Date of Alleged Incident: 3rd February, 2018
Location: Irbin, Eastern Ghouta
Date of Report: 15th August, 2019
I have been investigating alleged chlorine attacks in Syria with a focus on allegations surrounding Ghouta in the run-up to the infamous alleged attack in Douma of April 7, 2018. I had noticed a pattern evolving during this time of, what seemed to me to be, odd and evidence lacking claims of chlorine attacks. They were either attempts by the Syrian military to get an effective strike (meaning a strike that would receive global headlines) or an attempt by rebels to get a staging scenario right to make global headlines. I will admit that I wasn’t a fan of the former hypothesis but I couldn’t rule it out without investigating each of the allegations and seeking out the evidence.
So far I have written detailed reports into the 22 January & 1 February allegations in which I have uncovered various aspects of staging by the opposition along with clearly fabricated evidence, all helped along by spin and coverage from the investigative collective, Bellingcat. Their frontman, Eliot Higgins, is the person who spearheads all allegations of chlorine attacks in Syria and I have shown how he makes unsubstituted claims mixed with a fact-free narrative to help sex these allegations up.
The alleged attacks are as follows:
- 22 January 2018 – Douma
- 1 February 2018 – Douma
- 3 February 2018 – Irbin, East Ghouta
- 7 April 2018 – Douma
In this report, I will focus on Irbin in Eastern Ghouta. (Irbin is also spelled Arbin and Arbeen.)
The claim appears to originate from an opposition Twitter account under the name of @Alrahmancorps4:
I translated the tweet using Google Translate.
The date and time of tweets can be misleading due to timezone differentials and upload logging data by the servers so to gather the correct time one must go into the HTML to obtain the Unix timestamp, which usually consists of a 10 digit numerical code. In this case, it’s “1517616339”, as can be noted from the below screenshot and to the right of “data-time”. With this number, we can use a Unix time conversion calculator, such as the one from http://www.onlineconversion.com/unix_time.htm to obtain the correct upload time in a respective timezone.
So here we see the time of the tweet as 00:05 GMT on the morning of the 3 February 2018. That would have made it 02:05 in Damascus. As the times of tweets are important in this document, it is appropriate that I explain how I am obtaining the data rather than simply asking that you believe me. This way, should you doubt my timings, you can verify them yourselves, should you wish to.
The claim was quickly picked up by another pro-opposition Twitter account, @WyvernReports and from here Eliot Higgins was tagged.
Time of Tweet: 03 Feb 2018 00:58:09 GMT – So 53 minutes after the original claim went live.
Higgins’ hadn’t been busy on Twitter on the 3rd February and his first tweet on the allegation, from what I can ascertain, was at 20:49 (1517777359) on the 4th February (providing no tweets had been deleted ) when he tweeted:
His second tweet on it was in reponse to a comment from Louisa Loveluck of Washington Post fame who wrote:
His tweet here was made at 21:05 GMT on the 4th.
Louisa responds at 21:18 GMT (1517779097) informing him that SAMS has declared the Irbin claim as a “false report”:
Eliot doesn’t respond to Louisa nor does he interact with the tweet. So as of 21:18 on the 4th February Higgins was aware that a source he often cites has declared the claims of a chlorine attack in Irbin as “false”.
The next day Higgins is tagged in a thread on Mohamad Katoub’s timeline. Apparently Mohamad is a dentist and was a medical worker in Douma for SAMS (Syrian, American Medical Society).
At 13:12 the day after he was made aware by Louisa Loveluck that SAMS had called this claim “false” he again regurgitated the allegation without nudging the SAMS dentist for confirmation of Louisa’s claim, as you’d expect he would. The good dentist interjects though to inform Higgins SAMS couldn’t validate the claim.
As with Louisa’s tweet, Eliot doesn’t respond to Mohamad or interact with his tweet.
The description translated reads:
SAMS couldn’t confirm this event most likely due to a lack of usable evidence yet it was propagated by several sources none of whom offered any evidence to support the claim. Eliot Higgins, it would seem, attempted pushing the narrative anyway only to hit a wall when the SAMS doctor stopped him. Eliot never informed his “followers” that it had been confirmed the Irbin attack didn’t happen. Instead, he made no further mention of it and moved on. The claim had already been sold and bought by the hundreds who retweeted him.
