Thursday 5 September 2013

UN Inspectors Examine The Unidentified Munitions Linked To Alleged Chemical Attacks (UMLACAs)

Since the UN's visit to Damascus, and their inspections of various sites linked to the August 21st alleged chemical attacks in Damascus, a number of videos have been posted online by activists showing them at work.  Last week, I wrote about the UN inspectors examining what appeared to be a M14 140mm artillery rocket, potentially the carrier of a 2.2kg sarin warhead, and this week videos have been posted online showing the inspectors closely examining the munitions I've named the UMLACA (Unidentified Munitions Linked to Alleged Chemical Attacks), a munition that has been recorded at several locations after the August 21st attack, and has been linked to previous alleged chemical attacks.

The location of these first three videos were verified by Storyful, and shows UN inspectors examining an UMLACA embedded in the ground

All videos show samples being taken from the rocket, but the third video has some additional pieces of information.  At the start of the video the UN Inspector C1 tells the crowd:
No mask? No close, okay?
Problem var (Turkish?), there's a problem there.  So if you don't have a mask, you don't come close.
This mask, it's probably not enough.  I'm talking a real mask.
We then see the UN inspectors using an LCD 3.3 (Light Chemical Detector) on the warhead section, which triggers an alarm.  The LCD 3.3 has a library of chemical signatures it's able to detect, and the screen displays details.  However, a number of substances can trigger false positives, so it's only used as a guide where to look, rather than a diagnostic tool.  At 1:36 we see another reading being taken, which triggers the alarm again, and a photograph being taken of the LCD 3.3's screen.  The munition is measured, and samples are taken from the ground around the warhead section.

The next videos show an UMLACA that's not been recorded before, taking the number used in the attack to 5 or 6

It appears the second video is filmed on the floor above the location of the first video, with the hole made by the munition visible on the ground, and in the first video you can see light coming in from above.  It's interesting the UN Inspectors have to force the door open, which suggests they were the first people to enter the room, meaning that it's likely the room has been untouched since the attack.  Both the warhead and tail section are visible in the first video, and the LCD 3.3 constantly beeps it's warning tone.  In the second video, the UN inspector seems unhappy the two opposition fighters are with him on the roof, showing them the LCD 3.3's display, and then telling them to leave.  They protest, and he says they can stay for one minute.

So what do these videos tell us? The one thing that seems to be clear is that the UN inspectors seem to have been very interested in these munitions, and examined at least two examples very closely, so hopefully we'll see all these details in the UN's final report.  As I've written previously, the evidence collected about these munitions points in the direction of them being used solely by the Syrian government forces, so if they are identified by the UN as carrying chemical agents, it seems to point towards the Syrian government forces using chemical weapons on August 21st.  Not only that, but these same munitions were recorded at the site of an alleged chemical attack on August 5th in Adra, Damascus, and have also been linked to previous alleged chemical attacks, so the significance of them being linked to chemical agents would go beyond just the August 21st attack.

Of course, if the UN reports these aren't chemical weapons then it'll leave a lot of questions about how the attack was executed.

Elsewhere, the New York Times published claims by researchers about the UMLACAs, who claimed
the warheads carried toxic payloads of about 50 liters (13 gallons), not the one or two liters (up to half a gallon) of nerve agent that some weapons experts had previously estimated.
Along with a diagram showing what they believed a complete UMLACA would look like.

I've also being doing a couple of interviews about these munitions, including this piece for Die Welt in German, and France 24 Arabic

More posted on the subject of the August 21st attacks can be found here, and other posts on chemical weapons and Syria, including extremely informative interviews with chemical weapon specialists, can be found here

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


  1. Ethylene oxide used in FAE can also trigger the LCD 3.3

    1. But ethylene oxide is highly flammable and can cause severe irritation to the skin. Both aspects don't fit the Damascus gas attacks.

    2. Severe irritation is primarily when in liquid form, not gas/vapor. And I have yet to see one site of alleged chemical use that does not feature a whole lot of scorching which fits in with deflagration. It fits in a lot more than any "sarin" claim does.

    3. If the FAE fail to secondary detonate you get a toxic cloud falling down.
      Ethylene oxide cloud is deadly and thicker than air.
      The FAE is a anti personal weapon use for urban warfare.

