Sunday 26 May 2013

Another New Cluster Munition Recorded In Syria

Since the conflict in Syria began five different cluster munitions have been recorded, 4 of which are dropped in RBK series canisters, and one delivered by a 122mm Sakr rocket.  The following video posted a couple of days ago shows the sixth type of cluster munition being used in the conflict

We can see the submunition clearly here

This is a PTAB 2.5KO cluster bomblet, a clearer example of which can be see here

Unlike the cluster bomblets we've seen before the PTAB 2.5KO bomblets dispersed using KMGU/KMGU-2 containers mounted on the wings of jets, including jets in service with the Syrian Air Force. The bomblets are loaded into BFK blocks (seen here), which are loaded inside the KMGU/KMGU-2 containers, and are released in sequence at different selectable rates of fire.

The bomblets in the video appear to have been manufactured in 1983, according to the markings on the bomblet, and would be of Soviet origin.  Why these bomblets are being used at this point of the conflict is unclear, but this is now the sixth type used, and the 3rd delivery method used in the conflict so far.

Thanks to Nic Jenzen-Jones for help with this post.

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Unexploded Cluster Bomblets Repurposed As DIY Mortar Bombs
Evidence Of New, Larger Cluster Bombs Being Used In Syria
Disposing Of Unexploded Cluster Bomblets, Jabhat al-Nusra Style
Clear Evidence Of DIY Barrel Bombs Being Used By The Syrian Air Force
Cluster Bomb Usage Rises Significantly Across Syria
Collected ODAB Thermobaric Bomb Evidence

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


More Translated Radio Communications From Qusayr

Last week I posted a transcript of radio communications between government fighters, reportedly intercepted in Qusayr, Homs, that gave some insight into the fighting taking place.  Since then a couple more videos of recorded radio communications have been uploaded, and I've had them transcribed into English

Hadi al-Abdullah (local activist) All those who oversee and direct the military operations in Qusayr and all the military forces that are attacking Qusayr belong to Hezbollah. There is no presence whatsoever of Assad’s forces, and they don’t have any role in the bombardment or in the attempts to storm the town. Now we are intercepting Hezbollah’s radio communications in the battlefield.
0:22 636
0:39 Abu Zainab
0:42 Abu Yaser, come to 636
1:04 There is something like a bomb under us. Hamza, who’s talking? Thank you, 636. Where are you now? I want to join you.
1:30 Send the ambulance to Abu Yaser to recover them. Why is doing that?
1:36 Where are you? At what number?
1:48 Abu Yasser, can you hear me?
1:56 Hamza, please reply, at what number?
2:00 I am still in my place. Can you hear me well?
2:04 Define your location by the number. What number?
2:06 I am at 578
2:17 I am coming over to you.
Hadi al-Abdullah As you have seen, al the fighters in the battle are Lebanese. Their Lebanese accent is clear.
My translator says he also believe this is a Lebanese dialect.

0:06 Are the tank and the BMP ok? (Or has it worked with the tank and the BMP?)
0:08 ……. Bombs ….. there is a wall between us, we can’t manage it (Or things aren’t going well) . Abu Ali Mahdi.
0:20 Abu Ali Mahdi is talking. What should I do?
0:23 I can’t do it, I am encircled from all sides. They are throwing grenades at me and I can’t move or do anything. My men are falling in front my eyes and I can’t do anything. We need to retreat, then we will shell the area and after that we will retry breaking through.
0:41 Where should I send the Shilka? I want to relieve you. In what direction should I send it?
0:50 It won’t work. They came very close and threw grenades at me. They can see me while I can’t. They are fixing me and are encircling me from all sides. All my men will fall down.
1:40 Qusayr will be your grave. Allah Akbar
Again, my translator says he believes these are Lebanese accents and dialects.

As always it should be kept in mind there's no way to check if these are authentic communications.

Related posts
Intercepted Radio Conversations Gives An Insight Into The Fighting In Qusayr
Syrian Activists Claim Al Mayadeen News Tweets FSA Positions To The Syrian Air Force
Brigadier General Salim Idris And Lebanese Cleric Sheikh Ahmad Al-Aseer Take A Trip To Syria

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

More Evidence Of Sanction Busting Iranian Munitions Deliveries To Syria

Last week I posted rare evidence of Iranian arms that had been shipped to Syria in the last 18 months, in violation of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.  Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader of my blog, pfc-joker, there's now more evidence of Iranian sanction busting (video)

This video was filmed at a position captured from the Syrian military in the last few days, and at 80 seconds into the video we have a very clear shot of the markings on an munitions crate

This case contained/contains two 120mm mortar bombs, manufactured in 2012, and with AZ111A2 fuzes.  AZ111A2 fuzes are produced by the Iranian Defense Industries Organisation, described on their website as
one of the main affiliated subsidiaries of Ministry of Defense and Support of Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a completely state-owned organization is presenting its d uties and relative missions in the field of production and supply for the meeting of requirements of the Armed Forces of I.R. of Iran and also export of products, engineering and technical services.
AZ111A2 fuzes can be found here on their website, along with a full spec sheet, confirming they are produce for a variety of HE mortar bombs, including the 120mm size.

It's interesting to note that a 2009 shipment of sanction busting arms from Iran intercepted by Israel carried mortar rounds with the AZ111A2 (as well as the 107mm rockets), and the markings on the case are virtually the same format as seen in the above video

One thing this demonstrates how much crucial information can be gathered from the sides of wooden boxes, and why it pays to look out for all the little details in videos from Syria.

