Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Were The UN Inspectors Examining A Chemical Weapon In Medmah Al Sham?

During yesterday's visit by UN inspectors to Medmah Al Sham, Damascus, one of the locations of the alleged chemical weapons attack, they inspected the remains of a munition that locals claimed was linked to the attack

This same munition had appeared in a previous video, posted the day before the UN Inspectors arrival

The first thing that stands out are the nozzles, which indicates this is a type of artillery rocket.  Artillery rockets are used widely in the conflict, but what makes this stand out is the number of nozzles.  The 107mm rockets used widely in the conflict, launched from Type-63 multiple rocket launches by both sides in the conflict, have less holes than the ten we are seeing here.

There wasn't really much to go on until the team at Allen Vanguard (Twitter) suggested I take a look at the Soviet 140mm M14 Artillery Rocket, fired by BM-14,16, and 17 multiple rocket launcher.

Mark Hiznay of Human Rights Watch provided me with a diagram of the M14, shown below

Two things really stood out, first of all the base of the munition

As you can see, the initiator assembly and electrical contact are identical.  The other interesting thing was the numbering that survived on the side of the rocket

The same marking, even the same number, is on the diagram of the rocket

Of course, the one way to be sure is to have the exact measurements of the rocket in the video.  We can see from the diagram the section in the video should be 140mm wide, and around 630mm long, but how can we possibly find that out? Fortunately, one of the UN inspectors had the same idea, and was filmed measuring it.
Below I've taken a screenshot, copied the measuring tape used by the inspector, and rotated slightly to measure the width of the munition.  The tape is resting on top of the munition, but as the camera angle is slightly tilted I've kept the tape near the original position

Click for big
You can see in the full-sized image that the measurement is around 140mm.  Now for the length.  I've rotated the tap 90 degrees, and put a 150mm length of it side by side

Click for big
It's not pretty, but you can see, accounting for the slight tilt of the camera, that it's around 630mm long.

All of this would make this a very strong contender for it being the 140mm M14 Artillery Rocket, and what's very interesting about that is one of it's possible warheads is a chemical warhead loaded with 2.2kg of sarin.  This is dispersed on impact, with a burster charge detonating to disperse the agent, which would leave the rest of the rocket intact, unlike a high explosive warhead that would serious damage the rocket on impact.  Of course, without testing on the ground it's impossible to be sure this is the type that carries a chemical warhead, but fortunately, that's what the UN are there for.

Update September 9th The RUSI has put out this video with a lot more information on the munition

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Collected Chemical Weapon Posts

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com


  1. Brown Moses,

    I know that you've worked on this for a long time, and I don't intentionally want to rain on your parade. But I double-checked with the video where the inspector is measuring it, and it looks like 122mm. Copy-pasting the ruler creates a visual illusion. Especially if you're taking an object that is in 3D at an angle of 30 degrees and viewing it in 2D at 0 angle. Pythagoras law states that the hypotenuse will always be longer than one side of the triangle. You're looking at an angled view, where your observation is the "hypotenuse" and the ruler is one side. If you copy-paste the ruler from that angle, you are basically taking the shorter side and applying it like the hypotenuse. That's why you get 140mm. arccos(122/140) is roughly 30 degrees (29.3 deg). And it looks like the camera man is 30 degrees angled of from a straight above viewpoint. It's 122mm. Consistent with BM-21 Grad.

    1. I'm pretty sure I'm right, and that looks nothing like a 122mm rocket, the tail end is totally wrong for it.

    2. Looks likes 140 mm to me as well (someone should ask Egypt if they "lost" any BM-14s lately).

      The closest match would've been the 128 mm that FSA uses (the Croatian RAK 12), but that only has 8 nozzles.

    3. I've read that Syrian army has some BM/RPU-14s. If those were launched by rebels, Egypt, Iraq or Yemen seem to be the most likely suppliers, willing or unwilling.

    4. Syria purchased 200 BM-14 multiple rocket launchers from China in 1967.

  2. I'd be willing to bet money that more than one of your regular readers has access to the pictures this guy was filmed taking. If you ask for them to be uploaded somewhere public and a link given, it may happen pretty quickly.

  3. From 11.05 in this clip, Brahimi suggests (potentially contrary to your tweets) that (paraphrasing) "they have suggested that the Syrian regime is responsible, we are waiting for the facts", on its face this would suggest they are looking at the issue of responsibility?

    More generally I wanted to be there to ask him whether the other reported CW sites will now be forgotten about in favour of focusing solely on this most recent attack.

    1. Who has suggested President Assad authorized the use of the weapons? Reading between the lines of the US and French dialogue with the Russians, they appear to accept that he didn't. Whoever did it, be it kith, kin or or foe, didn't ask President Assad if he wanted to gas people.

  4. Oops - this clip: http://webtv.un.org/watch/lakhdar-brahimi-joint-special-representative-for-syria-press-conference-geneva-28-august-2013/2633000402001/

    1. The NSA apparently intercepted, not an order to launch a chemical strike, but an urgent inquiry from a Syrian defence minister or other senior official to a chemical warfare unit, asking them why they'd done it.

      If the unit concerned didn't do it on their own initiative, then it may be that President Assad's younger brother and other senior members of the Ba'ath Party have a parallel chain of command.

