Monday 26 August 2013

Finding The Exact Location Of An Alleged Chemical Munition, And What It Could Mean

After the alleged chemical attack in Damascus last week a number of videos and photographs were posted online showing the munition opposition activists linked to the attack.  One of the munitions, marked 197, was particularly well documented

From these videos it's possible to extract some useful information.  One blogger used photographs of the munition, and the shadows it cast at different points of the day, to estimate it had been fired from the north of it's final location.  From the photograph and video imagery I believe it was even possible to find the exact location of the munition using satellite maps, so I invited my followers on Twitter to help with the Storyful Open Newsroom investigation of the site, with Twiiter user @koincheking sent me his best guess of the location, between Zamalka and Ein Tarma

Now I had the task of confirming the exact location.  Using photos and videos of the munition I found, I began to compare images of the location to what could be seen in the map.  The quality of the satellite imagery wasn't too great, but it did give an idea of the location and size of various structures, and I managed to find 5 images from the videos and photos that I matched to the area.

In the below images I've used photographs or video stills to mark the field of view onto the satellite map imagery.  I've then numbered each point in the map and photograph/still that's a match, and explained it in more detail below.  Click the image to see it full sized.

Image 1

(Click for full size)
This photograph shows the area to the north of the rocket, which is position near the northwest corner of the large apartment building to the south of it's impact location.

At point 1 we can see the southwest corner of the building that's just north of the field.  From the satellite view this building appears to be only one or two storeys tall.

At point 2 we can see a multi-storey building, and can even just make out the rows of windows on the satellite image.  To the right of that building is a green area with a single or two storey building, not visible in the photograph because of the angle of the shot.

Image 2

This photograph shows the northwest corner of the apartment building south of the field, including the buildings in the distance to the south.  Comparing this to the satellite view confirms there's no structures between the corner and the buildings in the southwest.

Image 3

This photograph shows the view to the north, taken from the middle of the field, east of the impact site.

At point 1 we can see the structure that protrudes from the one or two storey building just north of the field.  This partly blocks the view of the buildings behind it, but at point 2 we can see the multistory building behind it.  You can even make out the pattern of windows on the buildings, with the balcony on the southwest of the building visible on the satellite map, then the four windows, the black area before the next building, and then the next building to it's right.

Between point 2 and 3 there's a road, and a single or two storey building, resulting in a gap.  At point 3 there's the same building shown in Image 1.

Image 4 

This image is showing the view from the east side of the field.

At point 1 we can see a small shed-like structure near to the apartment buildings south of the field.

Behind that structure, at point 2, we see a pair of multi-storey buildings, behind which, at point 3, is another multi-storey building.

Point 4 shows a distant building, and to the north of that, at point 5 we can see the southern edges of two large multistory buildings.  Much of the view to the left hand side of the image is obscured by trees visible in the satellite image.

Image 5

Here the camera is position to the east of the munition, facing southwest.

At point 1 we can see the multi-storey building that's taller than the building next to it, marked as point 2.

Behind those two buildings, to the southwest, is a smaller structure, marked at point 3.

At point 4 we see the corner of an apartment building, the alignment of which matches both on the satellite map and in the image.


Individually, none of the images would be strong enough evidence to confirm the location of the munition, but having examined 5 images that appears to match the satellite map, without any noticeable differences from what we'd expect to see from those positions based off satellite map data, it seems like this location is a very strong match.

The munition itself appears to have buckled over on impact, which seems reasonable as the center section of the remaining warhead is a hollow metal tube.  This would seem to strongly indicate the munition was fired from the north, where 6-8km away you'll find a number of military installations, connected by a 2km road to the 155th Brigade missile base.  In one version of events, the Syrian National Coalition has claimed the rockets were launched from bases housing the 155th Brigade.

Related Articles
Preliminary analysis of alleged CW munitions used in Syria
Images of rockets which 'delivered poison' to Damascus
Claims Of Opposition DIY Weapons Used In This Week's Alleged Chemical Attack
More Videos Emerge Of Chemical Attack Linked Mystery Munitions
Are These The Munitions Used In Today's Alleged Chemical Weapon Attack?
DIY Weapon Linked To Alleged Chemical Weapon Attack in Adra, Damascus
A Mystery Munition - Syrian Army DIY Rockets?
Collected Chemical Weapon Posts

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at


  1. It seems Israel is joining in the blame bandwagon of SAA and Assad as well.

  2. Thank you for a neat and methodical bit of work.

    Still not clear if this was launched from the ground or a helicopter: the latter might have preferred to launch from over the base to be sure it wouldn't be hit by ground fire as it did so. (This was done in the Falklands, once, the drawbacks for the troops securing the ground below being considerable.)

    There has to be a launch tube. Possible a single launch tube rather than a Stalin-Organ style rack of them. The numbers are VERY prominent and may help the Syrian army do damage assessment for each shot, as they can see which shot did what on the internet afterwards...

    Can anyone get a current satellite view of the base where the 155th brigade are? Tube or ramp must be at least twelve feet long and nearly a foot in diameter.

  3. What I don't understand is the source you cited (The Kurdish Cause) that analyzed the shadows concluded that the 155th Brigade WAS NOT responsible (Conclusion #5). However, you make the suggestion that the 155th WAS responsible. Both analyses agree that the rocket was fired from the north. It seems to me there is a difference in understanding regarding where the 155th's base is located. Is there an incongruity here or am I missing something?

    1. I'm saying the SNC said the 155th was responsible, and there's a connecting road to the area. It's up to the reader to make up their own mind on the subject.

  4. so this is apparently ground zero for a large scale sarin attack and this guy is just standing there sans gas mask and protective clothing and even handling the projectile with bare hands. either incredibly stupid or a liar.

    1. Sarin is highly volatile, it evaporates, and breaks down (hydrolyses) into non-toxic compounds in a matter of hours.

  5. I would also like to underline FreddyMac's point above.

    In doing due diligence to this story BM, what do your sources suggest regarding the proximity of people to both the supposed delivery munitions as well as the infected and yet their seeming health?

    People foaming at the mouth, medical personnel and other holding children and others that have allegedly been exposed to CW on tables , and yet showing no signs of immediate exposure or general ill effects themselves, nor concern and therefore ant taking of protective measures at this as a clear outcome.

    1. I'm trying to gather accurate information about that, I'm in contact with a couple of people on the ground there, but as you can imagine, it's a bit hectic there, and internet access isn't exactly a reliable thing. Hopefully I can get some useful data regarding that, as it's a rather key point, and all I've found out so far is the area had a lot of refugees from fighting elsewhere, but no exact numbers, or information on where they were. It's pretty key data when it comes to understanding the attack.

    2. Yes, I agree and good to hear that you are on the case.

    3. On reflection though, it would be good to have the theoretical danger confirmed, which does not require local knowledge.

      Do chemical weapons experts believe that delayed exposure to a chemical weapons substance, such as the the delivery vessel or the clothes and skin of the infected would create a danger to others? Does (for instance) Sarin quickly disperse or evaporate from liquid into gas and therefore have little direct danger after thirty minutes or so?

    4. Sarin does disperse a lot quicker than VX, especially in hot weather.

      It also decomposes more quickly as well as dispersing.

      Symptoms can appear very quickly when inhaled, but can take eighteen hours with contact through the skin.

      If munition contained VX, I agree the bloke would be dead.
      Mustard gas more persistent still.
      Dispersing rapidly is in some circumstances an attractive point about sarin, if the user wants to occupy the target area within days, rather than keep the enemy out of it for weeks.

  6. All this sounds so strange, would be so stupid thing to do so make my wonder if it's really could have been done by the regime. One thing that makes be wonder, it's so close to their own forces, how did they dare to use it? Chemical weapons is not something you normally use so near your of front line. Could the wind not have carried the gas on their own forces? Especially since they attack one area northeast of the city center and one are southwest of the center. So any wind would at least risk the gas from one of the areas to drift towards the positions of the regime troops. It's just feels very odd and strange to do an attack now and there.

  7. Great article! I am sure this is going to help a lot of people.Generally,
    companies deliver special deals and special discounts in buying twitter followers which for some reasons profits more take to get more twitter followers. However,
    there is a great new idea in the newest enhancement in internet marketing. Buy Twitter Followers