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Croatian Weapons Arrive In Homs

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

Abu Sakkar Joins Mounting Casualties From The Fighting in Qusayr

As I noted earlier this week the infamous "cannibal", Abu Sakkar, has been sighted inside Qusayr, Homs, scene of heavy fighting between opposition forces and government forces, including members of Hezbollah and the Syrian National Defense Force.  This photograph published yesterday shows Abu Sakkar recovering after being injured in the fighting

What's been notable about some of the footage coming from Qusayr (mainly via the Qusayr Media Centre and Tariq al-Homsi Youtube channels) is that despite reports of civilians being allowed to leave by the Syrian Army via a safe passage in the north of the city before the fighting began it seems many civilian remain in Qusayr, either through choice or circumstances, for example this elderly couple, and this group of women and children

This has resulted in inevitable civilian casualties, including injured and killed children (graphic), with a video showing their burial posted yesterday

It's also worth noting that currently it appears the northwest quarter of the town seems to be the main source of resistance against the Syrian government forces, which has long been the main stronghold for the opposition in the town going back months.  It's possible that rather than holding territory they were unfamiliar with the Syrian opposition forces decided to stick to the area they were familiar with, and this could be why we're now seeing what appears to be very slow movement on the front-lines compared to rapid movement early on in the battle.

Related posts
Syrian Opposition Fighters (Including Abu Sakkar) Appear In A Video From Central Qusayr

Friday 24 May 2013

Devices Linked To Alleged Chemical Weapon Attacks Captured By The Syrian Opposition

Over the past few weeks I've been examining the evidence of chemical weapon use in Syria, and one key piece of evidence in at least two of the attacks, Saraqeb, Idlib, and Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo, has been the presence of what seems to be a unknown type of gas grenade at both attacks, later spotted with a Jabhat al-Nusra member

Saraqeb, Idlib
Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo
Carried by a Jabhat al-Nusra fighter
No-one knows the identity of these grenades, nor the contents, and how they relate to the symptoms seen in the victims, so I've been trying to gather all the evidence I can.  Now a new video has been posted online which claims to show equipment captured by the opposition from government forces in Irbin, Damascus

Several of the gas grenades can be seen here

And they are also held up to the camera, with the camera man stating "poisonous bombs"

Although it's blurry you can still make out the silverish screw and hole present in the Jabhat al-Nusra example

It's also interesting to note a number of improvised devices as well as gas masks

It's also interesting to note that just a couple of miles down the road in Adra last night there was another reported chemical attack (videos here), so it does beg the question of whether or not there's a link. The fact these gas grenades appear to be carried by government forces does seem to support the theory they aren't a deadly chemical weapon like sarin.

In an ideal world one of those grenades would makes it to a friendly news organisation who could have it independently analysed, so if anyone knows how to contact the Abu Dhar al-Ghafari Brigade in Damascus it's a good time to let me know.

Thanks to Johnny Six and Mark for highlighting this video.

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Thursday 23 May 2013

Hackgate - The Met - Red Flags And Red Tops

The latest from my regular contributor.

Looking back at the early 'red flags' of corruption and the tabloids is instructive. This post will look at warning signs at the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS or MET) in the period, roughly 2000-2005. It's a convenient timespan as it coincides with three top level rank constants -

Commissioner - John STEVENS
Deputy Commissioner & Director of Professional Standards (DPS) - Ian BLAIR
Director of Public Affairs (DPA) - Dick FEDORCIO

Indeed the senior ranks charged with anti-corruption responsibilities read like a succession of a Who's Who name-checked at the Leveson Inquiry.  Or perhaps a tortuous biblical genealogy in which Andy HAYMAN begat Bob QUICK who begat John YATES who begat Peter CLARKE etc.  Other less senior and lesser known names also recur, providing evidence of knowledge continuity of dangerous red flags at the MET - who knew what when - Shaun SAWYER, Andre BAKER, Dave COOK, David ZINZAN, Maxine de BRUNNER, Dean HAYDON, Brendan GILMOUR, Tony FULLER and so on...

Three significant MET investigations should have raised red flags in 2000-05 - Operations Abelard1, Motorman and Glade. Three more red flags were raised by key extracts from (unrelated) Reports highly critical of professional standards and press office/public affairs at the MET. These high profile criticisms were  the Virdi Inquiry Report, Damilola Taylor Review and the Morris Report.

The late 1990s had seen well publicised anti-graft initiatives at the MET, keeping Anti-Corruption Command (formerly CIB, Complaints Investigation Bureau) very busy, such as the Rigg Approach investigation led by Shaun SAWYER (here).

A parallel anti-corruption investigation was underway under John YATES - Operation Russia (here).  Also at Anti-Corruption Command was Dean HAYDON (here), later to become Staff Officer to John YATES and head ed Operation Varec (here).

