Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 5, 2017

Sarin gas deaths in Khan Sheikhoun: separating fact from fiction

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:25 pm

As could have been predicted, the Sarin gas incident that left 58 dead in the Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun has been compared by various Assadist websites to what they considered a “false flag” operation in East Ghouta in August 2013. And a year before East Ghouta, there was a massacre in Houla in which 108 civilians, including 34 women and 49 children, had their throats slashed by Assad’s death squads. According to German journalist Rainer Hermann, it was actually Sunni extremists killing Alawites, a claim that the Baathist amen corner took up eagerly. Hermann’s reporting was debunked but that hardly made a dent in Assad’s considerable worldwide network of thick-skulled sycophants.

Indeed, if you Google Syria and “false flag”, you will get 556,000 results—most of them linking to conspiracist outlets like 21st Century Wire, The Duran and Zero Hedge. As I have seen in propaganda offensives like these, you can count on such explicitly over-the-top, pro-Assad websites to act as the shock troops in a propaganda offensive, to be followed within months by Seymour Hersh articles in the LRB and other high-toned purveyors of mass murder apologetics.

A template for future articles was written by Paul Antonopoulos. Expect versions of his piece to show up in its original version or plagiarized in places like Moon of Alabama, Global Research, DissidentVoice, et al. I also expect his talking points to be repeated by Rania Khalek, Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal who have indeed insinuated something like this on Twitter.

Titled “Something is Not Adding Up in Idlib Chemical Weapons Attack”, Antonopoulos’s article offers up a howlingly preposterous account of supposedly what really happened in Khan Sheikhoun. The corpses were not really victims of Sarin gas but the corpses of 250 al-Nusra kidnapping victims from the towns of Majdal and Khattab whose images became props in a false flag scenario. As unlikely as this seems, this was the same story concocted by Assadist nun Sister Agnes Maryam about the East Ghouta Sarin gas massacre in 2013. She produced a report that identified its victims as pro-Assad villagers having been killed by jihadists in Latakia who then made a video that was exploited by the rebels in East Ghouta for their own purposes. A plot like this would have been rejected by the producers of “X-Files” but it passes muster in these quarters.

Clearly not even up to speed on Assadist talking points, Antonopoulos refers to a claim by UN weapons inspector Carla del Ponte that there was no evidence that Assad ordered the hit on East Ghouta. I hope this PhD student is more on top of data gathering when he submits his dissertation but del Ponte was rendering a judgement on something altogether different, namely the jihadist use of Sarin gas in Khan al-Assal on March 2013, a full 4 months before East Ghouta. There’s not much point in taking up that case but I will say that del Ponte is not very trustworthy in the eyes of Jeff St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, two people who could hardly be charged with backing US imperialism. Referring to the war crimes tribunal against Milosevic, they wrote on May 22, 2000:

On March 15, Mandel sent another complaint to Justice Carla del Ponte, the new chief prosecutor for the tribunal, who replaced Justice Louise Arbour in October. Mandel’s sharply worded letter protests the tribunal’s refusal to investigate NATO’s actions, saying that del Ponte has turned “the investigation into more of a farce than a judicial proceeding.” Mandel’s letter makes a solid case that far from being an independent investigator, the tribunal has conducted itself “as if it were an organ of NATO and not the United Nations.”

Stumbling forward in his bogus investigative reporter mode, Antonopoulos is constrained by parameters set by Assad, whose military issued a statement that the Sarin gas was disseminated accidentally as the result of a bombing raid on a jihadist weapons depot by Su-22 bombers. Unlike East Ghouta, which we were told was a “false flag” mounted by the rebels, Khan Sheikhoun then becomes the unintended product of a bombing raid that only had military purposes.Antonopoulos’s most important argument against the Su-22 being the conveyor of Sarin-laced weapons was this: “Most importantly, the Su-22’s bombs are unique and cannot be filled with any chemical substances, which is different to the bombs dropped from attack helicopters.”

I often wonder if people like Antonopoulos expect their readers to be typical Information Clearing House readers–dimwitted pigs lining up at the propaganda trough. Five minutes of research on the net would tell you that the Su-22 can fire chemical weapons as Saddam Hussein did against Iran and hoped to do in the first Gulf War. Furthermore, it does not take rocket science to retrofit a Syrian Su-22 to fire missiles carrying Sarin gas. That’s what Assad did in August 2013, when his killers fired Volcano rockets laden with Sarin gas. All you need to do is replace the factory-supplied warhead with an oversized warhead. Not a big deal at all.

What is a big deal, however, is producing Sarin gas. You get the impression from reading Antonopoulos that there was something like a warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun that had big bottles of Sarin gas on the sort of racks you see in Home Depot. The problem is that even if they were capable of producing Sarin gas, they would have huge problems storing it.

In a must-read article on Bellingcat by Dan Kaszeta, we learn that Sarin gas is extremely volatile and cannot be stored as the final product used in military strikes since the main chemical reaction that produces Sarin creates one molecule of hydrogen fluoride (HF) for every molecule of Sarin. This hydrogen fluoride byproduct destroys nearly anything the Sarin would be stored in and quickly degrades the Sarin gas itself. The USA and Russia developed technology that could purge HF but have kept it top-secret and proprietary for obvious reasons. Syria certainly does not have that capability and only managed to produce Sarin by combining its ingredients just moments before weaponizing it. Even if the jihadists had such ingredients, it is beyond belief that they had mastered the same technology as the US and Russia to keep them safe and stable over a long shelf-life. Kaszeta writes:

Even assuming that large quantities of both Sarin precursors were located in the same part of the same warehouse (a practice that seems odd), an air-strike is not going to cause the production of large quantities of Sarin. Dropping a bomb on the binary components does not actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent. It is an infantile argument. One of the precursors is isopropyl alcohol. It would go up in a ball of flame. A very large one. Which has not been in evidence.