I asked Dr. Mohamad Katoub if he had anything to add to the staging I had uncovered, including by SAMS, in my earlier Douma reports but he decided against answering me.
Other Claims of Chlorine, Phosphorus and Naplam in Irbin
There were several further claims of chemical attacks in Irbin following the “false” chlorine attack of the 3rd of February. The “White Helmets” claimed the use of “Napalm”, “Phosphorous” and “Chlorine” in an attack on the 11th March 2018.
This story was carried by Al-Jazeera.
The Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer rescue group also known as the White Helmets, said the Syrian government hit Irbin with chlorine gas, phosphorus bombs and napalm.
Eliot Higgins then picked up on the allegations and pointed to an obscure Facebook post as evidence of the claim.
His source was a a single sentence claim made on Facebook.
He then sent out a second tweet only this time attempting to link it to a statement made by, then US Defense Secretary, Mattis:
He tweeted a second time about the Mattis threat trying to link the Facebook claim, with what Mattis said.
These claims all came to nothing due to a lack of supporting evidence.
With regards to Mattis’ threats, it is unclear what or which specific claim of chlorine use he was referring to or if he was referring to the sum of the parts of all recent claims. Those attempting to suggest he was referring to the alleged 11th March attack are doing so of their own assumptions and not based upon the evidence.
Mattis was asked by a reporter on his way to Oman about ‘plans being drawn up this week to respond to a claim of a chlorine gas attack..’ It is therefore highly unlikely that the reporter was referring to a claim of chlorine use that was made that very same day in Syria, 11th March. Here is the video;
[googleapps domain=”drive” dir=”file/d/18IsFYSldSd0FDq4MMYXwUCeX5P4I2KHw/preview” query=”” width=”640″ height=”480″ /]
Here is the second video when Mattis makes the threat;
[googleapps domain=”drive” dir=”file/d/11d6v0H1vTzsevvVHsQZTCXv64JJTCppt/preview” query=”” width=”640″ height=”480″ /]
Bar the video that Higgins links to on YouTube from the opposition owned Orient News, along with some sporous claims, there isn’t any supporting evidence of a chlorine attack taking place. There are no videos or photographs of the alleged impact sites; there are no images of the alleged munitions used; there are no claims of fatalities.
I searched extensively on Twitter, Google Images and Yandex Images for any evidence supporting the claim of an attack on this day. I searched using every spelling of the word I could find such as; “Irbin”, “Irbeen”, “Arbin”, “Arbeen”, “Erbin”, and Erbeen” and found nothing supporting the claim. I carried out indepth Google searches using various search strings and again anything found was a regurgitation of the original allegation.
If anyone can supply me with evidence that I may have missed I will gladly add that information to the report and update my findings accordingly
There is no evidence to prove anything like a chlorine attack took place in Irbin on the 3rd of February 2018. Given opposition sources such as SAMS and pro-opposition voices such as Louisa Loveluck cast doubts on the claims also supports the conclusion of this report that the event did not take place. This is further evidence that during the period of early 2018 in Eastern Ghouta the opposition was falsifying claims of chemical attacks. I have shown elsewhere on this blog demonstrable staging scenarios during this same period by rebels. Yet these claims went unchallenged by the OSINT community and were instead left to shape a gospel-like narrative that formed a major part of the chlorine attack discourse on social media.
What I do find alarming is why Eliot Higgins tried to push this claim given the total lack of supporting evidence. The fundamental principle of OSINT is to analysis open-source information for verifiable claims and I am unsure what there is about this claim that was worth trying to sell. Yet when added to all the other claims of chlorine use it went some ways to helping enshrine the narrative of chlorine regularly being used as a weapon in Syria in the run-up to the April Douma incident.
Take Away Points
- The opposition have been shown to make “false claims” of chlorine attacks
- Eliot Higgins helps give oxygen to these claims regardless of whether there is supporting evidence or not
As always if anyone notices any inaccuracies in my report please feel free to point these out to me here or on Twitter. All constructive criticisms are welcome. – Philip