A third relevant investigation was the linked Operation Nigeria/Two Bridges (here) probing police corruption, press 'dark arts' and the murder of Daniel Morgan (here) - under the command of Andy HAYMAN at Professional Standards (DPS). Andre BAKER was then senior homicide detective for South East London. On the team too at Anti-Corruption Command was then Detective Superintendent Bob QUICK. Operation Nigeria uncovered very serious red flags re newspapers, for example, a leak from the 1999 murder of Jill Dando which resulted in a detective's forced resignation. (here)

QUICK was so concerned about the intelligence uncovered that he submitted a report to HAYMAN in 2000
highlighting the role of journalists in promoting corrupt relationships with, and making corrupt payments to, officers for stories about famous people and high profile investigations in the MPS...I proposed an investigation of these newspapers/officers on the basis that I believed that the journalists were not paying bribes out of their own pockets but...the newspaper organisations were aware of the reasons for the payments and were themselves complicit in making corrupt payments to police officers.
An investigation which scrutinised processes and policies relating to a contentious grievance, disciplinary and racism case.  In particular, the Report red flagged HAYMAN'S Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) and FEDORCIO'S Directorate of Public Affairs (DPA).

The Report (here) included two letters from Andy HAYMAN - the first said, sadly, DCS BAKER was unable to locate relevant search procedure notes as none were kept. The other letter (Appendix 13b) said he was willing to allow the Virdi Inquiry access to the press file only under very stringent conditions.  In the event, that didn't happen
This Inquiry has repeatedly requested an opportunity to view the DPA press file and associated papers on Police Sgt Virdi. Regrettably, at the time of writing, the MPS Directorate of Public Affairs has not produced these papers.
Virdi's view was
that the MPS appear to have a close relationship with particular journalists, providing them 'misleading information' as well as leaking 'details of our solicitor's confidential letter'... (and) proves the collusion of certain officers of the MPS and the Daily Mail... No-one has been disciplined on this matter.
Additionally in 2001, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ratified its ethical Editors' Code of Conduct, Glenn Mulcaire signed his first lucrative contract with NOTW, Dick FEDORCIO became a full inner sanctum member of the MET Management Board and - in Plymouth - Operation Reproof started scoping into police corruption and illegal data harvesting (here).

ABELARD1 2002-3
Operation Abelard1 was launched by DPS Intelligence Development Group (IDG) - reopening the investigation into Daniel Morgan's murder.  Shaun SAWYER had become head of Anti-Corruption Command after HAYMAN joined Norfolk Police as Chief Constable. Abelard1 was led by David ZINZAN and fronting the public appeal for information was David COOK, working under Commander Andre BAKER. At that time, Brendan GILMOUR transferred from South East London Murder Investigation Team to the DPS - firstly to the Intelligence Development Group (IDG), then Anti-Corruption Command.

As the public face of the murder enquiry, COOK was allegedly targeted for surveillance by NOTW and Morgan murder suspects.  COOK confronted Rebekah Brooks face-to-face - the meeting facilitated by BAKER and Dick FEDORCIO (see here)

The Damilola Taylor Investigation Review Report into the 10yr old schoolboy's murder was published. (here).  It castigated press coverage, especially "the unauthorised disclosure of one piece of critical evidence found during the post-mortem examination of Damilola..." A tabloid newspaper published "the detail after the suspects were charged and evidential difficulties arose as a result... It is possible that the leak did in fact come from within the police service." Yet another red flag.

Despite known difficulties with substantial newspaper rewards being offered in high profile murders, the Daily Mail put up £50,000 - reluctantly endorsed by the MET: "Benefits and difficulties were identified, not least the desirability of witnesses emerging as a matter of principle rather than recompense." (p22)  That is exactly what happened; the prosecution case failed in court through the unreliable evidence of 14yr old girl (witness 'Bromley') alleged to have to been motivated by the reward money.  (Daily Mail)

Immediately the case collapsed, child witness 'Bromley' and her mother were stashed in a hotel in Blackheath where it had been arranged with the MET press office they would meet reporters from the News of the World and the Mail on Sunday. A deal was agreed with "the senior press officer at the Metropolitan Police, to pay £45,000 for the Bromley interview." (Guardian)

Yes. Yes, that's correct.  A senior press officer from the FEDORCIO'S Directorate of Public Affairs was acting as agent and broker in a tabloid bidding war - for an exclusive interview with a vulnerable 14yr old girl, in a hotel paid for by the News of the World.

Why?  And on whose authority?

Reneging on their bid agreement lost NOTW their exclusive and incurred a costly employment tribunal, heard amongst acrimonious allegations of police corruption and NOTW leverage deals with the MET to suppress embarrassing stories.  Even that leverage deal was reneged on. It wasn't until more than a year later, in an apparently unrelated incident, the same MET press officer was reportedly suspended on suspicion of the disclosure of unauthorised information to journalists. (Guardian)

It led on from Operation Reproof. It was an Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) investigation into 'industrial scale' Data Protection infringements by private investigators, via corrupt public officials, for a large number of national newspapers. (for background see here).

In March 2003, Rebekah Brooks (then Wade) admitted paying police officers fo information (Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee 2003)

Briefed on Operation Motorman's extensive seizures by ICO Senior Investigating Officer Alex Owens, in May 2003 the MET Department of Professional Standards started its own Operation Glade.  It was an  (p3 here)
investigation into the unlawful disclosure of confidential Police National Computer (PNC) records, in the form of criminal record office (CRO) histories and registered keeper details of privately owned vehicles... passed in to the national press in exchange for monetary payment. 
Glade was led by Det Superintendent Tony FULLER, with Brendan GILMOUR as Investigating Officer. Early in 2004, seven journalists were interviewed under caution but none were prosecuted.  A civilian police worker, ex-MET police officer and two private investigators were subsequently convicted for conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office and data protection offences.  Operation Glade was clearly yet another red flag.

