How Bashar al-Assad Gassed His Own People | NYT – Visual Investigations

How Bashar al-Assad Gassed His Own People | NYT – Visual Investigations


The U.N. has accused
the Assad regime of repeatedly committing
war crimes in Syria. Including a chemical attack
in April on a town called Douma. It killed dozens of people and triggered U.S. led
strikes inside Syria. To this day, Syrian officials
and their Russian allies deny the attack
ever took place. Finding out what really
happened matters. Entire families were killed, and the regime went to great lengths
to conceal the evidence. Our investigation is the
most detailed reconstruction of the attack so far. We analyzed a trove of
videos and interviewed dozens of witnesses and experts. We scoured some evidence with
the investigative group Bellingcat, and we teamed up with the
agency Forensic Architecture to create a virtual
model of the crime scene. We center on one building that confirms
where the attack happened. One bomb, that shows
who carried it out and when. And the victims, whose symptoms
tell us what happened: a lethal chemical attack. The evidence combined exposes
Syria and Russia’s lies. “Where is your concrete evidence
about what happened?” The concrete evidence is right here. First, it’s important
to understand why Douma was a target that day. The Syrian military had
launched a brutal campaign to retake the eastern
suburbs of Damascus held by rebels for five years. The strategy: to terrorize the
population into submission. It worked. The regime began gradually
seizing town after town and Douma was the last
enclave holding out. We’re going to focus
on this one street. Ambulances used it to
reach an underground tunnel that linked up with Douma’s
last functioning hospital. And the street may
have been targeted for that reason. In just two days,
the bombing leveled entire buildings,
one after the other. And then, on this
apartment building a chemical weapon was dropped. Assad has offered two
explanations for the attack. “Either the terrorists
had chemical weapons and they use it intentionally. Or there was
no attack at all.” Initial investigations
became nearly impossible because his forces
took control of Douma and the crime scene. Many witnesses and media
activists were bused out. The first outsiders
allowed to visit the site were Russian media,
who broadcast their own distorted version of events. But that propaganda
unwittingly gave us visual
evidence to find the truth of what happened. We couldn’t visit the site. But we worked with
forensic architecture to reconstruct the
crime scene and study the clues it contained. And here is where the
trail of evidence begins. We confirmed it’s
where the bomb fell by geolocating this mosque, this school, and apartment block
seen from the building’s balcony. And we made a model
of the building by analyzing the videos taken
inside soon after the attack. And mapping architectural details as first responders moved from floor to floor and into rooms. Gruesome as the videos were, they confirmed these bodies
were found at the building that was hit. We counted 34 victims. Men, women, and children spread across two floors
and in the stairwell. Now we look at the bomb. Its rigging and casing
tell us who dropped it. Frost tells us
when it happened. And black residue
indicates chlorine was used. The bomb itself
is a crude chemical weapon, a pressurized chlorine tank
designed to blow open on impact. And this debris tells us it was
rigged to fall from the sky. This matters because
Syria controls the airspace, and opposition
fighters don’t have aircraft. Scattered around are
small wheels and axles. And here, in the tangled remains, we see straps,
and other wheel, and fins. When we reassemble
this twisted metal in our model of the balcony it
becomes a cylindrical rigging and it fits right
onto the canister. This is almost
identical to the rigging on a second bomb found
in Douma that day. Straps and hooks so it can attach
to a helicopter’s release system. Rear fins to create drag and
stabilize the bomb as it falls. And small axles and wheels so the bomb alternatively
can be rolled out of a helicopter. Clearly, the bomb
on the balcony was designed to
drop from the sky. And the damage to the casing tells us that it did. These deep dents mean
the tip of the bomb made first impact, consistent with it falling
nose down from above and piercing the ceiling. But most importantly,
this imprint revealed on the underside of the canister. Lying beside it
