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Syria Gas Attack 'False Flag' Accusations And Why They're Totally Wrong

Genuine fake news.

06/04/2017 15:12 BST | Updated 06/04/2017 19:42 BST

On Tuesday at least 72 people were killed in what is widely believed to have been a nerve agent chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

But according to one of Donald Trump’s favourite news sources, Alex Jones’s Infowars, the reality is rather different.

“The White Helmets, an al-Qaeda affiliated group funded by George Soros and the British government, have reportedly staged another chemical weapon attack on civilians in the Syrian city of Khan Shaykhun to lay blame on the Syrian government.”

Infowars
Trump appeared on Infowars in December and said: "Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down."

The Infowars article outlines a number of points which it claims all indicate a “false flag operation”, carried out as part of a shadowy New World Order plot to bring about regime change in Syria against the wishes of Assad’s main international ally, Russia.

Why? Well according to an Infowars broadcast on the subject, “Assad and the Putin regime [are the only things stopping] bankers taking over the ME”.

Here’s why they are very, very wrong.

1) ‘The White Helmets are an al-Qaida affiliated group’

AMER ALMOHIBANY via Getty Images
A Syrian mourns as members of the White Helmets search for survivors of an air raid on 4 April

This allegation originated in 21stCenturyWire, a pro-Assad website whose current front page includes stories such as “The West’s bizarre anti-Russia hysteria” and “FBI trove of 9/11 Pentagon photos refuels conspiracy suspicions”.

The original article failed to provide proof that the White Helmets had any ties to terrorist or rebel groups other than the fact they operate in some of the same areas which, seeing as their aim is to rescue those caught in government attacks, makes perfect sense.

2) The journalist who ‘knew the attack was going to happen’

From Infowars...

A day prior to the attack, Gulf-based Orient TV announced “Tomorrow we are launching a media campaign to cover the airstrikes on Hama country side including the usage of chemical warfare against civilians.” This shows clear foreknowledge that the rebels were going to stage an attack by Orient TV.

Again this is demonstrably false.

A translation of Karam’s Facebook post reads: “Tomorrow starting a media campaign to cover the density of air raids on rural #hama and use #chlorine _ poison against civilians.” 

Hama is a completely different area to Idlib where Tuesday’s attack occurred.

Google Maps
Hama is over an hours drive from Idlib

Additionally, Karam refers to the use of chlorine not nerve agents (more on that later) and a quick Google search brings up numerous reports of such attacks in the days leading up to when Karam posted on Facebook.

3) The ‘staged’ attack

This one is a real gem. From Infowars...

The White Helmets filmed much of the footage being released on the chemical attack. They have also been known to stage “rescue” videos in the past. However, this time it appears children were indeed killed in the making of this “media campaign”.

If you click on the link provided by Infowars to back up their assertion the White Helmets have staged rescue videos in the past, it takes you to this...

The title of the video? 

White Helmets Mannequin Challenge

So on the one hand, Infowars is correct, they have staged rescue videos in the past. But on the other hand, well... sense and reality.

4) ‘Hostages’

From Infowars...

Several children appear in the videos suffocating from an unknown chemical substance, while others appear to have unexplained head injuries. It is known 250 people were kidnapped by Al-Qaeda last week from the nearby city of Hama, which is the same number as the current body count of wounded and killed civilians.

The implication here is that terrorist hostages have been used and murdered as props for the purposes of propaganda with the figure of 250 purportedly tallying with the number of those killed and injured in Tuesday’s attack.

Information on the kidnap is sparse but a report from the same outlet quoted by Infowars and written on the same day puts the figure at 120, far short of that claimed toll. 

5) The dubious doctor

From Infowars...

In another “coincidence,” a Pakistani British doctor who at the time of the attack was taking interview requests instead of helping the injured who were flooding in, and additionally received gas masks from a British organization three days prior to the attack.

The doctor, Shajul Islam, is being used as a source by US and UK media, despite facing terror charges for kidnapping and torturing two British journalists in Syria and being struck off the medical register. The organization responsible for sending him equipment is under fire for using donations meant for refugees.

This is who they’re referring to...

Islam sent four tweets on the day of the attack, presumably leaving much of the rest of the day for treating patients.

As for the claims he was accused of kidnapping Western journalists in Syria in 2012, these are indeed true.

The trial collapsed due to lack of evidence, but that is irrelevant in the context of a doctor treating people in Syria.

As for the gas masks, medical facilities receiving such equipment at a time of reported chlorine attacks is hardly surprising.

6) ‘Syria has no chemical weapons’

From Infowars...

In another suspicious event, the White Helmets operating in the same quarry near the attack received sarin-protective respirator suits one month before the attack, even though the Syrian government no longer possesses sarin.

The al-Qaeda-linked rebels have claimed the chemical was sarin gas used by the Syrian government; however, the OPCW has confirmed Syria no longer has chemical weapons and completely dismantled their stockpiles in 2013.

It is true that a joint operation between the United Nations (UN) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) sought to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in 2013 but the success of this measure is difficult to ascertain.

Sana Sana / Reuters
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Dr Beyza Unal, a research fellow at Chatham House, told The Huffington Post UK: “The issue is we are seeing the use of chemical weapons so they’re coming from somewhere.

“We know there was a nerve agent used two days ago so this shows that when OPCW conducted the joint mission with the UN, they actually couldn’t take out all of the material.