'An Independent Inquiry into Professional Standards and employment matters in the Metropolitan Police Service'  Its focus was how the MET treated its own officers when they were investigated for alleged misconduct and/or criminality.  The inquiry looked at issues such as accountability and scrutiny of DPS and recommended a fundamental overhaul under the personal direction of the Commissioner.  Now under Dep Asst Commissioner Stephen Roberts, criticism was made of poor practices (p142)
I strongly believe that DPS is not properly regulated and that they think they can do as they please without fear of an investigation into their own activities.
They "did not record all the important decisions on the cases... there can be no confidence that the necessary rigour has been brought to bear... It also makes it difficult to track the thought processes and reasons for decisions made, which is vital." (p161)

Disclosure was refused "just 3 weeks prior to the hearing, citing that some of the documentation was subject to a Public Interest Immunity and could not be disclosed. Why did it take DPS 4 months to respond to the original disclosure request?” Another said the DPS "simply ignored the requests.”  (p171)

Leaks and negative briefings to the press
We asked the MPS to comment on some of the issues arising out of the evidence, in particular the question of information which some officers felt had been leaked to the press. Mr Fedorcio outlined the MPS’ procedures as follows: 'Where we believe unauthorised information has been given to the media the press officer will bring this to the attention of the investigating officer
We have received evidence that suggests that unofficial press releases or comment is made about individuals. The MPS denies this.
I was ordered by my senior officers not to talk to the media in my own defence and...the MPS did nothing "to counter the stream of largely false and damaging articles.
- (DAC Brian Paddick) p170

Arguably these failings echo those of the later investigation Operation Caryatid into phone hacking by Goodman and Mulcaire. Is it at all credible that no-one made any connections? Yet Brendan GILMOUR asserted to Leveson "In 2003, the concept of the national newspapers routinely using police employee to source sensitive information was still relatively unknown. On this basis I believe the MPS response was appropriate." Surely even by then there were more than enough red flags to make bunting for Scotland Yard?

Sir John STEVENS stepped down as Commissioner of the Metropolis in 2005.

Related Articles
Hackgate - Issues For The Burnton Inquiry Into The Murder Of Daniel Morgan
Hackgate - The IPCC and Surrey's "Collective Amnesia"
Hackgate - Alex Marunchak - Presumed Innocent
Hackgate - Springwatch
Hackgate - Elveden: Murdoch Or King Cnut?
Hackgate - Elveden - Murdoch's Catch 22
Hackgate - April Casburn's Conviction - Myths And Misconceptions

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

The Islamic State Of Iraq And Al-Sham's New Flag And Media Logo

Recently it seems the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has been making an appearance in Syria, in particular after the execution of three men in Raqqa.  If there's one things Syria watchers know, it's that any group needs it's own flag and media logo, and it seems that with their latest announcement of a suicide bombing in Harasta, Damascus, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has debuted their new logo and flag.

The above image shows Abu Hassan, the suicide bomber, but also the new flag for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which is simply the original Islamic State of Iraq flag, with a line of text added reading simply the "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham".  Next we have the logo

Again, it says the "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham", and we can expect this to be used in future media created by the group, so it's something worth keeping an eye out for.

Thanks to Aymenn J Al-Tamimi and Mr. Orange for help with this post.

DIY Weapons In Syria - The Hell Cannon

Throughout the conflict in Syria there's been a variety of new DIY weapons appearing every so often, from DIY catapults in the early days of the conflict to more recently DIY grenade launchers.

Recently a new weapon has appeared that offers a very different level of firepower compared to the majority of DIY weapons seen so far

This is what's been dubbed as the "Hell Cannon" by the group who built it, Ahrar al-Shamal (not to be confused with Ahrar al-Sham), and it's something they seem particularly proud of, even producing this handy spec sheet

Here's a translation
Name: Hell
Function: Explosive barrel Cannon
Specifications:It can fire more than fifteen types of shells that weigh more than forty kilograms. It also has two locally-made rocket launchers (Rohingya).
Range: 1.5 kilometers.
Effectiveness: Up to 200 square meters.
Projectile: Propane gas cylinder.
Cost of the shell: 15000 Syrian Pounds.
Country of Origin: Syria
Manufacture: Ahrar Al-Shamal Battalions.
You'll note the projectile is a propane gas cylinder, which would make this the most powerful non-IED DIY weapon used in the conflict so far.  Ahrar al-Shamal has produced this promotional video that shows the Hell Cannon being constructed

In the above video we see a short segment where the explosive fill for the gas cylinders is being produced, and we get a good shot of one of the components, 33% ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a popular choice for powerful DIY explosives

It actually appears there's more than one Hell Cannon, with at least two versions pictured below

You'll note on the rear of the Hell Cannon there's actually two positions for DIY rockets to be launched from.  According to the Hell Cannon's manufacturers, the rockets are know at Rohingya, which happens to be the name of a Muslim minority people facing persecution in Mynamar.

As impressive as the Hell Cannon looks it's not worth much if it's not used in combat, and recent footage from the Brick Factory and Youth Camp battles (more details of which can be found here) shows the Hell Cannon in action.  In the case of the Youth Camp battle recent footage show that the Youth Camp has now been overrun by opposition forces, so it's likely Hell Cannon will now be focused on the Brick Factory.

