Nov 2, 2015

Review of Turkish MPs Allegations

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

Recently two Turkish opposition MPs have claimed their government was avoiding investigating the attempted purchase of chemicals for production of sarin by Al-Nusra operatives. Their claims may be found here and here. Our previous discussion of this case can be found here

They provide no evidence for their claim that ex-minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdag ordered not to prosecute the case, but it is definitely not unlikely given Turkey’s support of the Syrian opposition and the lack of any official reason for closing the case.

They do however provide a transcript of an intercepted phone call from the case. This was so far only published in Turkish, so I ordered a translation, which is provided in the appendix below. The call itself does not provide any significant new information, except for the amounts of chemicals (50kg and 200kg), which were not mentioned before. This is yet another indication that the opposition was involved in sarin production in the scale necessary for the Ghouta attack.

Review of Dan Kaszeta’s analysis

Dan Kaszeta also analyzed these reports on bellingcat. Following is a review of his main claims:

The ‘recipe’ is wrong in several aspects

This claim is based on the assumption that the recipe was obtained from the suspects, which is probably due to Kaszeta’s use of an automatic translation of the article. As can be seen in the actual translation, the recipe was reverse engineered by the Turkish Police from the list of ingredients, and it is not surprising they got some of it wrong.
In fact, the list of ingredients (which is the only actual evidence we have) is an exact match to the trivial sarin production process one could generate by going to ‘sarin’ in Wikipedia, and clicking back through the preparation instructions. This is also nearly exactly the same process used by Aum Shinrikyo, which is publicly available (see appendix here).
So in fact, the list of ingredients is exactly what one would expect in underground sarin production. Especially interesting is the use of basic chemicals like white phosphorous (instead of procuring Dimethyl methylphosphonate directly for example), which is indicative of an organization trying to avoid detection by authorities, and also perfectly matches the impurities found by the UN (more here

Sarin production requires very expensive equipment

This claim was analyzed thoroughly here. The examples Dan gives are for facilities designed for 1) production of thousands of tons of agent, 2) at very high safety standards, and 3) for long-term storage (rather than immediate use). There is no reason to believe the opposition could not manufacture the hundreds of kg needed for the Ghouta attack at a reasonable budget.

Isopropanolamine is an unlikely amine for the last stage in sarin production

This is definitely correct. Isopropylamine is the well-known amine for this purpose. However, given that the other ingredients are a perfect match to the commonly found sarin process (which always uses Isopropylamine), this can be safely attributed to human error at some stage in the chain of reporting. In fact, I myself didn’t notice they declared Isopropanolamine and not Isopropylamine until Dan pointed it out.
Kaszeta also takes the opportunity to repeat the claim that Hexamine was used in the Ghouta sarin, despite the new evidence that Hexamine is not soluble in alcohols, making it ineffective for this purpose. More on Hexamine here.

The amount mentioned (50kg) is too small for the Ghouta attack, which required at least 1 ton

1. As shown here (under “Analysis of Amount of Sarin used“), Dan’s analysis of the amount of sarin used in Ghouta was based on a simple miscalculation. The actual amount is likely a few hundred kg.
2. It would be naive to assume that in the only case where the opposition tried to obtain sarin, they were caught.

Appendix – Translation of Cumhuriyet Article

Sarin Recipe Revealed by Prosecutor!

Eren Erdem, CHP Istanbul Deputy, who recently brought back to headlines the shipment of chemical weapons from Turkey to ISIS, now claims that ex-minister of justice, Bekir Bozdag, has ordered the prosecutor not to investigate ‘Islamic oriented organizations’, causing the MIT to relinquish the case. In the “closed” file, the prosecutor defines in detail the sarin recipe used by the suspects.

CHP Deputy (i.e. Member of Parliament on behalf of the opposition Republican People’s Party) from Istanbul, Eren Erdem, who recently brought back to headlines the shipment of chemical weapons from Turkey to ISIS, has now brought up new claims. He now claims that ex-minister of justice Bekir Bozdag has ordered the prosecutor not to investigate ‘Islamic oriented organizations’, causing MIT (i.e. National Intelligence Service) to relinquish the case. Mr. Erdem said: “MIT referred the case to the Police after legal intervention on the shipment of chemical weapons. Even though the Police stated that ‘they cannot handle such a serious investigation’, MIT still relinquished the case. This is how the shipment to the Jihadist group ISIS was condoned - The delivery was even eased for them.”

Sarin Recipe Revealed by Prosecutor!

Adana Public Prosecutor Mehmet Arikan disclosed the sarin recipe in details in the “closed” file. Arıkan asked Adana Police Criminal Laboratory to analyze the chemicals that were sent to the Jihadists. The prosecutor said that the suspects’ chemical materials are a match to sarin’s production process, and he supports his claim with the following sarin formulas and recipe, which he disclosed in the criminal charges:
  • Methanol (CH3OH) + White Phosphorus(P4) = DMMP (DiMethylMethylPhosphonate)
  • DMMP (DiMethylMethylPhosphonate) + Thionyl Chloride (SOCl2) = MethylPhosphonyldiChloride
  • MethylPhosphonyldiChloride + Potassium Fluoride (KF) = MethylPhosphonyldiFluoride
  • MethylPhosphonyldiFluoride + Isopropanol (C3H8O) = SARIN (C4H10FO2P) + HF
  • Isopropanolamine (C3H9NO) is added to reaction for deactivating HF (Hydrogen Fluoride)

Desired Mix

Sarin produced using these formulas, is referred to as the “desired mix” in recorded phone calls between Hytham Qassab, codename “Ebu Kasim”, who organized the chemicals’ shipment, and his connection in Turkey, Khalid Ousta, codename “Ebu Abdo”.