is a crumpled metal lattice that we think covered the balcony. Its dimensions precisely
fit the pattern seared onto the canister. Our analysis suggests
that this imprint was made by the
force of impact when the bomb crashed
through them metal lattice and onto the concrete below. Our conclusion is it had
to drop from the sky. We have evidence of regime
helicopters dropping them all across Syria during this conflict. In the campaign to retake Aleppo. In this attack on a
hospital in Al-Lataminah, in Saraqib, just two months
before the attack on Douma. And on many more occasions. Flight observers reported
Syrian helicopters leaving this military airbase on the night of the attack. It was the staging point for
many bombing runs that day. Soon after, the helicopters were
seen circling close to Douma. This was around the time
that medics and activists in Douma began reporting the attack
on Twitter and WhatsApp. We verified they were in Douma,
and the details match other witness interviews we took. Now, the evidence that the bomb was also dropped
around this time. This video was filmed by
one of the first people to enter the building
after the attack. His camera light
catches a white object. We know it’s the bomb because
our model of the building shows it’s in the
precise position that the bomb landed. It even matches the shape
and contour of the canister. But what about the color? The white is a layer of frost that experts tell us coats
the underside of a tank when it empties and the
liquid left inside cools. They call it auto-refrigeration, a phenomenon we’ve seen
in previous chlorine attacks. The frost supports the thesis that chlorine was released
quickly and recently. This video was shot around 10 p.m. We know because we tracked
down the cameraman, who sent us the video file data
from his cellphone. Experts told us the frost
can remain for hours. And this lines up
with the time frame given in witness
accounts of that night. The last clue on the bomb
is this black residue. A metals expert told us
that when chlorine mixes with water, or in this case, frost, it forms an acid that
corrodes the metal creating a dark compound. So where we once saw frost,
we now see black corrosion. It’s further evidence that
this was a chlorine attack. So far, this collection of evidence helps us understand where
the attack happened, when it happened, who did it, and the chemical that was used. Our final and perhaps most
damning evidence are the videos of the
victims that we verified were taken at the building. Filmed by medics
and media activists, they show that this was
a lethal chemical attack. We weren’t qualified to
diagnose the symptoms, so we enlisted the help of experts
with decades of experience in chemical weapons exposure. A warning: this raw
footage is very graphic. We’ve obscured it
to focus on specific details. Some experts identified two clear
signs of exposure to chlorine. Chlorine gas actually
turns into an acid and the tissues
produce a lot of mucus. It’s often referred
to as a frothy mucus. There appear to
be corneal burns the eyes appear almost whitened. This could happen from
exposure to a chlorine gas. We have reporting that
the chlorine exposure here was extremely high. A US official told us chlorine
and the nerve agent Sarin were found in blood samples
taken from Douma. So a second chemical
may also have been used. But the experts all agree
that these victims were not killed
by conventional weapons. And the scenes were not staged,
as Syrian officials have claimed. You don’t really see
evidence of physical trauma from blast injuries
or shrapnel injuries or gunshot wounds. Lastly, the locations
of the victims suggest what happened inside. Chlorine gas is twice as heavy as air and sinks instead of rising. After years of war,
many Syrians know exactly what to do if they smell it. That helps explain why
many of the victims were found near
water sources and on the staircase. Sheltering in the basement
from the intense bombardment, they moved upstairs
once they smelled chlorine. They couldn’t have known
it was coming from the roof or that they were moving
into a death trap. The Douma attack was not
an isolated incident. It’s just the latest in a
string of chemical attacks that date back to 2013. And leaked material
we obtained from the UN has implicated the Syrian regime
in six attacks in 2018 alone. Taken as a whole, they represent what we believe
is a deliberate strategy of Bashar al-Assad
to poison his own people. These are war crimes. But the prime suspect
continues to roam freely.

