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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    Is there anyone who can translate the old man's talk?

    With my awful Arabic I can say he is talking about that he was at home and two missiles hit somewhere near his home. And he smelled the gas and fainted or couldn't breathe. I couldn't get that part. A good translation would be really good to understand the situation.

    1. I'll hopefully be looking at Adra in detail this weekend, here's what the guy says "I felt dizzy. Two shells hit the house. The smell spread after the second shell hit the house. I sweated and my eyes were blurry. I ran to the field hospital. I was about to lose consciousness on the road to here."

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Possibilities for the grenades would be:
    Agent BZ: psychoactive chemical agent, causes people to behave very strangely and makes them ineffective at fighting and much easier to kill with small arms etc. Used by Serbs in Bosnia, including some apparently thrown at UN and NATO positions.

    Agent DM: An organo-arsenide. In US army service (long since withdrawn) this used to be marked "not to be used where deaths are unacceptable". May have been what was used in Tblisi during the break up of the Soviet Union, which left dozens of brain-damaged casualties behind after the MVD broke up a demonstration. Its basic purpose is to incapacitate, but only an incurable optimist would describe an arsenic compound as non-lethal.

    Plastic grenades which remain unburned after use are more likely to have contained agent BZ than agent DM. DM grenades scatter pellets which burn, evolving an organo-arsenide in the smoke. This leads to them being wrongly described by journalists analyzing film as "tear gas". It's a lot more toxic than that.

  3. Some of the rocket and helicopter-cannister attacks produce a relatively small number of casualties with sarin symptoms, but many respond to treatment and the overall numbers are surprisingly low if it is indeed a large cannister of sarin.

    Sarin degrades in storage (the breakdown products are still quite toxic) so it may be that someone is trying to use old stuff that's mostly breakdown products and only a little bit still sarin.

    Since the Soviets are known to have shipped chemical agents, including Sarin, to Syria when the Israelis failed to loose the Yom Yippur war, the likelihood is that the sarin cannisters are forty years old.

    If new ones are used, filled with fresh, pure sarin, we will see thousands of casualties, all dead, with only those on the fringes having a chance of surviving long enough to benefit from treatment.

    In the case of mustard gas, also supplied in 1973, apparently, forty years is no time at all the danger will be undiluted. Eighty-year old mustard gas shells used in WW1 are still treated as deadly dangerous by the French army when found.

  4. Strange smells can be an indicator of phosphine (not the same thing as phosgene.) Phosphine makes the body's digestive enzymes go wrong (as well as other enzymes) and the victim "smells" garlic and other strong smells which are actually his body chemistry going wrong.

    Phosphine is used commercially to kill pests like foxes and rabbits, under brand names like Talunex.

    With phosphine, it's the breathing reflex which gradually peeters out (it doesn't stop violently, as with sarin or VX), so I think that might well have been what affected the old man.

    Phosgene, a more traditional chemical warfare agent, also makes strange smells, which some describe as garlic and others as geraniums, which again indicates that the "smell" is actually things going wrong with the victim's body. (People describe the smell of mustard gas in a similar way: smell is not a very reliable indicator of what the gas is.)

    If anybody can bear it: Sterling Seagrave's book "Yellow Rain", much derided by the press at the time, describes, quite accurately, all of these agents and their histories and chronicles use of them by various Arab and Asian regimes in civil wars, apparently as live tests by Soviet "advisors".

    Try looking on or for secondhand copies.

  5. Similar to this:

    1. They look slightly more handmade, but same sort of idea, yes. As if someone had fabricated them out of plastic bar and sheet stock rather than an injection moulding.

      Could be used with almost any sort of toxic or irritant pyrotechnic chemical filling, though.

      DM would cause intense vomiting (followed by brain damage, but they don't usually put that in the instruction manual.)

      BZ: victims would be irrationally terrified, run blindly in all directions, freeze in terror; nightmare stuff.

      CS or CN & Chilli would produce severe eye, throat and lung irritation. Victims might have pneumonia-like symptoms afterwards.