Nov 29, 2013

Geolocating New UMLACA Video

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

HRI found this video showing another UMLACA launch.

The location seems like a perfect match to Qadam railway station. This image shows the location of the camera and the apparent launch direction - 100 degrees (East). 

The video gives the most accurate evidence so far of the conventional UMLACA's range, being launched here at a distance of 1.9 km (details here).

Following 1.9 km in that azimuth falls between an area marked as "Palestine camp" and the Al Tadamoun neighborhood, both marked here to be under rebel control. Al-Tadamoun is often mentioned as the site of clashes between government and rebel forces.

At 1.9 km and 101.3 degrees there is a large industrial building there, which might have been the target.

Some of you may remember we've already seen an UMLACA launch from Qadam station (this is very likely the larger version of the UMLACA - see discussion in comments):

Overall, an interesting finding, which agrees with our previous estimates. Thanks Mark/HRI!


Going over all the videos related to the Qadam station indicate it is under government control, and frequently attacked by rebel forces. A major attack occurred on January 27-30th, 2013, which resulted in rebel forces capturing at least part of the station. It is documented in the following videos:

Shows forces carrying the ISIS flag fighting in this area to the south of the station.

More fighting in the same area, and then capturing a few buildings inside the station (probably these).

More fighting inside the station (probably here).

This seems to be deeper inside, not clear where exactly.

This video is said to show regime jet shelling in the exact locations found above.

Update: In a comment below Charles Wood points to another video showing rebels inside the northern part of the station.

This brings up an interesting scenario: We have strong evidence of UMLACAs with incendiary warheads falling in Darayya a few weeks earlier (most likely launched from the nearby Mazzeh airport). Since we already know Qadam station is an UMLACA launch site, it is definitely plausible it too had incendiary UMLACAs and a launcher stationed there during the opposition raid. They could be the ones later repurposed to carry sarin and used on August 21st (as described here).
This is of course mere speculation, but it does provide a plausible example for the "captured UMLACAs" theory.

Nov 9, 2013

Response to Dan Kaszeta's Chemical Analysis

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

Brown Moses recently published a detailed response by Dan Kaszeta to this blog’s chemical analysis and estimate of sarin production complexity.

First, thanks for publishing it. The more opinions and evidence we gather, the better our analysis will be.

Summary of Dan's Response

Dan generally agrees that the sarin used in Zamalka was of low quality and lacked stabilizers. However, he believes this is not the result of underground manufacturing, but rather a result of Syria having a chemical program similar to the one Iraq had during the Iraq-Iran war. Specifically:
Sarin's main precursor (Methylphosphonyl difluoride) is produced at low purity and stored without stabilizers. When the need comes, it is mixed with isopropyl to create sarin, poured into the munitions and quickly shipped to the battlefield, before it degrades.

He believes Syria chose this process due to the technical difficulties of producing high purity sarin, which he bases on the following claims:

  • "The US and USSR made Sarin in poor to mediocre condition for years before perfecting the process".
  • "Iraq devoted a large effort to manufacturing nerve agents and did so in large quantities during the Iran-Iraq war. The size, expense, and scope of the Iraqi industrial program is well documented by UNSCOM and UNMOVIC, and appears to be larger than the Syrian program.  Yet it made an inferior grade of Sarin".

Additionally, he believes the opposition could not have produced the amounts of sarin used in Zamalka (several hundred kg), for the following reasons:

  • The last underground attempt to manufacture large amounts of sarin (Aum Shinrikyo) was unsuccessful despite large investments.
  • It is a very expensive operation: “The US OTA study estimated that you needed at least $10 million in 1993 USD to get a basic setup going”.
  • Using this investment to produce conventional weapons would be much more efficient, or in his words: “Thirty million dollars buys a lot of conventional equipment that is much more immediately useful than a few tons of Sarin”.

All of these claims are incorrect or irrelevant.

Rebuttal of Claims

Claim: The US and USSR took years to reach high purity (implying Syria's product would be of low quality).

Response: Comparing a modern chemical program to ones started over 50 years ago is meaningless. Lab technology is far more advanced and know-how has dissipated. In any case, even back then the US and USSR were able to reach high purity within a few years. Why would the Syrian program not reach this ability after 30 years?