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DIY Weapons In Syria - The Mobile Mortar Battery
DIY Weapons In Syria - The DIY Grenade Launcher
Unexploded Cluster Bomblets Repurposed As DIY Rocket Warheads
Unexploded Cluster Bomblets Repurposed As DIY Mortar Bombs
Unexploded Bombs Used In A Truck Bomb By Jabhat al-Nusra

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

Syrian Opposition Fighters (Including Abu Sakkar) Appear In A Video From Central Qusayr

During the fighting in Qusayr between the Syrian opposition and government forces supported by Hezbollah the Qusayr Media Centre have been posting regular videos from inside the town.  This video posted today shows opposition fighters in the center of the town

You'll note the speaker is a woman, unusual for videos like this from Syria, and the man stood second from the left is the notorious Abu Sakkar.  This isn't the first video Abu Sakkar has appeared in from Qusayr in recent days, with this one showing him wearing a red shirt.  Here's what's said (thanks to @rtoufic)
Woman - We will purify Qusayr from the Lebansee HezboLLATE (Devil's party) and we won't let Qusayre be easily swallowed by Hassan NarsouLLATE (Supporter of the Devil). Those of them who want to be grieved by their mothers, and see their sons buried, and their wives widowed, or their parents grieved, those will be ... (unclear) by the land of Syria and those who want to accelerate the process will be ... (unclear) by the land of Qusayr. Indeed, men and women we took up arms only to tear apart your bodies.
Abu Sakkar - We will prevail or die.
Off camera - Takbir.
All - Allah Akbar.
It's interesting to note in Abu Sakkar's statement to the media he made a similar statement "Victory or Death".

It's not possible to verify the date this video was filmed, but it is possible verify the location as Aisha Square.  You'll note the lay out of the streets and buildings in the video match what's on the satellite map, in particular the location the the mosque's minaret on the northwest corner of the mosque.  The camera position is directly west of the clock-tower, pointing east.

Today an image has been circulating showing what's supposedly the position of videos published in the last couple of days from state media and opposition sources.

If this image is accurate it would point to the southern half of Qusayr being under government control, or at least contested.

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Wednesday 22 May 2013

Intercepted Radio Conversations Gives An Insight Into The Fighting In Qusayr

Over the past week a major battle has been taking place in Qusayr, Homs, between Syrian opposition forces, and forces reportedly made up of the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters from nearby Lebanon.    Various claims and counter claims have been made about the progress of the battle, with channels reporting from the outskirts of the town with pro-government forces, and opposition Youtube channels posting videos from inside the town.

One video posted today claims to be radio communications between government forces in town, and offers some insight into the ongoing battle from the government side

Many thanks to my translator for transcribing the entire conversation into English.  The conversation is among a number of people, with one person apparently attempting to organise several groups, so this just lists what's being said without specific individuals named.  The men on the radio are referring to each other by various nicknames, such as Mazloom 12, Mazloom 13, Murtada, etc.

- I have a broken tank, send the maintenance team to Abu Hasan. O Mazloom, there is a broken tank.
- Kareem, Kareem, I need a stretcher, I have two casualties.
- Alright brother, just wait a second.  Mazloom! Mazloom!
Who is there? Who is calling for me?
- Come near brother as I told you. Join me, can you see where I am?
- Abu Ridda, Michael, there are hundreds of them opposing us. The sniper is firing at me, I am retreating back.
-Abu Ali …. Mazloom.
- Send us an ambulance please.
- Alright.
- Abu Yaser ….. Where are you Abu Ali?
- Abu Hasan …… Slingo.
- Slingo …. We told Mazloom.
- Did you know where I am? Oh man! You were firing at me a while ago.
Abu Ridda ….  Abu Yaser.
I can hear you. Man! Nobody is getting near, nobody is dares!
- Abu Haidar …..
- Carbalaa’
- Mazloom! I need tanks. Send me 23 (mm gun) now!
- Luay …. Abu Hasan. Join me bro! Come here! Where are you? Are you near the cypress trees?
- Bro! Can you see the tanks column? Go there! Join me!
- I am firing at the house one B7 (RPG-7).
- Wait while I locate you.
- Look! I am on the right of the water tank. Can I go forward?
- Where are you now?
- I am on the right of the water tank.
- Hamza ….. Mazloom! Look out! Bring the tanks closer and let’s get to the mosque, move!
- My tank has stopped. Call on Mazloom.
- Mazloom … 13.
- I can hear you bro.
- Abu Hasan, the sniper there is firing at me and my comrades, I can’t get across. Can you call on one of those guys in order to decide what to do?
- I need someone from Mazloom’s group bring the maintenance team. My tank has stopped in the street.
-Manzoom! There is wounded comrade here.
- Kaukab! Let Abu Rhidda tell me where I should go with the ambulance.
- Bro! Those are our comrades. Nobody fires a shot!
Mazloom 12 …. Mazloom 13!
- Can you call from there? Nobody hears me while I am here.
- Nobody has answered. Nobody is answering my calls!
- Abu Rhidda, I will get there under cover of the dushka. Find those two on the road.
- Cover isn’t needed, the road is safe. Come here! Hurry up!
-Turn to the right when coming here, there is an unpaved road, take it. Follow the trail of the tank. I removed the shell out of the canon, but I am not sure if it still works, and I don’t know if I should get near you or not. Where should I fire the shell?
- Fire it a bit to the east, at the houses, fire it low, not high. Fire it where I fired the first one, but if you fire it elsewhere it will hurt us.
- I will fire one there.
- If it is still working, bring it here.
- I can hear you. Where are you?
- The sniper is blocking my road. I am stuck and he doesn’t let me move.
- Tell him where you are and where you want the paramedics to go.
- Michael! Are the wounded with you now? Reply please!
- Slingo, can you find the road that we took?
- We told you many times to send us a vehicle, it’s urgent.
- Where should I send the ambulance, Murtada?
- Ali Hasan, send it to Mujahed if you find him.I am near him.
- I was under constant fire … Put it (aim at) behind the water tank. They are behind the water tank firing at us using B7 (RPG-7).
- Abu Rhidda, I can’t join you though I am not very far away. Oh bro! Our comrades are being killed by snipers. Where is the stretcher?
- I am against you. There are causalities lying on the ground. There are another two here.
- What should we do now?
- Send reinforces here, Abu Hidar is calling.
- Fire two shells at the houses facing you. Also fire a shell to the west. There are two snipers on your right, fire at them.
- Abu Hasan’s tanks to the east are firing at us!
- There is a casualty here, he is wounded in his back.
- There are two wounded there, they are still lying on the ground. Somebody bring them!
- It’s batteries are catching fire!
- I will send the maintenance team. Just wait a minute.
- Are all those tanks belong to us or just we own only one?
- There are eight comrades wounded. Go and recover them quickly. They were ambushed there.
- Abu Ali, come here quickly with the tank!
- He was wounded in his leg and I was badly wounded.
- Nobody fires! All Mazloom’s men retreat now!
- Guys! There are a lot of casualties there.
- Abu Hasan, I will send you more troops near the props, just send me a car

