False claims again – The Douma Aqaba chemical weapons and air strikes on Syria

Jul 13, 2022
A map showing Turkey, Syria and Jordan

The alleged Douma chemical weapons attack provided the justification for the United States, British and French governments’ airstrikes on Syria on 14 April 2018.

The CCTV video of a chlorine gas explosion at the port of Aqaba, Jordan on 27 June provides further reason to be sceptical about the claim that there was a Syrian government chlorine attack on Douma in early April 2018.

The alleged Douma chemical weapons attack provided the justification for the United States, British and French governments’ airstrikes on Syria on 14 April 2018.

Before the airstrikes US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the US had “excellent intelligence” that sarin and chlorine gas had been used in attacks that allegedly killed between 40 to 45 people. The US Defence Secretary James Mattis also claimed sarin or chlorine had been used.

The sarin claim was unequivocally rejected by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission. No evidence of the clear colourless liquid that can evaporate into a gas, was found.

But it was claimed that there had been a chlorine gas attack.

The video of the Aqaba incident, at which 13 people were killed, clearly shows what a chlorine gas explosion looks like. A huge bright yellow cloud of gas engulfs the dockside and the ship standing alongside.

This is nothing like what witnesses who claimed to have survived the Douma attack described when they testified to the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission shortly after the alleged attack.

Some did report seeing a yellow to green cloud or smoke. But most refer only to smelling the odour of chlorine.

While videos were provided to the Fact-Finding mission, no-one has produced a video of a cloud anything like the Aqaba cloud.

On the day of the alleged chlorine attack on Douma, heavy shelling had resulted in several fires which generated dust and smoke. Some witnesses said people died as a result of the shelling and/or suffocation due to inhalation of the smoke and dust.

But when the OPCW investigators reported that they had found traces of chlorine this finding was quickly spun into the story that there had indeed been a chlorine gas attack.

Chlorine is not a banned chemical weapon. It has every-day uses and can be found everywhere. It is capable of rendering many deadly pathogens harmless and as a result is the principal ingredient in household bleach. Its mere detection after an explosion was no proof of a chemical weapons attack.

The US claim of a chemical weapons attack was severely dented when the OPCW inspector who led the team investigating the alleged attack went public saying that his investigation team “had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred.”

South African ballistics expert, Ian Henderson, who served in the OPCW for twelve years, revealed that his assessment was not included in the published OPCW reports.

Ousted from the OPCW, Henderson testified before the UN Security Council.

Supporting Henderson, documents released by Wikileaks revealed other members of the Fact-Finding team’s concern about changes to the draft report.

An email from OPCW member, Aamir Shouket to his OPCW superior Robert Fairweather, sent on 22 June 2018, took issue with changes made to the initial FFM’s report by the Office of the Director General.

Shouket had 25 years-experience in Pakistan’s diplomatic service, working on security policies, arms control and disarmament, before joining the OPCW. After reading the modified report he said he was “struck by how much it misrepresents the facts.”

“Many of the facts and observations outlined in the full version are inextricably interconnected and by selectively omitting certain ones, an unintended bias has been introduced into the report, undermining its credibility.”

There were many sceptics who raised doubts about the claims of a gas attack. They included US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and the highly experienced British journalist, the late Robert Fisk, who visited the Douma site shortly after the attack and concluded that there had not been a gas attack.

Former British Admiral Lord Alan West casting also some doubt on what happened in Douma saying that the evidence didn’t fit well.

He said Syria’s President Assad was in the process of winning the civil war and was about to take over and occupy Douma. Just before he took it over “apparently he decides to have a chemical attack. “It just doesn’t ring true. He knows the response from the allies. What benefit is there for his militarily in doing this?”

Lord West said that in the past some Islamic groups had used chemicals and it would benefit them labelling an attach as coming from Assad.

“I just wonder, you know. We had some bad experience on intelligence. When I was chief of defence intelligence I had huge pressure put on me politically to try and say that our bombing campaign in Bosnia was achieving all sorts of things which it wasn’t.”

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