KHALED OUSTA: Inshallah (God willing), also let me know what exactly is required because the person is waiting for my call.
HYTHAM QASSAP: My words would not make a difference, but I need to receive at least 1 kilogram of number 7 and 8, sorry I mean number 6 and 7
K. O.: Got it, alright
H.Q.: Because the mix of them will create the desired one.
K. O.: 50 kilograms
H.Q.: Yes

Negotiations Regarding White Phosphorous

Qassab negotiates with his connection Ousta on the phone the price of “white phosphorus”, which is a main ingredient of the gas:
H.Q.: Yes Ebu Abdo
K. O.: Thanks brother, it is the first item on the list I sent you, and also the last one, which is WHITE PHOSPHORUS
H.Q.: Ok
K. O.: The last one is the 200 kilogram barrel
H.Q.: Ok...
K. O.: Yes 16.8 plus VAT, the first and the most expensive one, of which we sent you a sample. It has a different name on yours compared to mine, and that one is 13.8 plus VAT.
H.Q.: What’s its name, Ebu Abdo?
K. O.: Bauxite
H.Q.: Ok alright, good
K. O.: The white one is the one with the price of 13.8 plus VAT
H.Q.: Is it Euro or Dollar?
K. O.: It is Euro


  1. Hi sasa

    There is a Facebook account with what appear to be complete versions of chapters 2, 9, and 12 of the Turkish prosecutors' report posted in November 2013, with more details of the phone transcripts:-

    Ch 2:

    Ch 9:

    Ch 12:

    Can anyone with chemistry expertise comment on why their shopping list included bauxite? One possible use would be to adsorb fluoride ions, as this is a known use of bauxite in treatment of drinking water.

    From reading the auto-translated transcripts, my impression is that this was not the Al-Nusra Front's A team: they were just sent with a shopping list, and may not have known the intended use. From matching the phone transcripts to Hersh's article "The Red Line and the Rat Line", it's clear that the DIA briefing dated 20 June 2013, warning of an Al-Nusra sarin production cell, was based on access to these transcripts. This supports your earlier conclusion on this.

    There's also an interesting discussion of Kaszeta's article on

    in which an organic chemist named cake_flattener demolishes Kaszeta's argument making the same points as you have made above. Interestingly, Eliot Higgins asks him/her to comment on the OPCW lab's finding of hexafluorophosphate in the Ghouta environmental samples. cake_flattener's interpretation is the same as the one reached on this blog two years ago: the sarin synthesis must have started with phosphorus trichloride or elemental phosphorus, and intermediate reaction products were not purified implying incompetence or lack of sophistication on the part of the manufacturers.

    From this and other digging, it's now clear that by summer 2013 three lines of evidence for an opposition CW capability were available to US and UK intelligence agencies:-

    1. The UN Special Representative's (Mokhtar Lamani report that Al-Nusra was bringing what appeared to be CW agents across the border from Turkey

    2. The phone transcripts showing that Al-Nusra was buying sarin precursors in quantities of 200 kg or more

    3. Analyses at Porton Down of soil samples from an alleged CW attack in Utaybah near Damascus on 19 March 2013, eventually confirmed to contain sarin but with such a weird mix of other chemicals that at first they weren't sure what they had found.

    The statements in August by the White House and by the UK Joint Intelligence Committee, blaming the regime for the Ghouta attack on the basis that there was no evidence for an opposition CW capability, were clearly misleading.

    1. Awesome stuff. I'll maybe get a proper translation of the transcripts.
      Interesting analysis on reddit. Want to ask him if he can review our analysis and contribute?

    2. Bauxite is used as an organic chemistry catalyst in a number of industrial processes.

      Usage seem to be mainly related to petroleum processing and to sulfur extraction. A link to a stage in one of the many Sarin synthesis processes would be very interesting.

    3. There is one stage in the process where sulphur is involved and discarded as a by-product. This could speculatively benefit from bauxite catalysis (?)

      •DMMP (DiMethylMethylPhosphonate) + Thionyl Chloride (SOCl2) = MethylPhosphonyldiChloride

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I've tried to post a comment, but it keeps being removed after a few minutes. Maybe I am including too many links or something. I'll try to post something short with no links, to see what happens.


    1. There is a Turkish-language Facebook account "Suriye.Enformasyonu" which has 3 posts containing what appear to be the complete texts of chapters 2, 9, and 12 of the prosecutors' report. These appear to include the complete phone transcripts.

    2. There is an interesting discussion of the Kaszeta article on, with comments from an organic chemist named cake_flattener whose conclusions are very similar to those of sasa wawa.

    1. I un-spammed your previous comment. i will delete this one soon.

    2. New data by Seymour Hersh
      "Guess what? We had a ship, it was called the Cape Maid, it was parked out in the Med. The Syrians would let us destroy this stuff [the chemical weapons]… there was 1,308 tons that was shipped to the port…and we had, guess what, a forensic unit out there. Wouldn’t we like to really prove—here we have all his sarin and we had sarin from what happened in Ghouta, the UN had a team there and got samples—guess what?

      It didn’t match. But we didn’t hear that. I now know it, I’m going to write a lot about it.

      Guess what else we know from the forensic analysis we have (we had all the missiles in their arsenal). Nothing in their arsenal had anything close to what was on the ground in Ghouta. A lot of people I know, nobody’s going to go on the record, but the people I know said we couldn’t make a connection, there was no connection between what was given to us by Bashar and what was used in Ghouta. That to me is interesting. That doesn’t prove anything, but it opens up a door to further investigation and further questioning."

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  5. New source agrees w/Whoghouta: