Syrian Rebels and “Chlorine IRAMs”

It’s often been claimed that Syrian rebels have not been seen using the modified 107mm IRAMs associated with chlorine attacks. There is now footage of them firing these rockets.
hiddensyria

Date of Report: Friday 18, October, 2019

Introduction

It has long been claimed, and assumed, that only the Syrian military, specifically the 4th Armoured Division based around Damascus, have been in possession of the modified 107mm “IRAM” allegedly capable of carrying chlorine. The variants of 107mm IRAMs have been distinguished by some as being either “HE” (High explosive) or chemical (for militarised chlorine use).

From my research I have never seen it claimed, or shown, the opposition was in possession of these modified munitions, apart from when they were claiming to have been attacked by them. I will show in this report how that claim is now wrong as I provide verifiable evidence of, what I believe to be, the first footage showing Syrian opposition fighters in possession of that very munition. But not just in possession of, but firing, that same munition.

Firstly, I will lay out what we know about this variant of IRAM so far.

Methodology

In this report, I use information from Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins and Tobias Schneider. I take their work, claims and conclusions and compare them to the evidence to see if they stand up. I also include information from the Armament Research Services website or ARES for short.

The 107mm IRAM

So what is an IRAM? The recognised definition is an “Improvised Rocket Assisted Munition”.

It looks like this:

Source

Here is a breakdown of the components of the rocket:

Modifications to this munition consist of changing the warhead and adding a tailfin whilst keeping the rocket motor.

What does a ‘chemically modified’ 107mm IRAM look like? Here is the infamous “rooftop cylinder” that I previously wrote about here and here.

Source: Twitter account now defunct

What is alleged to have occurred above is the warhead has been changed to be able to carry a chlorine payload, with two “threaded ports” added on the aft of the warhead allegedly to act “release valves” for the gas.

Here is the “High Explosive (HE)” variant of the modified munition:

You can just about make out the “HE” on the nose cone.

Can you spot the differences? The “chemical” variant hasn’t got a nosecone or fuse but instead, it is suggested, uses a gas cylinder with a valve in place of the fuse. The ‘chemical variant’ also always seems to possess the cylindrical pieces that fit into the “threaded ports” on the aft of the warhead.

Here is what such “threaded ports” and cylindrical pieces look like:

Modified IRAM and Chlorine

I believe the first claim of the modified 107mm IRAM and its usage as a chlorine munition came on 30 January, 2017 in Damascus. Here is the video of that claim:

This incident in itself raises an eyebrow and brings with it a lot of questions but for the sake of this investigation I provide it only as evidence of the first time a modified 107mm IRAM was alleged to have been used to deliver chlorine.

These munitions would disappear off the radar until around January 2018 when they would resurface to be allegedly used in further chlorine attacks and again in Damascus (which I investigated here and here).

The allegation goes like this:

A cylindrical warhead with a threaded aft plate..

..is screwed onto the rocket motor of a 107mm IRAM..

The cylinder is then filled with chlorine and two aft cylindrical “release valves” added, then the munition is fired towards the Syrian opposition and usually ends up in a reasonable condition after impact (albeit whilst allegedly releasing chlorine).

For example, the rooftop munition was apparently fired from a ≈2kms away yet it landed on a concrete roof relatively unscathed.

But not before falling to the ground when it was photographed again in a different location, still in pretty good nic!

Or in other instances the warhead vanishes into thin air. It’s just not there!

What’s even more bizarre here than the disappearing warhead is how a cylindrical warhead left a perfect 90° angle:

Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins, not comprehending the missing warhead or 90° angle, decided to go straight on to geolocating the likely launch position:

The shape of this crater indicates the rocket would have come from the west, from the direction of the Syrian government positions around 1km away.

Eliot actually mentions “The shape of [the] crater” without comprehending that a cylinder cannot leave a 90° footprint let alone to then go on to vanish upon impact.

An interested investigator would firstly ask where the warhead had gotten to? Then would ask how a cylinder leaves a perfect angle? Eliot, however, appears to begin his investigation from a verdict of guilty and works in reverse making the evidence fit. When it doesn’t fit? He makes it fit. Literally.

To finish this point, here is the exact image from the Bellingcat website in a report written by “Eliot Higgins”:

The missing warhead, the perfect angular footprint and the hand pointing towards the crater should be enough to make anyone ask a few questions. Eliot instead presents the lack of evidence as the evidence.

ARES Report

Mohammed Badra’s image of a Douma IRAM was used by ARES to highlight the various components of the modified IRAM in question: (Badra is a Syrian photographer)

The proper name given to these munitions is allegedly the “Golan-65”. The designation of the dual threaded port variant is, according to the authors of the piece, N.R Jensen-Jones and Galen Wright, a “twin-well design”. Whether that is official armament speak or adventurous use of the English language is open to debate – but the point is; these “wells” are given importance to those that espouse a ‘chlorine IRAM’ variant. Indeed the example pictured is alleged to have been a chlorine IRAM from 2018 in Ghouta.

Ghouta to Idlib – With Wells

To my knowledge, there hasn’t been (or hadn’t been) a charge against the Syrian military of using these modified 107mm IRAMS in Idlib prior to August 2019.

Around March 26, 2018, the last remaining rebel groups, and their families were bussed out of eastern Ghouta to Idlib. As quickly as this transfer occurred as did the claims of chlorine IRAMs also cease. But that is to be expected if the Syrian military was to blame, surely? Sure. But it gets suspicious when those same rebels relocate to Idlib and soon after the claims of chlorine IRAMs follow them there.