It's of course very difficult to authenticate radio conversations like this, but several people who have listened to it who are familiar with regional accents claim these are all Lebanese accents, so this might actually be radio communications between Hezbollah fighters in the area.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Three Chemical Weapon Specialist Answer Questions About Chemical Weapons In Syria

With the focus on chemical weapons in Syria in recent weeks I decided it was time to talk to some experts on the subject, in an attempt to make sense of some of the reports of chemical weapon use in Syria.

Paul from Allen Vanguard.  Allen Vanguard have a long established reputation for reporting on Threat Intelligence.  They recently rolled-out a new web portal that offers on-line access to their products and services.  The portal can be found here.  (Qualifying businesses and organizations can obtain guest accounts upon request, using the “Subscribe” button on the top right hand side of the page.)

Recently images from alleged chemical attacks in Saraqeb, Idlib, and Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo have shown a device that local activists claimed were used in both attacks, with the same device appearing in a photograph being worn on the tactical vest of an opposition fighter.  In your opinion what do you believe these devices could be?

The devices are white handheld canisters with a ‘lid’ and fly off lever.  There is a circular hole on one side of the cylinder, with discolouring around the hole.  It would appear that this device is designed to be thrown and discharge a smoke which would explain the discolouring around the hole.  The single hole suggests that the cylinder is designed to emit smoke for a longer period of time rather than quickly and in multiple directions which would be the likely effect if there were more holes.

If these canisters were dropped by helicopters, the purpose could have been to indicate/mark the area.  The design of the canister would also support this as the smoke would visible for longer and emerge for a longer duration.

The fact that these canisters have only been seen on opposition fighters and in areas held by the opposition, it is likely that they have been sourced or produced by people/organisations sympathetic to the opposition.

The design, the areas in which they have been found and the condition of the ‘spent’ containers suggests that these cylinders are smoke canisters designed to emit a screening agent for use in tactical situations or as ‘markers’.  The colour of the canister and the way it has been manufactured suggests that it is improvised or locally made.  It is possible that it has been commercially made for public disorder scenarios. 

Are you aware of any specific models of these devices that matches what's been seen in Syria?


Do you believe chemical agents such as sarin, VX, etc, would be delivered in such a device?

In short, no.  Vx is a ‘persistent’ nerve agent and would render the area in which it had been used contaminated for a significantly longer period of time than other nerve agents.  It is designed to deny entire areas from both the enemy and friendly forces and for this reason would not be deployed in hand thrown weapons and would not be handled by individuals not wearing individual protection equipment (IPE).  Vx is also a liquid and would not be suited to be deployed from hand thrown canisters and nor would it leave a trace next to the cylinder’s hole, like shown in the image.

Sarin is a ‘non-persistent’ nerve agent.  One of its characteristics is that it is an odourless liquid and the spent canisters would not be handled in the way that they are shown in the images.  Like Vx, Sarin is not suited to being deployed in hand thrown canisters and would not leave marks next to the hole in the canister as shown in the image. 

This video shows victims from the Sheikh Maghsoud attack.  In your opinion would you be able to draw any solid conclusions about the chemical agent used from the information in that video alone?

None of the people in the hospital are wearing IPE (individual protective equipment); they are not being affected by the same condition as the patient on the stretcher.  The first ‘victim’ is not in pain and does not have any visible symptoms beyond a non-moving fresh thin, white trail of foam leading down his face from each nostril.  This is not a recognised symptom of nerve agent attack and the early signs (pinpointing of pupils, running nose, tight chest & difficulty of breathing) are absent.

The second ‘victim’ is a woman.  She has no visible symptoms of nerve agent attack.

The third ‘victim’ is a man.  He has thin bright white foam at the left hand side of his mouth.  The foam is not moving and no more is emerging.  There are no symptoms of a nerve agent having been ingested by this man.

The third ‘victim’ is a woman.  She appears to have red blotches on her face and has breathing apparatus in her mouth.  She is not moving.  I don’t think that this is a nerve agent.  However, red blotches and shortness of breath (patient requiring artificial respiration) is a symptom of a blood agent, such as hydrogen cyanide.

The presence of a camera person, lack of IPE worn by the staff, lack of general panic and lack of recognised symptoms amongst the ‘victims’ makes me think that the event has been staged.  The symptoms that have been presented have probably been elaborated with single applications of foam; the foam has stopped emerging by the time the camera is shown at them.  Only the third ‘victim’ has recognisable symptoms of a chemical attack but even so, it is unlikely that a blood agent would be dispersed using a hand thrown canister because of the unreliability of the container and risk to the thrower of being contaminated by the blood agent.

There's been reports in the Turkish press that ricin was used in the April 29th attack in Saraqeb, Idlib.  Knowing what you know of the attack, how likely do you think it is that ricin would have been used?

Ricin is unlikely to react well to heat which would be required to vent smoke from the hole in the canister seen in the image.  As stated before, the canister is totally unsuitable to disperse a chemical or biological attack.   An attacker would be more inclined to use cheaper, more conventional weapons (such as a grenade or rifle) if they were in such close proximity to their enemy.

After the chemical attack in Khan al-Assal Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News reported various claims made by the Syrian government about the attack.  This includes the claim that "a relatively small amount of chlorine gas, namely CL17 which was dissolved into saline solution in a home-made rocket."  Considering the number of casualties do you believe it is a realistic scenario that chlorine delivered in such a fashion could cause that number of causalities?

‘Chlorine gas’ is dispersed by the wind; it is unsuited to missile warheads, as described in the article because of its likely destruction by any explosion but also the lack of knowledge of wind direction in the target area.  The wrong wind conditions would result in the attackers bearing the brunt of their own attack.  The survivors of a chlorine gas attack would still display chlorine gas attack symptoms, such as chronic breathing problems.  I’ve only heard about dead victims from this attack; it is unlikely that chlorine gas delivered in this manner would kill everyone in its vicinity and not leave any injured.  Chlorine was used in a few attacks in Iraq but it was reported that most of the casualties and deaths were caused by the effect of the blast rather than the effects of the chlorine.  I’ve not heard of long-term injuries caused by the chlorine attacks in Iraq and this may indicate the difficulty in dispersing a chemical weapon in an open environment with explosives. 


Steve Johnson is Deputy Editor of CBRNe World, a magazine published bi-monthly serving the information needs of professionals around the world charged with planning for or responding to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives (CBRNe) threat or incident.

Could you tell me your thoughts on the recent BBC reports from Saraqeb?

The dropping of material from helicopters has been a regular theme in Syria – it being one of the earliest allegations. This footage is a lot clearer than that early footage.  It still seems very strange to drop a small box with a brick from such a height.  The military purpose of this seems confusing to take such risks for dropping a single, short acting agent at a time.

The artillery and helicopter attack appear unconnected. The round on video explodes on impact and was part of a salvo.  Again small use of helicopter dropped munitions in the midst of an artillery scenario seem strange – the logic of trying to get people out in to the open using gas, or suppressing air defence with artillery while the helicopters go in makes sense. But a single package from a single helicopter?

Helicopter dropped munitions are not unprecedented – the Iran-Iraq war saw them used from altitudes of 3-4000 feet ranging from 220 litre containers that detonated on contact with the ground and 55 gallon drums. Some mixed, and generally unsubstantiated reports, suggest limited use by Iranians of predominantly captured Iraqi resources, including throwing barrels out of helicopters over troops. 

Recently images from alleged chemical attacks in Saraqeb, Idlib, and Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo have shown a device that local activists claimed were used in both attacks, with the same device appearing in a photograph being worn on the tactical vest of an opposition fighter.  In your opinion what do you believe these devices could be?

The device does not have a fragmentation jacket and so is most likely a carrier grenade or some type. These include CS, CN, Smoke, WP. Its an unusual design with the fixing screw and small port in the side. It bears resemblance to devices used earlier in the conflict by security forces, which emitted CS.  Notably the man with it on his vest had no apparent protective equipment.  Which suggests it's more likely to be smoke or a riot control agent (would you trust your ability to throw a nerve agent to keep you safe?)

Are you aware of any specific models of these devices that matches what's been seen in Syria?

I have looked through my resources and have be unable to find a match.  The high resolution picture suggests that one of the holes may be a filler port (if so for something liquid most likely given the gauge).  They seem very small for emission ports – though they could be.

The lack of markings though potentially suggest something homemade, particularly what looks like a cross head screw holding the carrier portion to the fusing mechanism.

Do you believe chemical agents such as sarin, VX, etc, would be delivered in such a device?