Claim: Iraq’s bigger chemical program never reached high purity (implying Syria's product would be of low quality)

This is a misunderstanding of Iraq’s program. Iraq developed agents to be used immediately in the battlefield. They therefore focused on quantities rather than shelf-life. A few relevant quotes:
“While the purity of nerve agents produced were effective enough for immediate use on the battlefield during the Iran-Iraq war, they were not suitable for long-term storage”.   (Source: UN report on Iraq’s chemical weapons)
"The short shelf life of Iraq's nerve agents was not a problem during the war with Iran, because Iraq's CW manufacturing facilities were able to produce large quantities of agent shortly before it was to be used in battle".   (Source: Declassified CIA report)
“Although the Iraqis could have distilled their sarin to remove the excess HF, they chose not to do so because the batches of agent were intended to be used within a few days”.   (Source:  A U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment report)
"CIA analysts believe that the shelf life problem was only temporary and that the Iraqis can now produce unitary agents of sufficient quality by adding a stabilizer or improving the production process".   (Source: The same CIA report)
Syria, however, has a completely different goal. Their chemical program is intended to counter Israel’s nuclear program. It therefore requires long-term storage and quick deployment of large quantities. A “just in time” mixing operation imposes a significant bottleneck which limits the amount of agent that can be deployed in a short time frame.

Syria would therefore need either a high-purity unitary process (i.e. storage of prepared sarin ready for quick deployment), or have binary weapons that mix the agent in-flight. Recent OPCW reports state Syria’s stockpiles are held in binary form, indicating the latter is more likely.

And indeed, Syria is generally believed to have large stockpiles of operational binary warheads and “a high level of know-how in the chemical weapons technology” (source: French Intelligence Report). As early as 1991 the US estimated that “Syria has an advanced CW program. The program has concentrated on developing sarin in two binary-type munitions: 500-kg aerial bombs and Scud B missile warheads” (source).

The only reason one would be forced to assume that Syria’s program is based on this non-standard “just in time” binary process is to justify why the rockets used in Zamalka don’t have binary warheads (evident by the rockets not having slanted fins or multiple nozzles, which are required to spin the rocket and mix the agents in-flight). When accepting that Zamalka was an opposition attack, these unlikely assumptions are no longer needed.

Last, the claim that Iraq’s program was bigger than Syria’s is not backed by evidence. Syria’s program is active for over 30 years with access to current technology, while Iraq was a 10 year program that ended 20 years ago.

Claim: The last underground attempt to manufacture large amounts of sarin (Aum Shinrikyo) was unsuccessful despite large investments.
Aum Shinrikyo indeed developed only around 100 kg of sarin in a year and half, while the Zamalka attack required several 100 kg’s. However, the Syrian opposition has several advantages over Aum Shinrikyo:
  1. Much weaker government supervision. Treating the opposition as a non-state actor would be inaccurate, as they have full control of some areas of Syria, making them the de-facto state there. This is critical: Aum Shinrikyo had stopped their process several times and destroyed products because of police investigations. 
  2. Possible access to former Chemical Warfare professionals from Iraq, Libya or Syria.
  3. Access to lab technology that is 18 years more advanced. This was specifically addressed in this detailed analysis of Aum’s chemical program, which estimated that current lab equipment would make a similar effort much cheaper. Quotes:
    “Such an effort might be well disguised or established on a smaller scale, however, by taking advantage of the development over the last decade of powerful, low-cost micro-production chemical capabilities”.
    “… the chemical industry has, over the last decade, introduced modular and flexible designs where reactions may occur in a solvent-free environment, at increased concentrations and in much smaller and less expensive facilities”.
  4. International allies. This could prove very helpful when trying to obtain regulated chemicals or lab equipment.
  5. Internet access, which makes information on sarin production widely available (e.g. details of Aum Shinrikyo’s process). This can significantly accelerate production - Aum Shinrikyo scientists spent much of their time in trial and error.
Furthermore, Aum’s big investment was in a plant intended to produce 2 tons per day. The opposition does not need such a large plant to carry out the attacks documented so far.

Claim: "The US OTA study estimated that you needed at least $10 million in 1993 USD to get a basic setup going"

This quote was taken out of context, without providing a link to the source (source here). The full quote is:
"Arsenal for substantial military capability (hundreds of tons of agent) likely to cost tens of millions of dollars”
This capacity is 100 times larger than what the opposition requires, and assumes military-grade quality, which wasn’t the case in Zamalka.