Comments

  1. Post
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    The New York Times

    A New York Times investigation found that the Syrian government dropped a chlorine bomb on this apartment in Douma, Syria in April, killing dozens. Explore the evidence in augmented reality: https://nyti.ms/2tCJJFV

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    TMK

    New York Times isn’t exactly known for impartial reporting much like their readers aren’t known for their capacity to logically and factually reasons, especially when the evidence is doctored.

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    js dev

    they were running upstairs because they were taught that chlorine gas can't rise above. Little did they know that the canister is on the top floor. They were literally running to their death.

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    CowboyBebop

    Oh my god the dead infants and children…. How does Al Assad just send his goons to do such disgusting things there is no hope for that monster; the U.S. is the world police and they just basically let him run free. More has to be done to control the situation

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    Feisal Ajaj

    Why would he does it when he was winning?
    90% of the eastern ghouta was retaken by the SAA.
    If he really wanted to use chemical weapons he would have used it at the beginning or when he loses,not when he was winning.

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    MeconiumStorm

    It is quite clear that only the losing side stood to gain from the use of chemical weapons. That key point is never addressed here, and it's telling.

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    Jacob Wilkins

    I don't have much respect for NYT because of their opinion pieces disguised as news, but I really like these visual investigation breakdowns. Keep it up exposing these doofuses.

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    Mona Pizza

    Yeah, but God Emperor Trump said you guys are liars and Russia said it was a lie, so I've no reason to believe this video evidence of the attack

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    a man name Jaqen H'ghar

    US would have done something more evil if there public try to over throw government. Very one sided reporting by nyts

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    RUSTY NEEDLES

    there was utterly nothing to gain for Assad to use chemical weapons on a war he is winning, though, everything to gain for the rebels had they used chemical weapons and blamed it on Assad.

    LONG LIVE SECULAR SYRIA

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    Eric

    New York Times pushing conspiracy theories again. The evidence has already proven it wasn't Assad's chemical weapons. State TV for you.

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    Great Value

    This video doesn't prove anything. But…. it does make Americans happy. America wanted Assad gone. America supported ISIS. ISIS gassed Syrians.

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    Bish Bish

    "The first casualty of War is Truth…" In my opinion it was USA/Israel provocation, got no proves but Assad had no reason to do something so stupid, but from Israel point of view it was very useful.

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    Nosey

    SHAME ON YOU NEW YORK TIMES. Everybody outside western media knows the real story. Why would bashar al assad use chemical weapons ? #1 Syrian forces were in total control almost defeated the terrorist the terrorist last resort was a chemical provocation. which worked US tomahawk airstrikes which halted the SAA liberation #2 Bashar al assad is not dumb he knows without breaking international law he gives the US/NATO ect no right to declare war on Syria and Syrians. #3 if Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons on his people why would 3 quarters of the population run to his territory ? and more coming back ecah day now terrorist are being defeated. I can keep going #4,5,6,7,8,9,ect There are hundreds of NON-WESTERN videos on youtube ect of liberation of Damascus. The people of the west have been lied to for too long please wake up people. educate yourself with different sides to every story to get the truthful picture. And again = SHAME ON YOU NEW YORK TIMES

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    jake fiscus

    I dont like russia but i hate isis more tbey were "rebels" until they were "isis" i dont care one bit if they gassed the isis area and killed them all and their family's

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    Sarsath

    Assad is a terrible person, but that does not mean that we should topple him. This would make Syria become just like Iraq and Libya, another unstable and failed state.

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    deee 327

    After all the lies The New York Times told about this war, After Obama admitted to training ISIS, After numerous gas attacks have been proven fake, After a whistleblower published proof that the Turkish secret service provided the opposition with poison gas…How should we trust you that its true this time?? I for one dont believe it because i dont trust your "evidence" and because it makes little to no sense for the SAA to use it while winning.
    Apart from that a BBC producer claimed that it was staged.

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    Connor Meyer

    I hope justice is served to this faulty investigation that’s being led by often broken faulty sources…. such as the White hats and UN…. Total Bollocks! (This is Western funded Terrorism and western funded propaganda. I say. God, Syria, Al Assad) he’s most definitely done many more positives for Syria than any other foreign dominator would allowed to be said… this is propaganda and you should wake up to what’s happening with our money and our equipments that we use to fund terrorists cells all across the Middle East for domination…. but thankfully since the very day of the election of Donald trump the terrorists have lost strength from lack of supplies and they are being eradicated. But if we are to lose such a great leader. Terrorism and Terrorists will rise again just as they have before out of the blue and people aren’t questioning just how exactly ISIS just existed everywhere with armaments and other weapons of war…? These are confirmed to be NATO Weapons that supply Rebels and terrorists. So you tell me if I’m wrong or if they magically got Australian and Norwegian camouflages and body armors and ammunition that is exactly NATO grade. You could use the argument that “why would we send extremely easy evidence of weapons to support terrorists?” Nobody would believe that a free country such as the United States would be sending these weapons in the first place. As everyone does, personally it’s not the USA or the state governments. It’s the federal government of the United States that does this and I would specifically say the names of the Clintons and Obama’s. These are the true “dictators” not Bashar “The Lion” Al Assad

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    Daffy Muck

    You cannot trust a breathing Russian Dictator. Just remember Stalin chose to buddy-up with Hitler until Hitler turned on him in 1941. Russia has maintained a loose relationship with Iran for decades. Russia has a communication line with the DPRK. Russia annexed the Crimea from Ukraine just a few days after hosting the Olympics, well planned. Russia has been holding Syria's Assad's hand for several years now and has allowed Assad's spouse to live in Russia under protection. The Russian people should not be painted as enabling Putin but, the Russian military should be. They under Russia's heavy handed dictatorships have committed War Crimes for decades and always will.