While it is not impossible that someone may have put a fill such as sarin or vx in to such a grenade it would be much less likely than CS/CN or smoke. The main reason for this is that CS, for example, is easily distributed by a pyrotechnic emission. Sarin would be quite rapidly evaporated by the intense heat of the grenades detonator – and a great deal would be decomposed or destroyed by the explosion. Field techniques usually consider a ratio of 5:1 explosives to CW sufficient to destroy all agent. VX would be more stable – but would still be sensitive to the ratio of explosives to fill.

This video shows victims from the Sheikh Maghsoud attack.  In your opinion would you be able to draw any solid conclusions about the chemical agent used from the information in that video alone?

I can see ER room chaos and an extremely unusual foaming at the mouth. Doubly unusual as the person, despite being able to move makes no attempt to remove it.  No solid conclusions one way or the other could be made from this video. Although it does raise a suspicion of faking symptoms with the highly uniform, highly white foam.

There's been reports in the Turkish press that ricin was used in the April 29th attack in Saraqeb, Idlib.  Knowing what you know of the attack, how likely do you think it is that ricin would have been used?

Syria is a relatively large producer of castor oil – and as such its not impossible that soil and human samples may give positives for Ricin.  It is inappropriate for explosive dissemination because it gets ‘inactivated’ by temps over 80 degrees C.

Ricin needs to be ingested or inhaled to have effect (or to pierce the skin).  The effects are slow (8 hours plus). It wouldn’t be very effective in the way in which the devices were constructed – which doesn’t mean that someone wouldn’t try that, but it would be unusual for a country with a mature CW program to do something so ineffective.  Ricin has traditionally been more favoured by terrorists who see it as an accessible material.
After the chemical attack in Khan al-Assal Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News reported various claims made by the Syrian government about the attack.  This includes the claim that "a relatively small amount of chlorine gas, namely CL17 which was dissolved into saline solution in a home-made rocket."  Considering the number of casualties do you believe it is a realistic scenario that chlorine delivered in such a fashion could cause that number of causalities?

Chlorine rockets seems a bit bizarre, especially a solution of chlorine that would be pretty weak once vaporised on impact. It suggests that an improvised filling, perhaps of a hypochlorite in water, was used, or some bleaching materials.  

It's not impossible, and as I pointed out lots of groups have tried putting all sorts of weird things in rockets.  Frankly these mainly just cause problems with their balance and performance and have little to no impact


Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is the Former Commander of UK CBRN Forces and COO SecureBio.  He recently appeared on the BBC talking about the alleged chemical attack in Saraqeb.

Recently images from alleged chemical attacks in Saraqeb, Idlib, and Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo have shown a device that local activists claimed were used in both attacks, with the same device appearing in a photograph being worn on the tactical vest of an opposition fighter.  In your opinion what do you believe these devices could be?

The plastic device shown in your blog and as carried by the JAN fighter appears to be a riot control grenade, usually filled with a tear gas (eg. CS).  A very similar grenade, Indian DRDE version, can be found here.

These grenades will usually flash and then smoke shortly after being initiated but are unlikely to burn for prolonged periods; unless filled with phosphorus however, the body of the grenade would not be made from plastic if it had a WP fill.

CS Grenades are usually filled with a powder/solid version of CS, which is then heated in the grenade to off-gas.  Interestingly enough the Irish Medical Times conducted a study about the lethality of CS in high concentrations/purity.

There is some evidence in some of the photographs that the canisters have been tampered with – look at the screw seating.  This suggests they could have been opened and refilled with something other than CS gas.

Do you believe chemical agents such as sarin, VX, etc, would be delivered in such a device?

It is possible that the grenade may have been refilled with something other than CS.  Unlikely to be liquid so not Sarin or VX, but could be OP or CL17 in powder form.

This video shows victims from the Sheikh Maghsoud attack.  In your opinion would you be able to draw any solid conclusions about the chemical agent used from the information in that video alone?

Not really, there are some inconsistent symptoms with nerve Agent poisoning in this attack.  There is however some evidence to suggest that this attack is where the samples that the UK and US  Govts and others, analysis comes from, which reported microscope traces of Sarin.

There's been reports in the Turkish press that ricin was used in the April 29th attack in Saraqeb, Idlib.  Knowing what you know of the attack, how likely do you think it is that ricin would have been used?

It is entirely possible that Assad has Ricin however, there is little tactical benefit from using it as described.  It is therefore assessed to be unlikely that Ricin has been used in Syria at this stage.

But that is not to say it will not be in future.  Assad is believed to have a BW programme and potentially significant stocks of Anthrax.  However, delivery of BW is a challenge, but even hint at its use is likely to incite fear and panic.  The potential for BW to all into terrorists’ hands is a major concern as they are easy to conceal and hence move.

After the chemical attack in Khan al-Assal Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News reported various claims made by the Syrian government about the attack.  This includes the claim that "a relatively small amount of chlorine gas, namely CL17 which was dissolved into saline solution in a home-made rocket."  Considering the number of casualties do you believe it is a realistic scenario that chlorine delivered in such a fashion could cause that number of causalities?

It is entirely possible that the rebels have been able to develop an improvised rocket, as seen frequently in Iraq.  However, a liquid fill of this type would be inherently unstable, resulting in the rocket flying erratically if at all.

It is therefore, assessed as unlikely that the rocket claim is true.  Furthermore, the casualties are inconsistent with chlorine poisoning.

It is entirely possible that either side could produce Improvised CW, and using CL17 to produce an effective, in propaganda terms, chemical weapon.