Additionally, this estimate is not only in “1993 USD”, but also in 1993 technology. As described above, lab technology has advanced significantly since then.

Last, it is very possible that the opposition’s plant was not built from scratch but was rather based on a captured chemical plant. Significant work would still need to be done to convert the plant to produce sarin, but it would be much easier and cheaper than building a new one. We know of at least one captured plant.

It’s hard to give an accurate estimate, but when considering all the factors above, it won’t be surprising to find that the whole operation cost less than $1 Million.

Claim: Using this investment to produce conventional weapons would be much more efficient, or in his words: “Thirty million dollars buys a lot of conventional equipment that is much more immediately useful than a few tons of Sarin.”

Besides the cost estimate being greatly exaggerated, this analysis assumes the weapons were intended to be used exclusively against regime forces. When considering the US red line, the value of a well-executed false flag attack becomes obvious: The US could win the conflict for the opposition within weeks, like it did in Libya. This would make a sarin plant the best investment possible.

Additional Evidence

Besides none of the claims holding up to scrutiny, the theory fails to explain why the opposition has been ordering large quantities of chemicals only relevant to sarin production. Were they risking arrest and spending money without having a laboratory that can process them?

Probably the most important aspect that Dan doesn’t address at all is the specific nature of impurities found in Zamalka. These can give us important insights into the production process. Most notable are the following two findings:

  1. Ethyl isopropyl methylphosphonate is the most common by-product reported by the UN. It is very telling, because the sarin production process introduces only chemicals with methyl groups. Ethyl groups should not be present in the final product at all.
    This indicates that one of the alcohols used (Methanol in stage 2 and/or Isopropanol in stage 6, see appendix) was in itself impure and contained ethanol. This level of contamination occurs in very low grades of chemicals, and is a strong indication of underground production.
    A military operation would not have any problem getting access to high-purity alcohols and paying the modest difference in price.
    Update: Charles Wood pointed to this OPCW report which indicates Syria's chemical weapon sites contained stocks of Isopropanol. This removes the remote possibility that they had to obtain Isopropanol elsewhere to produce sarin, and reduces the likelihood that government-produced sarin would contain Ethyl groups.
  2. Hexafluorophosphate was also found by the UN. It could have come from two places:
    (a) Residual phosphorus trichloride in step 2, which reacts with thionyl chloride in step 4 to produce Phosphorus pentachloride, and then reacts with Hydrogen Fluoride in step 5 (see appendix).
    (b) A by-product of step 1 intended to produce Phosphorus trichloride, but also producing Phosphorus pentachloride, which later reacts with Hydrogen Fluoride in step 5 (see appendix).
    This indicates that the sarin used in Zamalka was produced starting at step 1 or 2 (which is also consistent with the chemicals ordered in Turkey). A Military operation would have no reason to start with such basic chemicals, and could easily acquire large quantities of Dimethyl methylphosphonate of high purity, a common agent in the chemical industry, thus skipping directly to step 4.


So the scenario proposed by Mr. Kaszeta requires us to believe that:
  1. Despite 30 years of development, and in contradiction to intelligence estimates that Syria has binary warheads, they chose to use a “just in time” binary process for its CW program – A process that would make the program an ineffective deterrent against Israel’s WMD program.
  2. They chose to develop sarin from basic chemicals and use cheap low-grade alcohols, for no apparent reason, damaging product efficiency and shelf-life.
  3. They chose to use a lower-quality locally developed rocket that requires them to go into rebel-held territory, instead of deploying one of the many advanced delivery devices in their disposal.
  4. The opposition has been ordering chemicals that can only be used to produce sarin, without having the equipment to process them.
On the other hand, the alternative explanation only requires us to assume that one opposition faction decided to try to meet the US red line and potentially win the war, by making a modest investment.

Analysis of Amount of Sarin used

I will also take this opportunity to respond to another report by Dan Kaszeta, which raised doubts as to whether the number of rockets used in the attack is sufficient to cause the number of casualties reported. The calculations are based on several incorrect assumptions, but most importantly it uses data tables that assume an attack on prepared troops who wear gas masks within 15 seconds ("Based on... 15 second masking time"). This was obviously not the case in Zamalka, where sarin was inhaled by victims for a 50-100 times longer period. The longer exposure time is more than enough to account for the gap in Dan's report, making 5-12 rockets of 60 kg sarin a sufficient explanation for the number of casualties reported.

Some Thoughts

This section contained an off-topic discussion of the public debate. Now that it is no longer being discussed, I removed it.

Appendix - Sarin Production Process

This is a process that starts with the most basic chemicals. It was found to be consistent with the chemicals ordered in Turkey, and the by-products found by the UN. In an advanced program, the first steps could be skipped by starting with more complex chemicals.
  1. White Phosphorus + Chlorine = Phosphorus Trichloride
  2. Phosphorus Trichloride + Methanol = Trimethyl Phosphite
  3. Trimethyl Phosphite + Halo-Methane = Dimethyl Methylphosphonate
  4. Dimethyl Methylphosphonate + Thionyl Chloride = Methylphosphonic Dichloride
  5. Methylphosphonic Dichloride + Potassium Fluoride or Hydrogen Fluoride or Sodium Fluoride = Methylphosphonyl Difluoride
  6. Methylphosphonyl Difluoride + Isopropanol / Isopropyl alcohol (+ Isopropylamine to neutralize Hydrogen Fluoride)  = sarin
Diagram copied from this analysis of Aum Shinrikyo's process (starting from step 2 above):

Thanks to DDTea for his contributions in analyzing the UN’s chemical report.

Nov 2, 2013

The Conclusion

On August 21st the world woke up to horrifying images of a chemical attack against civilians in Syria. Over time the details emerged: Rockets with sarin filled warheads landed in rebel-held residential areas, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. However, one crucial detail remained unclear: Who carried out the attack? Each side naturally blamed the other, with western intelligence agencies providing evidence supporting the opposition, and Russian intelligence supporting the regime. Both sides issued biased reports with cherry-picked evidence, only adding to the confusion.

This blog was created to counter these disinformation campaigns, by providing an open online collaboration platform to investigate who is behind the attack. It turned out to be very successful with dozens of contributors meticulously documenting and analyzing thousands of pieces of evidence. Due to the sensitivity of the matter, high standards were enforced: Only reliable evidence verified by multiple sources may be used. No unverifiable statements from a single source, no generous interpretations of blurred images, and no cherry-picked circumstantial evidence.

This post summarizes this effort and provides the final conclusion. It should not be read as an opinion piece that tries to promote a certain point of view by choosing convenient evidence and making unsubstantiated claim. It is the result of a ground-up process that started by meticulous collection of all relevant evidence (regardless of what theory it supports), scrutinizing each item, and examining which scenarios can best match the evidence. At the end of the process only one scenario was found plausible. It is presented below in a hierarchical structure that allows the reader to independently verify every statement: Just follow the links and you will always reach hard evidence: a video, an eyewitness report, a mathematical model etc.

The only plausible scenario that fits the evidence is an attack by opposition forces. Following is a description of the main findings, with each one linked to the evidence that backs it.

Background Evidence

This section provides background information on the attack that is not directly related to culpability, but is necessary for understanding the rest of the evidence.

On the night between August 20th and 21st the regime launched a wide scale attack on the Ghouta area.
  • Evidence that a regime attack was ongoing at that time:
    • Regime attacks on this area are a regular occurrence 
    • Report of a non-chemical heavy artillery attack
    • Opposition social media accounts reported heavy fighting at 1:15 AM, more than an hour before the chemical attack was reported.
    • The US reported seeing rocket launches from government territory at about 1:00 AM (60 minutes before the chemical attack).
    • All evidence and more details here (item 3)
On the same night, rockets with large sarin warheads (hereinafter “UMLACA”) landed in Zamalka, an opposition dominant residential area, killing hundreds.
  • Evidence that sarin poisoning occurred only in the Zamalka area:
    • There are dozens of first-hand reports of sarin poisoning, and all of them are from the Zamalka area (see examples here, herehere)
    • It should be noted that initially the attack was thought to encompass nearly all of the Ghouta area. This was later found to be a misunderstanding due to nearby hospitals helping patients from Zamalka. The only town that continued to claim a chemical attack was Moadamiyah. However, this report was found highly unreliable.
      • See full analysis of the Moadamiyah site here
  • Evidence that UMLACAs landed in Zamalka:
    • Multiple videos of UMLACA in their impact sites were found in Zamalka, some of them reported only a few hours after the attack
      • Three UMLACA impact sites are analyzed here
      • Video of a fourth Zamalka impact site
      • Video of a fifth Zamalka impact site
    • Human Rights Watch received from local activists information of 12 UMLACA impact site, all in the Zamalka area. Report and map here.
    • There were no reports of UMLACA impacts anywhere else.
  • Evidence that the UMLACA was the sarin delivery device:
    • They were found immediately after the sarin poisoning, and in the same area. No other munitions were reported.
    • The impact sites and rocket remains show no signs of damage from explosives or incendiary.
    • The impact sites have remains of a container capable of carrying around 60 kg sarin. The remains are stripe-shaped, indicating the container was designed to explode on impact, tear open, and release its content to the environment.
    • The UN has reported finding sarin in soil samples taken near the impact sites.
    • More details in the UN report.
  • Evidence that hundreds were killed:
    • We have not yet concluded our analysis of the number of casualties, but most sources report numbers in the hundreds. A good analysis of the different sources may be found here, reaching an estimate of less than 500.

Primary Evidence

This section contains findings which are directly indicative of a rebel attack.

The attack was launched from an opposition-controlled area 2 km north of Zamalka.
  • Evidence the rockets were launched from the north:
    • One impact site was documented by locals during the UN visit, showing a rocket buried in the ground pointing north
    • A second impact site was documented by locals a few hours after the attack, showing an UMLACA and crater clearly pointing from north to south
    • A third impact site was documented during the UN visit showing a hole in the northern wall of an apartment
    • Full details here
  • Evidence the rockets were launched from 2 km north:
    • The UMLACA’s maximum range is 2.5 km, as indicated by:
      • Computer simulations.
      • Three videos showing launches of this rocket (although with a different warhead).
      • A comparison to other rockets with known range
      • Two expert opinions
      • Full details here
    • The 12 impact sites seem to form an arc around this launch site (see map below)
    • There is an open field in that area, which would make an UMLACA attack (which requires two trucks) easier to coordinate
  • Evidence the area is opposition-controlled:
    • A map prepared by HRW shows it as "opposition contested area" (no separation between full and partial control).
    • A map reportedly obtained from Syrian troops shows the area as "rebel held".
    • The Wikipedia map shows the area as partly "rebels held" and partly "contested". It is very far from regime held territories (excluding the freeway).
The sarin was of low quality and contained impurities that indicate it was likely produced underground and not in a military plant
  • The evidence:
    • The UN reported finding multiple chemical impurities, indicating failures in the sarin production process.
    • Two of the impurities are directly indicative of low-budget underground production.
    • Eyewitness accounts are near unanimous in their reports of strong odors, whereas pure sarin is odorless.
    • The UN report found no indication of chemical stabilizers in their samples, which are often used in military-produced nerve agents.
    • Syria has an advanced chemical warfare program, which can be assumed to produce high quality agents.
    • All evidence and more details here and here.
A video leaked by an anonymous source associates Liwa Al-Islam (a Jihadist rebel faction) with a rocket attack that is likely related to the chemical attack
  • Evidence the video depicts a Liwa Al-Islam attack:
    • The cameraman describes it as such.
    • Liwa Al-Islam flags are seen on the launcher.
  • Evidence the attack in the video is related to the chemical attack
    • The time reported in the video is the night of the attack.
    • The video contains several indications of its location, which could only be matched to the real location of the attack.
    • The video shows three UMLACA launches.
    • The fighters are wearing gas masks.
  • The video is unlikely to be a fabrication, since it is very ineffective as propaganda, specifically:
    • The video quality is very poor, making it unusable for mass media distribution.
    • The specific launches documented in the video are on regime forces, and on different neighborhoods (not Zamalka).
    • The videos show a Howitzer canon being used, which was never associated with the chemical attack before.
    • The videos were leaked nearly 4 weeks after the attack, when the risk of military intervention already subsided.
  • Full analysis of the videos here 

Map of the attack:
Red triangle - Likely source of the attack. 
Red pins - UMLACA impact sites in Zamalka (with calculated trajectories in greeen). 
Purple pins - Areas reported to have been attacked by UMLACA in the Liwa Al-Islam videos. 
Red line - Border between rebel-held area and contested area, according to Wikipedia's map.
Blue line - Border between contested and regime-held areas (i.e. Qabun and Jobar are contested)

Secondary Evidence

Despite the strong primary evidence, the rebel-attack scenario could not be accepted without answering the following questions:

How did the opposition obtain sarin?
Syrian opposition groups have been building chemical capabilities for some time, and most likely manufactured the sarin themselves.
  • Evidence that the opposition acquired sarin:
    • A Syrian opposition group was arrested in Turkey attempting to acquire chemicals that can only be used to manufacture sarin.
    • Production of sarin in the quantities used to attack Zamalka is within the reach of well-funded underground organizations.
    • More evidence here 
  • Evidence that the opposition used chemical weapons in the past
    • While there were many claims of chemical attacks, there was only one prior to August 21st that had a significant number of casualties and was consistent with a nerve-agent attack. This attack in Khan Al Assal in April targeted Syrian troops and regime-supporting civilians.
    • A UN investigator of war crimes in Syria shared her personal impression that prior chemical attacks were initiated solely by the opposition
    • Additionally, the UN has found strong evidence indicating two sarin attacks on Syrian soldiers occurring a few days after the Ghouta attack (details here).
    • Full details and more analysis of previous chemical attacks here
How did the opposition obtain UMLACAs?
While manufacturing sarin is a task within the capabilities of such groups, developing a rocket with an effective chemical warhead is fairly complex. Stealing one would also be very difficult, since Syria’s chemical weapons are heavily guarded. However, it turns out that the UMLACA was originally designed as an incendiary weapon, and not a chemical one. The opposition could have easily captured a stock of these incendiary UMLACAs and refilled them with sarin.
  • Evidence that the UMLACA was a Syrian Army incendiary weapon, refilled with sarin:
    • All previous reports of the UMLACA with this warhead showed clear signs of White Phosphorus or a similar incendiary surrounding the impact sites.
    • These signs were not found in the impact sites of the sarin attack in Zamalka.
    • Chemical and incendiary warheads have similar designs, and in some cases the same design is used for both.
    • Full details here.
  • Evidence that the opposition has access to nearly every weapon of the Syrian Army:
    • Raids on Syrian Army depots are a frequent occurrence.
    • There are numerous videos showing the opposition using looted weaponry, including tanks, APCs, artillery, rocket launchers, and even surface-to-air missiles. 
    • More details here.
    • An opposition raid on a site that was likely to hold incendiary UMLACAs is documented here.

Refuted Contradicting Evidence

While the evidence for a rebel-attack is very strong, we must also verify there is no strong evidence to support the competing regime-attack theory. This section lists evidence which was used in the past to imply regime culpability.

Western intelligence agencies claimed the attack spanned a large area and was therefore beyond the capabilities of the opposition.
  • As described above, this was a result of initial confusion. All first-hand accounts and UMLACA sites are in the Zamalka area. The attack was launched from a single location by a small team, and does not require the large-scale coordination claimed.
Human Rights Watch found that two rocket trajectories reported by the UN (one in Moadamiyha, one in Zamalka) intersect at a large Syrian Army base.
  • First Trajectory (Moadamiyah): 
    • The evidence indicates there was no chemical attack in Moadamiyah.
    • According to the details given by the UN, the Moadamiyah trajectory is unreliable.
  • Second trajectory (Zamalka):
    • The azimuth was miscalculated by 60 degrees. It points north, not west.
    • Two other impact sites in Zamalka also indicated a northern source.
    • The distance from Zamalka to the suspected Syrian army base is 9.5 km, while the UMLACA’s range is 2.5 km.
  • See the map above for the correct source of the attack.
  • Full details here
The UN reported chemical stabilizers were found in the soil samples, indicating a military source.
  • This was a result of a reporter misreading a statement in the UN report. No stabilizers were found. Full details in update 2 here.
The US reported rocket launches from regime-held territory 90 minutes before poisoning reports flooded social media (i.e. 1:00 AM).
  • These were part of a regime conventional attack. Eyewitnesses consistently report the chemical attack started at 2:00 AM.
  • Full details here (item 3).
US and German intelligence claimed to intercept calls confirming regime culpability.
  • These was shown to be highly unreliable here (item 4) and here.
A former Syrian officer claims that he was in charge of chemical warfare, and was ordered to use chemical weapons.
  • His story was found to be unreliable, and probably an attempt to provoke international intervention. The evidence:
    • Photos of him found online indicate he was not in military service during the war.
    • His discussion of chemical weapons shows poor understanding.
    • Full analysis here.
The US and UK intelligence claimed Syria has used chemical weapons on a smaller scale on 14 occasions.
  • These were analyzed one by one, concluding that the regime has used White Phosphorus and possibly less-than-lethal chemical agents against opposition fighters, but there are no reliable indications of nerve agent use by the regime.
  • A similar analysis by the Harvard Sussex program on chemical and biological weapons reached a similar conclusion.
  • Full analysis here.