      Were president Assad to negotiate, the Ba'ath party might be the price he was willing to pay for his own survival, so it's probably in their short-term interests to paint him into a corner so he cannot credibly negotiate with anyone.

      The Ba'ath party has no long-term interest: it is the one party to this conflict that cannot hope to survive. It is, therefore, the most likely culprit.

    2. Why would the regime suppose its soldiers had fired the weapons? The natural inclination for the regime surely would be to assume the other side were responsible?

  5. Thing is, an explosive warhead would have turned most of the rocket to splinters and smashed the paved surface where it landed. And it'd be pretty obvious if a white phosphorus warhead had gone off in that courtyard, too.

    So it's hard to see what, other than a chemical warhead it could have been. The nature of the chemical is unknowable, from these images, but obviously not something persistent like VX or Mustard gas. So it's hard to see what, other than Sarin, it could have been. I think most military smokes would have left stains.

    1. Some basic observations, primarily about the rocket motor because I have not seen much info on the warhead yet. If the warhead was high explosive (HE) and high ordered (HO), as a minimum, the forward rocket motor to warhead bulkhead/adapter attachment point would be mushroomed significantly from warhead detonation. There would also be evidence of the effects of HO stresses on the mushroomed motor metal. The expanded motor metal would appear flattened, cracked, and stressed from the HO event. Also there would be evidence of the HE warhead base plate impacting the rocket motor bulkhead/adapter at high velocity if there were a HO detonation. The HE warhead base plate will cause complete failure of the rocket motor/adapter an amplify the rocket motor mushrooming effect. In the event the HE warhead was a dud there would be evidence on this same bulkhead/adapter of mechanical failure/sheering In a dud situation typically the warhead separates from the warhead on impact. This type rocket motor/warhead separation does not always happen, depends on angle of attack and target hardness. The picture of the rocket motor shows the damage it sustained on impact. A rocket motor with a dispersal type warhead, bursting or nose ejection (these are the type of warhead that typically may have chemical fillers), will show about the same level of damage as a rocket motor that the HE warhead duded would. The evidence in the photos/videos suggest the suspect warhead was either HE (dud), bursting, or nose ejection. Also the photos/videos certainly appear to be of a M14 rocket motor. The marking should tell the tail on the rocket motor maybe all the way to what ammunition plant manufactured it.

  6. There was am airportable Polish launcher which took the same rockets as the BM14, but only had eight tubes.

    All of these things are used for fairly short range saturation attacks (up to 8km).

    Suggest Syria would have got these directly from Russia, I think that Algeria rather than Egypt would have been the alternative regional source.

    1. "I think that Algeria rather than Egypt would have been the alternative regional source."

      For which side?

      Anyway, until proven otherwise, it's beyond belief, for me at least, that the army would've used a CW days after finally allowing the UN in. Whether this is part of a 140 mm rocket or not, really doesn't even close to answering that dilemma.

    2. It is known that the Syrian government is made up of various military and intelligence factions who are there for exactly the reason that they fight and jostle between themselves, have their own prisons and therefore do not threaten the top echelon. One theory that requires a high degree of dark cynicism Gemis is that one element might have been turned to act as a agent provocateur, at the critical time when the UN was coming in to analyse CW locations. Yes, at present, no indications of this.

    3. The regime is solid. Morale is good, it is all or nothing. If they lose, they lose together and do so fighting.

      If there are elements, wanting total war, that happens. However most Syrians support the state. President Assad is fighting a minority, Aleppo for example is to Assad what Chicago is to Obama.


      President Obama doesn't care about Syria, Armenians, Alawites, the Kurds, he is doing something else.

      The US policy is tied to helping Turkey and the two Wahhabi monarchies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the US domestic interest in Syria if it exists is linked to Hezbollah, Israel and Iran.

      If the US attacks Syria, it is to help Turkey steal another province and to assist Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

  7. Here is footage of one of the unidntified IRAMs being launched.


    It is reported to be South Damascus, around Quadam (Kadam). Another picture I found reported it to be 'from the foot of the train station' (translated). I haven't been able to ID the launch location, but it should be doable with the big white dome in the background as well as the minaret and red roofs in the foreground.

    1. That's very interesting, I'll see if I can find the original Youtube channel it was posted on.

  8. Some additional rocket motor damage that may be present when its attached High Explosive warhead detonates. The rocket motor nozzle assembly may be ejected from the rocket motor case. This is typically what happens on short rocket motor cases when the warhead detonates, particularly prevalent on the M14 140mm rocket, 107mm rocket, etc. The nozzle assembly treads and its mating treads in the rocket motor tube will show evidence of blast induced failure (they will appear ripped out/sheared). If a nozzle assembly locking screw is present its tip will also show similar damage. The forward portion (face)of the ejected nozzle assembly should show amplified evidence of blast and frag damage. This damage to the forward face of the nozzle assembly can be some what enhanced do the empty rocket motor case focusing the blast (gun tube effect). Frag from the warhead baseplate and rocket motor internal igniter components cause the damage to the nozzle assembly and assist in the nozzle assembly separation process.
    Another situation that may occur if the warhead duds is what is called slap, snap, and skip. This type event is more likely to happen when the rocket impacts a hard surface. Basically the warhead mechanically separates from the warhead on impact. The motor and/or the warhead continue downrange and will present an additional hazard until the kinetic energy of these components has dissipated.

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