      Ethylene oxide causes acute poisoning, accompanied by the following symptoms: slight heartbeat, muscle twitching, flushing, headache, diminished hearing, acidosis, vomiting, dizziness, transient loss of consciousness and a sweet taste in the mouth. Acute intoxication is accompanied by a strong throbbing headache, dizziness, difficulty in speech and walking, sleep disturbance, pain in the legs, weakness, stiffness, sweating, increased muscular irritability, transient spasm of retinal vessels, enlargement of the liver and suppression of its antitoxic functions

    4. Daniel - the #5 video of the UMLACA by the crumplrd wall on the ground - there is no scorching, and there are some bushes and shrubs that seem to be dry but untouched, and contradicts that this is an FAE. There is scorching further to the left of the warhead with its own crumpled wall, but not where the warhead is.

      Unknown - ExO is used in hospitals and a lot of places and it cannot kill a person in minutes. It is an irritant and will be toxic in high concentrations with no ventilation if the subject is exposed for in hours. You are barking up the wrong tree.

      In any case, even if it is ExO, why is Assad firing ExO that can kill 1400 people in a matter of hours? That is what Sarin does and if ExO is as bad as you say, then it is another neurotoxic chemical weapon and the attack is a war crime.

    5. Kill 1400 people, new number? where is the proof?
      A FAE is the number one weapon in urban warfare, and if the FAE fail you have still a problem with the chemical load.
      FAE is not forbidden, all army's have them.
      400-800ppm Ethylene oxide kills in minutes.
      War is not a clean pc game, War is dirty and a plain clothes civilian War is Hell.

    6. 700 ppm ExO if not ventilated or diffused and the concentration remains steady, and if the victim decides not to go out for fresh air, kills in an hour.

      If these FAE weapons are so much more potent if they don't detonate, then they are classified as a chemical weapon.

      And it would be very easy to turn off the detonator before firing the barrel rocket to make sure it bursts but does not detonate, like a failed FAE.

      Assad would do this. In all cases it is prohibited and a war crime.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. No matter how you twist and turn it a war crime it's not.

      Poison gas is only prohibited between states if they have sign the 1925 Geneva protocol. There are no restrictions in a civil war. Syria has not sign on to any further limitations on their use of poison gas.

  2. Are the non-UN uniformed persons in the "Zamalka" videos idiots or do they know more about these munitions then you? Because those are the most serene persons ever to stand 3 feet away from what supposedly was a 50 liters sarin gas warhead.

    And a question I wanted to ask before, as I failed to find an answer by myself: you linked to a youtube list of almost 180 videos about the 21st August alleged chemical attack. Are there, in between those, any videos showing dead or sick people in or around their apartments, buildings, as seen in Halabja? There are tens if not hundreds more cameras now then then, and yet all the gore videos related to this event seem to show the people in those medical facilities or later, in the morgue.

    1. I suspect that most people who retrieved a dead neighbours or family members would probably either not think of documenting it at the time or if they thought about it would have considered it inappropriate--like photographing corpses at an accident. All though you see people in the West filming accident victims it is usually criticized and in a more religious culture would be more so.

      When the bodies start to be brought together and the scale of the situation dawns it would probably be more likely for people to start filming.

    2. What could be more compelling than pictures of families struck down in their house?

      There were many times more videographers this time round than in Halabja yet with many thousands affected and hundreds killed there are no videos of families dead in their houses.


    3. Why are there very few videos or photos of the 1500 funerals, no wailing relatives, nothing? 100 videos of casualties in medical facilities but next nothing on the aftermath of the most important event! In a war where everything that moves is videoed and posted on the net this is quite surprising.
      LCD 3.3 responds to hundreds of toxic chemicals including explosives, propulsives, industrial chemicals.
      Strange how in one video of a rocket in an enclosed space where the LCD sets off a warning there is a rebel alongside the inspectors not wearing any protective clothing

    4. Gemis - Charles - These people don't instantly die off. They have signs of life and are taken to the hospital. Sarin takes a while to cause death. Besides if a corpse is warm, how do you know it is dead - you'll take it to the emergency room.

