The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Incident Identification Team released a detailed report Friday, implicating the Assad regime as the perpetrators of the April 7, 2018, Chlorine attack in Douma. File Photo by Mohammed Hassan/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Assad regime used Chlorine as a chemical weapon on April 7, 2018, in the Damascus suburb of Douma, according to a new report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog that works closely with the United Nations.
The Incident Identification Team with the OPCW released a summary of the report Friday which concluded that "at least one helicopter of the Syrian 'Tiger Forces' Elite Unit dropped two yellow cylinders containing toxic chlorine gas on two apartment buildings in a civilian-inhabited area in Douma, killing 43 named individuals and affecting dozens more."
The Douma Chlorine attack occurred during the final regime push to reconquer the Damascus suburb of Douma, which had expelled most government forces in 2012. By 2013, Douma and surrounding suburbs, known as Eastern Ghouta, were besieged by the Syrian regime military.
Activists set up local councils to govern the area but were quickly targeted by emerging Islamist factions, notably the Saudi-funded Jihadist group Jaysh Al-Islam. Under Jaysh al Islam's rule activists disappeared and prisoners were forced to work in underground tunnels.
In August 2013, hundreds of people, and by some estimations more than a thousand, were killed in a regime Sarin attack in Eastern Ghouta, The New York Times reported.
The enclave was on the verge of being overrun by 2018, with Jaysh al Islam refusing to cede Douma in negotiations with the Syrian military.
The report noted that the chlorine attack exerted pressure on negotiators to surrender the area.
"According to insiders privy to the content of the negotiations and interviewed by the IIT, the pressure on the civilian population following the chemical attack, as well as the warning by pro-Government forces that the shelling would continue and intensify had the group not accepted to negotiate, played a key role in the decision by Jaysh al-Islam'sleadership to eventually surrender," the report noted.
Shortly after the attack, rescuers and civilians posted footage showing a number of dead bodies in an apartment building that was struck by a chlorine cylinder that perforated the building's roof, pouring high concentrations of chlorine into the structure.
The day after the attack, Jaysh al-Islam agreed to surrender the suburb, release prisoners, and be evacuated via a negotiated deal to the rebel-held province of Idlib.
The United States, France, and Britain conducted joint strikes against regime-linked targets in Syria on April 14, 2018.
The OPCW report noted that Russian forces were located at Dumayr airbase during regime preparations for the chlorine attack.
"The IIT has received credible information, corroborated through multiple sources, according to which Russian forces were co-located at Dumayr airbase alongside the Tiger Forces," the report says.
Previous reports from the OPCW on the Douma attack concluded that chlorine was used as a weapon, but were not authorized to name perpetrators.
Multiple witnesses were detained by the Russian and Syrian militaries following the attack. The OPCW IIT noted that witnesses were subjected to intimidation.
"The IIT received reliable indications from different sources that persons with knowledge of the incident (including medical personnel, nurses, and first responders) were exposed to threats, coercion, intimidation, and other forms of pressure," the report reads.
"The IIT notes that fear and pressures of this kind interfere with the flow of information to investigatory bodies such as the IIT."
The Syrian regime and their Russian allies have consistently claimed the attack was staged to trigger an intervention against Assad.
In 2019 an early draft of an OPCW report was released by Wikileaks. The report contained a preliminary toxicology report that indicated toxicologists consulted during a one-hour meeting were confused by the symptoms of victims seen in video filmed after the attack, questioning why they wouldn't flee into the street.
Additionally, the toxicologists were confused about why victims displayed signs of pulmonary edema, which can take hours to develop when a human is exposed to moderate concentrations of Chlorine.
Additionally two former OPCW investigators claimed to have different interpretations of the attack.
One of the former employees had written an unauthorized report suggesting that cylinders that were found at the scene of the crime were manually placed.
A second former employee claimed that chlorinated compounds discovered in Douma could have been naturally occurring or have come from a chlorine based household product.
Friday's report addressed these issues head-on, noting that highly chlorinated phenol, TeCP, discovered in a sample indicates the chlorine used was not part of a household compound and "further attests to the presence of chlorine gas in very high concentrations."
"The presence of TeCP clearly points to chlorine gas as being the chlorinating agent present at the scene, and in very high concentrations," the report reads.
Friday's report also addresses the confusion about why victims did not flee the building where they died during the attack, revealing that victims probably received a fatal dose of chlorine within minutes.
The report reveals that the concentrations of chlorine initially released into the apartment building were at least 1,000 parts per million and that "in concentrations over 400 ppm, fatality occurs within minutes."
"This is consistent with those observed in Douma on 7 April 2018," the report reads.
Additionally, the report noted that once the building was struck, it was unlikely that victims could have survived for long.
"The IIT notes that approximately 20 seconds after the release of chlorine, escape from the apartments on the third floor was almost certainly no longer possible and after 60 seconds, escape from the apartments on the second floor was almost certainly no longer possible either," the report reads.
"The specialists' assessment that all exit routes on the third and second floor were no longer accessible without exposure to a high and lethal volume of chlorine gas."
Investigators added that many of the victims could have died while trying to reach higher ground, standard procedure during a chlorine attack, because chlorine is heavier than air.
"The IIT notes that witnesses recounted how some affected individuals, unaware that the source of the chlorine was on the roof, attempted to move away from the building's basement and to higher floors, as was the common protocol following chemical attacks," the report reads.
The report also shared data on possible trajectories of the canisters, noting that a "missile trajectory expert consulted by the IIT simulated almost 80,000 trajectories."
"The simulations performed by a missile trajectory expert, supported by the analysis of a terminal ballistics expert, provided the IIT with a scientifically plausible explanation for the delivery of the cylinders found," the report says.
The OPCW IIT report noted that investigators were unable to uncover any evidence supporting a delivery method for the cylinders other than via helicopter.
"No information obtained from other States Parties, pursuant to the requests by the IIT and the Director-General on the basis of paragraph 7 of Article VII of the Convention, or other sources supports the delivery of the cylinders in question by means other than helicopter," the report reads.
The OPCW does not have any authority to punish perpetrators, it is only mandated with investigating incidents.