September 10, 2013

II. Identification of the Weapons Used in the Attacks

Human Rights Watch analyzed publicly posted YouTube videos from the attacked areas as well as higher-resolution images of weapon remnants provided by a local activist in Eastern Ghouta, and identified and analyzed two separate surface-to-surface rocket systems that are believed to be associated with the delivery of chemical agents.

By directly contacting the activists who videotaped and uploaded the videos of the attack available on YouTube, Human Rights Watch has been able to verify the reliability of the videos, and confirmed that they were filmed in the affected area. In the case of Eastern Ghouta, a local activist provided Human Rights Watch with high-resolution photographs and measurements of the 330mm rocket components. UN inspectors were also videotaped inspecting some of the same rocket remnants during their on-site visit, further confirming that the rockets are located at the scene of the attacks.

The first type of rocket, found at the site of the Eastern Ghouta attacks, is a 330mm rocket that appears to have a warhead designed to be loaded with and deliver a large payload of liquid chemical agent. The second type, found in the Western Ghouta attack, is a Soviet-produced 140mm rocket which according to reference guides has the ability to be armed with one of three possible warheads including a warhead that was specifically designed to carry and deliver 2.2 kilograms of Sarin.[30]

Our analysis does not exclude the possibility that additional weapons delivery systems were used in the Eastern and Western Ghouta attacks that have not yet been identified and analyzed. However, the two analyzed by Human Rights Watch are the only known rocket systems identified as associated with the attacks, according to local activists who have closely inspected both the affected areas.

In the hours after the August 21 attacks, local activists uploaded several videos of the remnants of rockets they said were collected from some of the sites of the attacks, including some showing remnants apparently filmed where they struck on the ground.[31] In addition, photographs taken by local activists including some taken at the scenes of the attack, appear to show the remnants of rockets used in the attacks.[32] By directly contacting the activists responsible for uploading the videos, Human Rights Watch has been able to obtain precise GPS locations where some rocket remnants were found, and has used satellite imagery to match the locations seen in other videos to precise map locations.

Because the areas in Ghouta where the alleged chemical attacks occurred were shelled by Syrian government forces prior to and after August 21, it is difficult to conclusively determine if the two types of rockets identified, the Soviet 140mm rocket and the 330mm rocket of unknown origin, were the ones used in the attacks. However, local activists say that they only found the remnants of these rockets in the hours after the attacks of August 21 and not before.

In addition, none of the rocket remnants reviewed appeared to contain high explosive or incendiary (flammable substances such as white phosphorus) payloads. According to local activists and doctors as well as publicly available videos of the dead and wounded, none of the injuries sustained by the dead and injured from the attacks appear to be the result of high explosive or incendiary weapons. In both the Eastern and Western Ghouta attacks, witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how large numbers of persons died without any type of traumatic injury in the immediate vicinity of the strikes involving the identified rockets.

[30]Leland S. Ness and Anthony G. Williams, eds., Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 1997-1998 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2008), pp. 544-45.

[31] “[Serious one rocket, which was carrying toxic gases that caused the massacre in Medmah Sham]” August 25, 2013, video clip, YouTube, http://youtu.be/nymy8r0Kcag, (accessed September 6, 2013); “[A chemical rocket that did not explode in a location that was targeted with chemotherapy in the Eastern Ghouta],” August 22, 2013, video clip, YouTube, http://youtu.be/kllhsgFrgN0 (accessed September 6, 2013); “[Chemical rocket that landed on East Ghouta and witness testimonies of the survivors],” August 22, 2013, video clip, YouTube, http://youtu.be/Pc6xL-N6f5M, (accessed September 6, 2013); “[The truth of what happened - an eyewitness of the massacre of the chemical in East Ghouta],” August 22, 2013, video clip, YouTube, http://youtu.be/h2uBpDxAoJA, (accessed September 6, 2013); “[One of the rockets dropped on chemical Zamalka area and Ghouta],” August 21, 2013, video clip, YouTube, http://youtu.be/16qFgAfM5jg (accessed September 6, 2013).

[32]See: Brown Moses, “August 21st Chemical Attack,” gallery of photographs, August 24, 2013, http://imgur.com/a/1nziC (collection of photographs collated by Brown Moses accessed September 6, 2013);, “Images of rockets which 'delivered poison' to Damascus,” ITV, August 25, 2013, http://www.itv.com/news/2013-08-23/images-of-rockets-which-delivered-poison-to-damascus/ (accessed September 6, 2013).(ITV).