“This is probably because the Assad regime did not declare all the materials that exist in the country.”

Additionally, in a press release addressing Tuesday’s attack, the OPCW acknowledged that since 2014 - the year after Syria was supposed to have destroyed its stockpiles - it has had a team on the ground investigating repeated accusations that the Assad regime is still using chemical weapons.

7) It was the rebels

From Infowars...

According to award winning journalist Seymour Hersch (sic), intelligence reports show the rebels smuggled in chemical weapons from Libya through Turkey with the approval of Hillary Clinton.

Seymour Hersh is widely quoted by people alleging that the Obama administration in 2012 planned to “set up a sarin gas attack and blame it on Assad so that the US could invade and overthrow Assad” based on two articles he wrote.

Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc via Getty Images
Seymour Hersh, freelance journalist whose reporting during the Vietnam War on the My Lai massacre won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1970.

This in turn is used to suggest the US government would attempt such a ruse again.

But Hersh has since distanced himself from the headlines spawned by the pieces he wrote.

According to Eric Zuesse, who wrote a widely cited piece titled “Seymour Hersh Says Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels”...

He particularly objected to the headline of my story on April 28th, “Seymour Hersh Says Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels”, because he said that I was going too far to read this into his statement there.

I called to his attention that the fact that Gaddafi’s stockpiles included sarin had been rather widely alleged by other journalists and was confirmed in 2015, but he responded by saying that it’s not something that he had reported and so I shouldn’t have assumed that he accepted it as being factual.

8) It was definitely the rebels

From Infowars...

In contrast, the rebels have not gotten rid of the chemical weapons at their disposal.

In 2013, so-called moderate rebels filmed themselves killing rabbits with gas and threatening to kill religious minorities. ISIS is also known to be in possession of chemical weapons having conducted attacks on Syrian forces in Deir Ezzor. 

At this point it is important to make a distinction between chemical weapons such as chlorine gas and nerve agents such as VX and sarin.

Whereas chlorine gas is relatively simple to manufacture, nerve agents are complex and costly to produce and are normally the preserve of state actors.

Preliminary reports of Tuesday’s attack suggest it was sarin that was used and an idea of how unlikely it is that this was produced by rebel groups comes from looking at an incident in Japan in 1995.

In that year the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult unleashed sarin gas on the Tokyo subway killing 13 people and injuring many more.

noboru hashimoto via Getty Images
Police investigating Aum Shinrikyo facilities.

According to The Register...

Aum Shinrikyo spent $30 million, and had a team of trained scientists, top-class equipment and at least one factory at its disposal. In addition it benefited from the frankly inexplicable Japanese security climate of the time, which left the cult free to do dangerous and scary things, to purchase and stockpile ingredients and equipment and even to conduct live tests of distribution mechanisms on real victims.

9) It definitely wasn’t Syria

From Infowars...

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to lay blame on the Syrian government, as did Amnesty International. France called for a security council meeting over the incident.

Federica Mogherini, the Italian Representative of the European Union (EU), blamed Assad while UK’s Envoy to the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, blamed both Russia and Syria.

In response to the allegations, the Syrian Military and the Russian Ministry of Defense denied any involvement in the attack.

The official line from Syria and Russia is that a conventional airstrike hit a rebel-held depot containing chemical weapons.

As well as the evidence cited above on the difficulty of producing a nerve agent, this explanation rings hollow for another reason.

Chemical weapons expert, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told the Today programme: “No, I think this is pretty fanciful and no doubt the Russians are trying to protect their allies, axiomatically, if you blow up Sarin, you destroy it.

“What [people on the ground are describing] is clearly a sarin attack very similar to the ones I covered with the BBC back in 2013.

“The view that it’s an al-Qaida or rebel stockpile of sarin that’s been blown up in an explosion is completely unsustainable and completely untrue.”

UPDATE: Two other points highlighted by a reader:

10) Why aren’t rescuers wearing gloves?

White Helmets
White Helmets attend victims.

Unal, said: “In an emergency situation you wouldn’t consider if you were wearing gloves or not. If a child was dying in front of you that wouldn’t be your first instinct and if you don’t have gloves, are you going to let the child die?”

Additionally, according to a report in The New York Times, a number of rescuers later fell ill from exposure to the toxin, although this would have been at lower levels of concentration than that which killed the victims of the initial air raid.

11) Why would Assad use chemical weapons when he’s winning the war?

From the Associated Press:

There is a military rationale, as well as a political one, analysts say.

Politically, Assad may have been emboldened to act to crush his opponents, thinking he could do so with impunity after recent statements from Washington, along with Trump’s inclination to align with Russia.

On a visit to Turkey last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad’s future was up to the Syrian people to decide, while Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States isn’t ruling out cooperation with Assad to defeat the Islamic State group.

Militarily, Tuesday’s attack took place in an area of Idlib province where rebels recently launched a heavy offensive against government troops. The assault brought insurgents to within miles of the key, government-held city of Hama. Khan Sheikhoun, the town targeted by Tuesday’s attack, is right up the road from Hama, and although Syrian forces have since launched a counter-offensive and regained some ground, there is a clear government incentive to rid the area of insurgents.

“These weapons are frightening and disorienting to the targeted populations, and they also highlight to the local population and the rebels that there is no international limitation on regime behavior and that resistance is therefore futile,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.