      Don85 - Those funerals you see with wailing mothers etc. are suitable if there is a community to participate. Victims are buried within a couple of days. They are in the middle of a war. No time or desire for a lavish funeral procession, food tables, obituaries, and ceremonies, when 1400 are killed. Probably it would be frowned upon.

    5. Khalid said: "Sarin takes a while to cause death."

      Well, not really. Some, close to these huge "UMLACAs" allegedly filled with "nerve gas", should've been dead in minutes, without even knowing what hit them.

      And on my initial question, so really, it's not that I missed them, there really aren't any videos or images of families, people, dead at the sites of the supposed attacks?

      So let me recap the things nobody knows about the "chemical weapons attack":

      - what where the precise targets
      - who exactly were the attackers (the army, the air force, some "special units", random terrorists, etc)
      - what chemical substance was used, if any
      - how it was deployed
      - how many died
      - where did they die

      Yeap, this is ridiculous.

    6. maybe the intense artillery bombardment that followed made it kinda hard to get pics of dead families in their homes, also wouldnt have sarin settled at this point? its got a fairly short chemical halflife doesnt it?

    7. Gemis - how many dead families have you seen due to FAE attacks? Or people blown up due to shelling and bombing?

  3. "Why are there very few videos or photos of the 1500 funerals, no wailing relatives, nothing?"

    Does someone know wether the UN checked, when possible, about the residential status of the victims, like wether a lot where not residents to Eastern Ghouta but possibly from somewhere else like from Ladakia ?

    1. Funerals when shells, mortars and bombs are dropped on you daily? Who are you kidding?

  4. One aspect worth looking into to determine the location of the launch of these munitions would be the entry point of the projectiles into buildings and their proximity from their point of entry. Even projectiles lodged in impact craters and their degree of impact might indicate general direction. If triangulated these points would indicate the exact source of launch.

  5. Another theory is that SAA is firing these weapons in pairs, as the launchers are double barreled. One rocket will be FAE and the other will be CW. Not only this will coverup the crime scene, but also help in dispersing the CW agent.

    In the video above (#5?) you see next to the warhead being sampled on its left, there is a scorched area and a crumpled wall. This would be where the FAE twin impacted next to the CW warhead being sampled.

    1. You are REALLY stretching now. Venturing into truther levels of delusion where they claim that they had to crash a plane into the pentagon to cover up the missile strike. It's obvious you are vested deeply in there being chemical weapons used, to the point where you will grasp for any supporting theory no matter how convoluted or "out there". Or you can simply step back into reality, where the obvious answer is the correct one: FAE rocket design used to launch FAE warheads, which have a high failure rate but are cheap as chips. The high failure rate of the design, in fact, being one of the reasons it was abandoned... even with the modification of slapping a parachute onto it. Go hunt for the videos with the burn victims, it's funny because magically the claim turns into "napalm and chemical weapons", mainly because people are idiots and the yellow press and military industrial complex doesn't get much propaganda out of thermobaric duds.

    2. Ethylene Oxide (FAE) does not kill, unless you are locked in a room for a long time (hour or more) with huge amounts of it and can't get out.

  6. "Elsewhere, the New York Times published claims by researchers about the UMLACAs, who claimed

    the warheads carried toxic payloads of about 50 liters (13 gallons), not the one or two liters (up to half a gallon) of nerve agent that some weapons experts had previously estimated."

    This joint Raytheon/MIT study should not be cited, ever. I couldn't believe two "scientists" would put their name on it.

    The study begins by, blatantly, somehow placing the LARGE rocket fired by Assad forces at a CW site(the one where the man is standing by the rocket). They stretched the image vertically, poorly, to make it look at least longer.

    Totally bunk study, that people are for some reason ignoring.

    1. Wrong, the study doesn't have that image. NYT has it.

  7. im kinda curious what the warhead for this was, i doubt its FAE, not much if any scorching on the outer body of the rocket. im very interested in the 7 pin connector, but have no idea what it would be used for. my assumption is that these could be cluster bombs used for chemical dispersion refitted to a lower key launching system, and that these could be the chemical weapons they were testing last year. bomblet dispersion would explain why the baseplates are well preserved and why a couple have rings of metal around them, and why they themselves may or may not be causing problems to people around them, as the rocket would fall short of the bomblets. judging by the weld quality im also doubtful that these are rebel made.