Refuted Supporting Evidence

This section lists evidence that was claimed to support the rebel-attack theory, but was found to be unreliable. Although not relevant to evaluating this scenario, it is provided here to demonstrate the neutrality of the evidence analysis process.

Local activists admitted that the poisoning was a result of an accident involving chemicals brought from Saudi Arabia.
  • A close reading of the text indicates the locals are most likely referring to another accident and the reporter heavily edited their quotes to make it seem related.
Hostages have overheard a Skype call in which rebel commanders admit the attack was a rebel provocation.
  • Like the calls reported by the US and Germany, these were most likely speculations misinterpreted as actual knowledge.
Full details and more cases here.


To reliably determine culpability, evidence should be accompanied by a motive. Two possible motives were found plausible:

Targeting Mistake
The Liwa Al-Islam videos indicate that the sarin UMLACAs were intended to be used against regime forces, and the launches are probably in response to the regime attack that started earlier. The attack on Zamalka may therefore have been the result of a targeting mistake – either in azimuth calculation, or in wrongly identifying Zamalka as regime territory.

False flag
Another plausible explanation is a deliberate attack on an opposition neighborhood, in attempt to meet the US’s red line for intervention. This could possibly be an unauthorized decision made by the chemical rocket team.

Detailed discussion of scenarios and motives here

Regime Attack Alternative

Besides demonstrating the high likelihood of a rebel attack, the research also exposed the implausibility of the regime attack scenario: To believe that the attack was carried out by the regime, one would need to assume the following:
  1. The regime decided to carry out a large-scale sarin attack against a civilian population, despite (a) making steady gains against rebel positions, (b) receiving a direct threat from the US that the use of chemical weapons would trigger intervention, (c) having constantly assured their Russian allies that they will not use such weapons, (d) prior to the attack, only using non-lethal chemicals and only against military targets.
  2. The regime pressed for a UN investigation of a prior chemical attack on Syrian troops, and then decided to launch the large-scale sarin attack at the time of the team's arrival, and at a nearby location.
  3. To execute the attack they decided to (a) send forces into rebel-held area, where they are exposed to sniper fire from multiple directions, (b) use locally manufactured short-range rockets, instead of any of the long-range high quality chemical weapons in their arsenal, and (c) use low quality sarin.
Detailed discussion and other regime-attack scenarios here. 


An analysis of all evidence relating to the August 21st chemical attack indicate it was carried out by opposition forces. According to the most likely scenario, they used looted incendiary rockets, refilled them with sarin they manufactured themselves, and launched them from a rebel-held territory 2 km north of Zamalka.

The evidence was presented above in a unique structure that allows the reader to independently verify every claim. The purpose of this structure was to make sure that you, the reader, can reach one of three mindsets:

  1. Contradicting evidence – You followed the links and found faulty evidence, or you have reliable contradictory evidence that was not yet considered. If so, please post your findings in the page where that evidence is discussed. We will then scrutinize it and if it holds up, the conclusions may change. Thank you for contributing!
  2. Alternative theory – You agree with the evidence but can come up with an alternative theory that better explains it. So far no one was able to come up with a plausible regime attack scenario, but maybe you can. Post your suggested scenario here and we’ll discuss it. Thank you for contributing!
  3. Convinced – Awesome, glad we could be of help. All we ask is that you spread the word and help us change the mainstream perceptions. Let’s prove that an open collaborative effort can overcome governments’ propaganda and disinformation. This is not just an intellectual experiment. Every day that passes with the world thinking the regime is behind the attack, is another day where the real perpetrators are accumulating sarin and improving their capabilities. It is just a matter of time until it is used outside Syria.

Many thanks to all the contributors. Amazing work!
Members of the media wishing to publish the report, please email