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    Twins cold

    Lies lies and only lies.. why Will a president kills his Own people america and the west needs to stop false news and show the world the truth not lies.. like assad and other countries are saying where is the evidence that assad used chemical weapons in stead of isis or other extremist organisation being funded by the west and america.

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    Free Gedanken zur Baukunst

    Zionist NYT vs Truth . Whistleblower Accuses OPCW of Doctoring the Facts of Douma Chemical Attack. November 26, 2019 . The EVIDENCES EXPOSE NYC / CNN & OTHERS US MSM & JINGOISTS LIES

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    rj doggman

    It doesn't matter if it was chem weapons or not. Why tf is a bomb landing on a civilian apartment building. Smdh. That's bs. Chem weapons or not, that's a basic civilian home.

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    M W

    “Only Russian journalist were allowed at the sight”. That’s a real coincidence right there huh? Assad the eye doctor who became Syria’s leader by default of no other “family” candidates who is a puppet to Russia. Both countries deny it even happened while the world looks at the proof and facts that it did happen without any doubt. Odd coincidence that the only 2 leaders who are pro-communist would deny the event. If the consumer can not see through these smoke and mirrors then they are blind to the truth in any thing. Assad committed this act just like Saddam committed genocide on his own people because they didn’t agree with the regimes ways. Saddam paid with his life in the end and Assad’s time will come. I believe that karma is real. I believe that evil does not go unnoticed and those who commit evil will always be punished. History has repeated this fact over and over… from Hitler, Gaddafi, Bin-laden, Stalin, Zedong, Mussolini and Hussein just to mention a few.. It may take months, years or decades but in the end it will come. I have no doubt that Assad and Kim Jong Un are currently at the top of the list and time in time it will come.

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    Shouvik Roy

    Americans : Assad killed his own people by gas

    Also Americans: 9/11 was done by Iraq,jfk was killed by lee Harvey Oswald only(if at all).

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    Marcus Leclerc

    war propaganda… White Helmets are AL-Nusra, Al-Qaeda—> https://clarityofsignal.com/2017/02/27/massive-white-helmets-photo-cache-proves-hollywood-gave-oscar-to-terrorist-group/

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    Saideep Gona

    This piece is a disservice to legitimate investigation. This is extremely cherry picked and hypothetical. A mainstream news outlet with a profit motive should not be conducting "forensic investigations". There are already 2 OPCW ENGINEER whistleblowers who's assessments run counter to this narrative. Yet the NYT set money aside to conduct an "investigation" on circumstantial evidence while presenting it as real.
    Notice how they present 0 pieces of evidence to contradict their claim, despite that there is plenty of evidence against them. This is propaganda of the highest order. As a scientist, the complete lack of self-reflection, presentation of contrary opinion, overly confident assumptions followed by cherry-picked justifications, all of this would get ripped apart in a peer-reviewed journal.
    Am I saying this didnt happen? Absolutely not. But the way NYT presents this as absolute truth is a sickening display of their desire to represent their own narrative over the truth. Ignore the production value and focus on each individual point being made. Please. All of you.

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    Tim Hex

    Thank You for Your transparency It's so tragic and heartbreaking American and russian leaders can stop this but the case is so complicated there are many parts of the conflict the only ones who have aircraft force are the syrian regime and russians too so it's trivial that they say they didn't bomb chemical weapon but I think that the syrian president don't control over the whole aircraft campaigns kind of military control on the government

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    Boyd Gilbreath

    Syria and their Russian allies: Is that the same Russian allies that bomb Syrian hospitals, which , oh, by the way, are underground! It's certainly a statement about public safety when hospitals have to be located underground.

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