Then in August 2019 @LostWeapons tweeted this:

The last 4 pictures are what matters here. A modified 107mm “chemical” IRAM was being prepared for launch. Given the workload I had on at the time, both privately and otherwise, I couldn’t delve into this any further but I did give a few people a ‘heads-up’ in the hope they’d run with it – which they didn’t do.

Then a few days ago I received an email about the alleged chlorine use in Kbanah, Idlib on May 2019 allegedly using such an IRAM and was asked to investigate it. This tied in with an interest I had in the possibility that these IRAMs seemed to have followed the Ghouta rebels. I can also accept that sounds conspiratorial, to a degree. But when you appreciate that said munitions have not been used in Idlib until the Ghouta rebels arrived then I believe genuine questions should naturally arise in any investigation into such claims.

So I decided to look into the rebel group pictured with the IRAMs as per the Lost Weapons Twitter account. It turns out the logo is that of the National Front of Liberation. It’s the Turkish backed “Free Syrian Army” going under the name of the “Syrian National Army”.

At the time of the tweet, I asked the account holders for further information but they didn’t respond:

Then I decided to look into the group myself when I came across their YouTube channel. Looking through the very many videos they posted I came across the one the pictures were taken from:

At the beginning of the shot, we see the activist unscrew the ‘threaded wells’ and the fuse before loading the munition onto the launchpad:

You will note that the munition is launched without the ‘threaded wells’. However, the point here is that it was designed with said “wells” on the warhead and in possession of the “FSA” and this is the first time we have video evidence of them launching such a munition, to my knowledge.

We could discuss all day the purpose of these “wells” and I’ve heard and read quite a few interesting takes on them. Regardless of their purpose, the original claim that *only Syrian army and allies* used such munitions is not true. We now have evidence the Syrian rebels are using these types of munitions that were only previously claimed to have been used by the Syrian military.

Tobias Schneider and the Kbanah Chlorine Allegation

Tobias is a Fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin and very much not a supporter of the Syrian government. He wrote a thread on Twitter on the alleged chlorine attack in Kbanah:

The Guardian also carried a story on the alleged incident supporting in part what Tobias was Tweeting:

Local reports said four hardline Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) fighters were injured by chlorine released by munitions dropped near the village of Kabana on Sunday.

HTS, for the uninitiated, is the rebranded al-Qaeda (Nusra) in Syria. Apparently, four of their fighters were injured by some chlorine and without any evidence to support the claim, apart from their word, in steps Tobias with some pictures of a random IRAM rocket:

I tried reverse image searching for each of the three images and the only results I found were from Tobias himself. So I’ve no idea where he took them from or what they are even meant to prove. Check out the bottom right filtered image for 60’s themed approach.

Tobias goes on to tell us that “We don’t usually see these types of rockets in the Northwest around Kabanah” followed by him supplying a fancy graph:

He then informs the reader that when these types of rockets start landing…you go looking for the Syrian army:

The rest of the thread consists of much the same; nothingness multiplied by itself several times. Tobias seems ignorant of the fact that the “FSA” was in possession of, and using, the very same type of rockets in Idlib at the time several members of al-Qaeda were allegedly injured by ‘chlorine IRAMs’.

Eliot Higgins on Al-Qaeda Alleged Chlorine Poisoning

Eliot claims that images he saw of the “alleged munitions show they’re identical in design to the chlorine rockets used in Damascus..” (emphasis mine)

 Professor David Miller asked Higgins if he had any evidence of these “Chlorine rockets” he spoke of:

Eliot replied:

I was shown the images offline..

In other words, in answer to Professor Miller; he had no evidence to offer. He could have just easily made that up. If he was shown the images “offline” then it means he received printouts or was shown photos on a phone or the likes. What’s with the secrecy? Why can’t he share the images or have them shared by whoever he claims showed him?

Conclusion

Without any doubt, it can now be said that rebels in Syria are using, as a weapon, modified 107mm IRAMs with aft threaded ports allegedly saved for the chlorine variant in Ghouta.

The questions that arise from this finding are; did these modified IRAMs follow the Ghouta rebels to Idlib or were they there before they arrived? And a second question is: If they were there before they arrived then why have they never been used prior to their arrival?

I have done extensive research into these IRAMs and the allegations of their use in Ghouta and have found very obvious staging events taking place. But to my knowledge, there has never been footage of the Syrian rebels using these exact variants as a weapon and even going so far as to unscrew the “wells” before launching and capturing this on video is, in my opinion, very revealing.

I also can’t help but ask myself that if, and it’s a big IF, the Syrian army decided to begin attacking al-Qaeda in Idlib with inferior, homemade, chlorine-filled rockets that serve little purpose and do little damage, then why would Tobias, Higgins and the echo-chamber feel the need to lament over it especially given that nobody died and the ones allegedly injured were al-Qaeda fighters?

I guess it’s OK defending al-Qaeda when your target is the Syrian government? And whilst I will never defend the Syrian government I find it bizarre that siding with the group that brought down the Twin Towers and slaughtered 1000s of Americans all of sudden finds purpose in a conspiracy theory of hatred. Syria never targetted the west. Al-Qaeda did.

In closing, Syrian rebels are now using the rockets these same NGOs claimed they never had access to. By the video posted by the “FSA” in Idlib these rockets appear to have been manufactured by themselves right down to the very design of the threaded ports and “wells”.

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