Yes, Assad Regime Carried Out Chemical Attack on Douma — A Multi-Media Investigation

Bodies of victims of April 7 chemical attacks on Douma

“We center on one building that confirms where the attack happened, one bomb that shows who carried it out and when, and the victims. The evidence combined exposes Syria’s and Russia’s lies.”


The New York Times, working with the geolocation site Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture, reconstruct the chemical attacks on Douma in East Ghouta, near Syria’s capital Damascus, to establish the Assad regime’s responsibility for the mass killing of about 50 people.

Watch the Video
The Augmented Reality Reconstruction


On the evening of April 7, Syrian military helicopters dropped a chlorine bomb on the rooftop balcony of an apartment building in the opposition-held town of Douma, near Damascus. Dozens of people were sheltering inside as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces waged an intense bombing campaign in a final push to seize control of the rebel enclave.

Chlorine is a heavy gas; it sinks into open spaces and displaces air. In high concentrations, it can be lethal. Chlorine has been used as a weapon so frequently in this war that many Syrians know to move to higher ground and find a source of water when they smell it.

We counted at least 34 victims spread across two floors and in stairways. Many were found near water sources. Our reporting suggests they moved up into the building, not knowing the bomb was on the rooftop, or that they were walking into a death trap. Their bodies showed horrific signs of chemical exposure. A leaked U.N. report, exclusively obtained by The Times, said 49 were killed, including 11 children.

That any chemical attack took place was swiftly denied by Syrian officials and their Russian allies. Proving otherwise became complicated.

The Syrian regime prevailed in its military campaign, seizing control of Douma — and the crime scene. Russian police were the first outsiders allowed to visit the site, followed by Russian reporters, who presented their own version of events: They said the building showed no evidence of a chemical attack, and the bomb on the rooftop balcony was placed there in an attempt to stage the so-called attack.

We were unable to visit Douma. But to get to the truth of what happened, we forensically analyzed the visual evidence unwittingly provided by the Russian reports. Combining those pictures with other videos filmed by Syrian activists, we reconstructed a 3-D model of the building, the balcony and the bomb, in partnership with Goldsmiths, University of London research agency, Forensic Architecture.

The reconstruction brought a virtual crime scene to us. We could inspect how the bomb related to the trove of visual evidence around it, the debris strewn across the balcony, the bomb’s design, the architecture of the rooftop, the damage inscribed on the bomb’s casing, the hole punctured in the roof, and how the bomb penetrated into the room beneath.

Key pieces of evidence indicate that this bomb was not planted, as officials claimed, but dropped from a Syrian military helicopter. The evidence supports chlorine was involved. And it affirmed when it happened — on the evening of April 7, a time frame that is consistent with witness reports and interviews of that day.

New technologies like 3-D modeling in augmented reality and virtual reality offer a new level of remote access and understanding of crime scenes that can benefit human rights investigations. It has been done for more than a decade using satellite imagery and other remote sensing. The specialist groups Forensic Architecture and SITU Research have used these techniques to reconstruct the U.S. bombing of the Al Jinah Mosque in Syria and the shooting of unarmed protesters in Ukraine. Human rights groups have reconstructed the torture rooms in Saydnaya prison. Jurors in the trial of a former SS guard were presented with a virtual reality version of Auschwitz to better understand what the guard would have seen.

Remote access cannot tell us everything, however. Environmental and tissue samples are needed in chemical weapons investigations. But it allows us to perform certain measurements, provide analyses that are less speculative and more mathematical and offer new presentations of critical visual evidence.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/06/24/world/middleeast/douma-syria-chemical-attack-augmented-reality-ar-ul.html

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/06/25/world/middleeast/syria-chemical-attack-douma.html

https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/middleeast/100000005840873/syria-chlorine-bomb-assad.html

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

10 COMMENTS

  1. The trouble with this 3D modelling exercise:

    1. Chlorine cannot kill 34 people unless they were all in the same small room with no ventilation (even then most would survive): https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp172-c2.pdf

    2. Many materials can cause black corrosion, not just chlorine.

    3. The yellow cannister had no fins meaning it was not an aerial bomb.

    4. The two main sites of the alleged chemical attacks are a square and a bakery, not this apparment complex which the OPCW did not inspect: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DafetjIWsAE-lQz.jpg

    • 1. They were in the same.
      2. Canister does not have to have fins to be an air-dropped munition.
      3. One of the two sites was a residential building. The other was near a bakery.

    • Razmjoo, fins are needed if the bomb is meant to hit the target on a trajectory and on the nose. A bomb dropped from a standing helicopter that is meant to destruct and not explode does not need fins.

      Ashkan is an old Persian name favored by Razmjoo in the past.

  2. There Are Some ‘Problems’ With Gas Cylinders Videos Used By White Helmets As Evidence Of Douma Attack: https://southfront.org/there-are-some-problems-with-gas-cylinders-videos-used-by-white-helmets-as-evidence-of-douma-attack/

    1. Why is cylinder#1 undamaged if it has been dropped by a helicopter?
    2. Why is cylinder#1 closed?
    3. Why is the bed under the cylinder#1 undamaged?
    4. Why did the second video showing the cylinder#2 [which is damaged and even a bit burned] appear only on April 10, a day after the visit of the Russians to the area?

    • Thank you for #Russian propaganda outlet Southfront recycling the same diversionary questions which have been answered repeatedly — and which have no bearing on the findings of the use of chlorine and stronger agent on Douma on April 7.

        • Again, multiple witnesses — doctors, other medical staff, first responders, residents, citizen journalists.

            • These would be the “witnesses” who only gave accounts under the conditions of Russian and regime control, with residents pledging not to make statements that criticized the Assad regime and medical staff threatened with arrest if they did not make the “right” statements.

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