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A matter of belief

September 21, 2016

Just when sympathizers of Syria and Russia thought, that after the open and undeniable support of an IS (Islamic State) offensive against the Syrian army in Deir ez-Zor with four devastating bombing raids by Western fighter jets against Syrian positions they could deservedly and justly claim the moral high ground, reports came in, that a UN aid convoy was bombed by Syrian or Russian aircrafts.

Late night on September 19, 18 trucks from a 31-vehicle convoy with  aid for 78,000 people were destroyed in Orem Al Kubra (Big Orem) in rural Aleppo.The Syrian Red Crescent said the head of one of its local offices, Omar Barakat, and 12 civilians, mostly drivers, had been killed. A SARC (Syrian Red Crescent) warehouse was also hit and a SARC health clinic was reported to have been badly damaged.

The UN, Red Crescent, and USA first described it as an air strike, implicitly pinning the blame on Russian or Syrian aircraft. Bombing a civilian aid convoy would be a warcrime, despicable and inexcusable.

The attack prompted the UN to suspend all aid shipments into Syria.

False flag and/or the blame game

Russia, which denied that Russian or Syrian forces were involved, said that it believed the convoy was not struck from the air at all but had caught fire because of some incident on the ground.

Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry: “We have studied video footage from the scene from so-called ‘activists’ in detail and did not find any evidence that the convoy had been struck by ordnance. …There are no craters and the exterior of the vehicles does not have the kind of damage consistent with blasts caused by bombs dropped from the air.”

A summary of the statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense:

  • There was no airstrike on a UN convoy, by either Russian or Syrian planes.
  • Because the convoy was headed through rebel-held territory, it was accompanied by drones to its destination.
  • About 13:40 MSK (Moscow Standard Time) the convoy has safely arrived at its destination, and surveillance was stopped.
  • From there on out, all information pertaining to the whereabouts of the convoy was only available to the rebels in the area.
  • We would like to point out that about 19:00 MSK, Jabhat Al-Nusra has begun a massed attack on government held territory from nearby territory.
  • We have inspected the tapes, and found no evidence of the convoy being hit by ordnance. There are no craters on the ground, the automobiles do not have the characteristic marks of a blast wave emitted from an aircraft bomb.
  • The photos more clearly resemble an orchestrated arson attack, that coincided suspiciously close to a location and time at which a massed Jabhat Al-Nusra attack originated.
  • Only the organization “White Helmets”, which always seems to be on hand during a tragedy, and which seems to be very close to al-Nusra, knows who incited the arson and for what purposes.

In a separate statement the defense ministry said that the aid convoy had been accompanied by a militants’ pickup truck armed with a heavy mortar.

The Russian air force said in their statement that 1. They did not detect any aircraft in the area 2. Their drone observed the convoy until it was unloaded and it seemed fine 3. Pictures by activists and latest drone observations do not show damage consistent with an air strike 4. Damage looks like arson and maybe rocket artillery.

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After the Russian explanation, the UN put out a revised version of an earlier statement, removing wording on air strikes and replacing it with references to unspecified attacks. UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said the references to air strikes in the original statement were probably the result of a drafting error.

We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact air strikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked.”

A Red Crescent spokesman said, that it is “too early to be certain” who was behind the attack.

Washington said it still believed the attacks were the result of an air strike, which could only have been carried out by Russia or the Syrian military. “For a convoy to be targeted in an air strike is truly outrageous. Again we don’t know exactly what happened, we’re working through it, but we think it was an airstrike,” said Brett McGurk, the US presidential envoy to the coalition against IS.

The White Helmets, a Western funded support organization embedded with Islamist groups, helping as firefighters, bringing wounded fighters into safety, clearing debris, and disposing bodies of executed captives, released various reports, pictures, and videos on social media platforms.

In one video, a White Helmet tells, that a Syrian helicopter dropped four barrel bombs on the convoy. Another White Helmet member tells, that fighter jets attacked the convoy with bombs several times. The SOHR (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights) also speaks of bombing from fighter jets.

This picture supposedly shows a russian bomb fragment (OFAB-250-270), but the crater of a 250 kilogram bomb would be 7.3-11 meter in diameter and 3-3.7 meter deep. The metal piece in the picture doesn’t really look like the ring at the end of the bomb and there are quite a few differences between the bomb’s fin and the structure protruding in that scene. The whole scene looks artificially arranged and not at all like a bomb blast.

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Until now all attempts to blame Syria or Russia look amateurish. There seems to be a new video with the sound of aircrafts, but sounds can easily be mixed to videos, even the most basic video editing programs can do this. Maybe the White Helmets are just busy digging bomb craters, maybe they look for bomb fragments from other sites to bring it to Orem Al Kubra and plant them between the burned trucks.

Russian drones should monitor closely all activities at the crime scene.

A Nightwatch (http://www.kforcegov.com/Services/IS/NightWatch.aspx) analysis came to the following conclusion:

The exchange of accusations is a study in the uses of intelligence as evidence. The US accusations of Russian responsibility are based on circumstantial evidence: the proximity of the aircraft. Correlation of aircraft with the convoy location is not evidence the aircraft attacked, only that they were in the area.

The US case would have been helped by testing the evidence. Unasked questions include whether the Russian aircraft were positively identified; their altitude; whether they had ordnance loaded; whether they were heading towards the Russian air base at Hmeimim or heading away from the base; and at least a half dozen other evidentiary tests that could have strengthened or refuted the US accusation.

In presenting their case, the Russians said they studied ground video provided by activists, thereby inviting independent corroboration. They also described their analytical method — what they were looking for and what they saw — and their conclusions, which can be easily checked against the video.

They went beyond the attack to describe information available in their control center, which also can be checked independently. Statements that can be checked independently constitute admissions against Russia’s interest if it were culpable. Such open admissions establish a prima facie basis for probity and invite the accuser to do his homework and accept the invitation to check out the Russian evidence.

For us, the most interesting and important points of the denial defense are the way the Russians made a case for a totally different explanation for the damage. They not only denied the US accusations, they raised questions about the competence of US intelligence by implying that it missed the real cause of the damage — a ground action initiated by the al Nusra Front terrorists.

The US has not commented on the Russian evidence.

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Sympathizers of Syria and Russia can rest assured and still claim the moral high ground. Maybe the aid convoy or the nearby warehouse was hit accidentally, maybe the Islamists wanted to snatch the food and the UN and Red Crescent personal resisted, was arrested, and then executed. Maybe the corpses were set into the trucks and burned with the trucks to eradicate evidence. Arson is a preferred method of criminals to erase forensic evidence.

Whatever may have happened, all information points to the fact, that Syrian or Russian airplanes were not involved in this crime.

But the Western public will not be informed about this, and as more and more evidence comes out, there will be eerily silence in Western media.

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Update:

At a UN Security Council meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow has provided all the data it has about the attack on the humanitarian convoy and that it is now time for a full and impartial investigation into the incident. Lavroy later mentioned, that a Predator drone was at the scene when the attack happened and stayed there for 30 minutes.

UN coordinators Massimo Diana and Kevin Kennedy issued the following statement: “The UN in Syria was informed of the attacks as they unfolded. Despite our efforts and communications with parties to the conflict, further attacks continued throughout the night, hampering efforts to reach and attend to the wounded.”

Wael al Malas, the representative of the Syrian branch of the Red Crescent, stated: “There is no evidence that it was an airstrike of either Russian or Syrian aviation on the humanitarian convoy in Syria.”