since thousands of people were affected in Zamalka, the small local hospitals were quickly overrun and victims were distributed to any available opposition hospital. And indeed, when each hospital reported its casualties it created the initial impression that the attack spanned a wide area.
So any visit to an opposition hospital near Damascus would have yielded positive samples. The only reason the investigators happened to visit Moadamiyah is because they only visited impact sites, and were informed of the intact M14 rocket body found there.
Shouldn't the UN team have picked up on this? Not necessarily:
- Their Moadamiyah visit lasted for only two hours.
- It was done in unfavorable conditions.
- Their charter was to find whether a chemical weapon was used, not how. So they probably put less emphasis on this issue.
- For some reason, the UN report chooses to ignore facts that weaken the regime attack theory.
Next, let's examine the M14 and its alleged impact site:
- As mentioned, the M14 is obsolete and would make for a very weird choice when UMLACAs with a sarin capacity 25 times larger are available.
- This video shows the rocket body one day before the UN arrival, in an obviously different location than when it was examined by the UN. The investigators still went on to analyze a "small crater/impact point" found near the rocket and treated it as if it was related. The discussions with the local activist in this video and this video from the same time give some idea as to the reliability of evidence collected from this scene. And indeed, the investigators did report that "Fragments and other possible evidence have clearly been handled/moved prior to the arrival of the investigation team".
Update: It seems like the "small crater" that was reported to be found near the rocket is one of the two dents in the floor seen in this video. Describing this as a rocket impact crater is highly speculative, and the fact the the team used it to calculate trajectories is concerning.
- Even if we were to assume this rocket did hit this location, the UN report states: "[We] determined that it initially impacted the corner of the second floor of an adjacent apartment building to the east, with either the warhead functioning or shearing off from the body at that point and the motor section having sufficient kinetic energy to continue along its path to its terminal impact location". This provides an excellent alternative explanation for the rocket body being intact (other than it having a chemical warhead): its conventional explosive warhead did not detonate or detonated at a distance.
- The only sample positive in both labs is a soil sample from the impact point in the outside terrace (page 18).
- Additional four samples found positive only in Lab 2 are from two metal fragments taken from the same terrace.
- An additional sample found positive only in Lab 1 is from a scarf of a victim said to have died of poisoning.
- The rest of the samples, which were negative in both labs, are from inside the apartment (see video) taken from the floor, a bed sheet, a slipper, a pillow, and a mattress. Some of these samples tested positive for Hexamethylentetramine, a chemical related to RDX (a type of explosive). It should be noted that the alleged poisoning occurred inside this apartment.
The scarf sample is unique in that it is not described as a sample taken personally by the investigators (and is not shown in the video), which may indicate it was given to them by locals. Until more information is provided on how it was collected, it's hard to assess the source of its contamination.
This all seems to suggest the following scenario: Moadamiyah suffered a conventional attack (like much of Ghouta), and treated patients from Zamalka (like all Ghouta hospitals). Reports related to these incidents created the confusion that the area is attacked by chemical weapons (as initially happened in all towns treating Zamalka victims). When they later saw the international impact, some local activists decided to stick to the story.
This scenario is definitely plausible, and it perfectly matches all the evidence. In comparison, the scenario of a chemical attack in Moadamiyah implies many unrealistic assumptions.
Conclusion: It's still uncertain what exactly happened in Moadamiyah. However, the evidence for a chemical attack is weak and inconsistent, while the evidence for a conventional attack that was misrepresented to be chemical is much stronger.