WASHINGTON – A top terrorism expert says that recent findings on the chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 in a region on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, was “indeed a self-inflicted attack” by the Syrian opposition to provoke U.S. and military intervention in Syria.
At the same time, however, Dr. Yossef Bodansky, former director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, conceded that only a detailed chemical analysis by the United Nations of the agents used in the poison gas attack can provide the “guidelines” as to the “guilty party.”
He conceded that the paucity of facts to date highlights how little is known of the actual attack.
For example, he said, there remain unverified claims as to just the number of fatalities, ranging from a U.S. assertion of 1,429 fatalities, while the French say that there were only 281. The Syrian opposition and Doctors Without Borders says the number is up to 355.
“Either way, this is too huge a gap not to be explained and substantiated,” Bodansky said.
“It is still not clear what type of agent killed the victims,” although there are separate reports that the agent used ranged from the deadly nerve agent Sarin to a high concentration of fluoride, which is used to clear impurities out of drinking water.
Bodansky said that various tests suggest the nerve agent Sarin was used, reinforcing the conclusion that “kitchen Sarin” was used, although much will depend on the U.N.’s findings once all tests are completed.
Bodansky’s assessment in an extract from a Defense Foreign Affairs Special Analysis follows a prior report in which he asserted on Aug. 28 that there was mounting evidence that the White House knew “and possibly helped plan” the Syrian chemical weapon attack by the Syrian opposition.
In that report, there were assertions that the agent used was a “military Sarin,” which Bodansky claimed was problematic because military Sarin accumulates around victims’ hair and loose clothing.
Because these molecules become detached and released with any movement, “they would have thus killed or injured the first responders who touched the victims’ bodies without protective clothes … and masks.”
However, opposition videos show the first responders moving corpses around without any ill effects, Bodansky said. Indeed, there didn’t seem to be any effects on the first responders who were administering assistance to those subject to the poison gas attack.
“This strongly indicates that the agent in question was the slow acting ‘kitchen sarin,’” Bodansky said.
“Indeed, other descriptions of injuries treated by MSF (French for Doctors Without Borders) – suffocation, foaming, vomiting and diarrhea – agree with the effects of diluted, late-action drops of liquified sarin,” he said.
“The overall descriptions of the injuries and fatalities treated by MSF closely resemble the injuries treated by the Tokyo emergency authorities back on March 20, 1995,” he said. “The Tokyo subway attack was committed with liquefied ‘kitchen sarin.’”
In appearing to reserve final judgment, however, Bodansky said that there also needs to be information on how the weapon was delivered to ascertain whether the Sarin was a “kitchen” or military form of the poison gas.
The “kitchen” variety of Sarin, Bodansky said, is the type that came from North Korean intelligence.
“That the jihadist movement has these technologies was confirmed in jihadist labs captured in both Turkey and Iraq, as well as from the wealth of data recovered from al-Qaida in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002,” Bodansky said.
He added that the projectiles shown by the opposition and which were tested by U.N. inspectors, are not standard weapons of the Syrian military.
“These projectiles have a very distinct ribbed-ring fins which are similar to projectiles used by the opposition in Aleppo, Damascus, and other fronts, with both high-explosives and undefined materials,” Bodansky said.
He added that the warheads used in the Damascus attack were cylindrical tanks which cracked and permitted a Tokyo-style – or “kitchen” mixture of liquids rather than the pressurized mix and vaporization at the molecular level by the force of core explosion in a standard Soviet-style chemical warhead.
“Had Syrian military-trained experts built these warheads,” Bodansky asserted, “they would have used the upper pipe for the core-charge the explosion of which would have created a significantly more lethal vaporized cloud of the toxic agent. The mere fact that the pipeline remained empty suggests the work of amateurs found in the ranks of the improvised weapon makers of the jihadist opposition.”
In his article, Bodansky did not explain how he had arrived at this level of detail, considering that the U.N. has all the evidence in its possession.
Bodansky said that given the history of the Syrian military training by the Soviets and access to Soviet-era weaponry, both chemical agents and means of dispersal would have involved “vastly more lethal” VX and grenade-size aerosols “optimized for dense urban environment.”
He suggests that if the Syrian military wanted to clear the opposition-occupied areas of Damascus, they would have used the VX in aerosols which would have brought about greater efficiency and lethality.