He concludes his article with the same observation he made after the East Ghouta attack:

Finally, we are back to the issue of industrial capacity. It takes about 9 kg of difficult to obtain precursor materials to generate the necessary steps to produce Sarin. The ratio is similar with other nerve agents. Having a quantity of any of the nerve agents relies on a sophisticated supply chain of exotic precursors and an industrial base. Are we to seriously believe that one of the rebel factions has expended the vast sums of money and developed this industrial base, somehow not noticed to date and not molested by attack? It seems an unlikely chain of events.

What is even more unbelievable to me is the notion that if al-Nusra or any other merciless Muslim foe of Western civilization of the sort found in films like “American Sniper” or “Zero Dark Thirty” had such a potent WMD, why would they only use them against their own supporters?

Why didn’t the jihadists lob Sarin-bearing rockets into West Aleppo or into the area of Damascus containing government buildings? Instead they tend to use mortars and even clumsy DIY artillery that can certainly kill enemy combatants (and cause collateral damage unfortunately) but not as efficiently as weaponized Sarin. For all the fears about rebels getting their hands on MANPAD’s, how do you explain a warehouse filled with the stuff in Idlib sitting idly? Just go ahead and Google al-Nusra and Sarin and nothing comes up except links to idiotic Seymour Hersh articles about a ratline from Turkey into Syria for Sarin gas. Since he was making a point exactly like Antonopoulos’s, there’s not much to support a case that they are being used against Assad’s military. Why bother with a false flag when you can mount a real flag over enemy territory? With Assad responsible for hundreds of thousands of casualties, what holds back the jihadi? Have they been reading Gandhi speeches?

Finally, there is this mind-numbing stupidity about this being another “regime change” operation. Antonopoulos write:

All evidence suggests this is another false chemical attack allegation made against the government as seen in the Ghouta 2013 attack where the terrorist groups hoped that former President Obama’s “red-line” would be crossed leading to US-intervention in Syria against the government.

What can you say? It is now six years of war and the USA has not mounted a “regime change” operation in the George W. Bush mode. This is like Waiting for Godot. Furthermore, Donald Trump has announced that he has no intention of removing Assad and his Secretary of State has refused to condemn Assad. If believe that this is a government so determined to remove Assad and replace him with one supported by the Sunni poor, you can probably believe anything. That, sadly, is the state of the anti-Imperialist left today—one so corrupt and cynical that it makes Stalinism of the mid-30s look pristine by comparison.



  1. Sarin gas produces incontinence. From the photos shown this has not been the case. Sarin would have produced the same effect at such proximity to those wielding the hoses. So – this is not evidence of the use of Sarin gas. Something else, maybe. Also, many of the victims show physical impact wounds that bled before death. With Sarin, you don’t live long enough to bleed.

    I like this article generally but there is no way the Syrians did this. They have plenty else to answer for, just not this. Assad is a Bad Guy but not stupid. There is no military value in such indiscriminate use of such a chemical agent that is so dangerous to handle. Plus, the Russians would never allow such a foolish thing to occur. And, the White Helmet gang are poster-boys for sadistic fraud.

    By the way, what are all these children doing hanging around a secret Qaeda hide-out?

    Comment by Robert McMaster — April 5, 2017 @ 9:47 pm

  2. Sarin gas produces incontinence. From the photos shown this has not been the case.


    What exactly were you looking for? Shit stains on the trousers or dresses of the victims? Speaking of shit stains, Assad has been using Chlorine gas repeatedly in Idlib with no consequence. So, why not Sarin?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 5, 2017 @ 9:51 pm

  3. Well, yes. Shit stains, as you put it. That’s called evidence. So, not Sarin but that does not rule out another agent, agreed. But chlorines also leave very visible evidence and I’m not seeing that either. Nothing excuses other incidents but let them not be stained by a false accusation here. I think you should acknowledge the stain the White Helmets are and those who apologize for them. Similarly, apologists for Assad’s every action should not be suffered. I still maintain that the Russians would not tolerate loose cannon actions by the Syrian military and have the power to prevent such. That they are not -as yet – so doing argues that in this case the Syrian military is not responsible.

    Comment by Robert McMaster — April 6, 2017 @ 12:55 am

  4. “I think you should acknowledge the stain the White Helmets are.”

    Go fuck yourself.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 6, 2017 @ 12:58 am

  5. It’s really incredible how deranged some ‘leftists’ can be.

    The butcher Assad has literally burned his own country to the ground, killing hundreds of thousands of people will all manner of weapons of mass slaughter, while running industrial scale torture camps, and beefing up his killing machine with the aid of Russian imperialism and Iranian jihadi forces, and the Lebanese Hezbollah (meaning, with the aid of a whole bunch of foreign mercenaries). Now, all these butchers and mass murderers who bomb hospitals and schools get a clean pass with some on the ‘left’.

    But, the White Helmets, who are *rescue workers* for Christ’s sake, digging out the dead and the injured from under the rubbles (no matter whose victims they may be) become a ‘stain’! Un-fucking-believable.

    This has GOT to be the most criminally stupid left I have witnessed in my life of having lived in five different countries and now in my getting-old age! With such criminally complicit reactionaries claiming to be ‘leftists’, future is bleak.

    Comment by Reza — April 6, 2017 @ 1:53 am

  6. making/acquiring/storing sarin impossible for al nusra? difficult? no, it’s a simple money game:


    Comment by zan — April 6, 2017 @ 2:15 am

  7. What’s the matter Louis? I sense a hint of desperation in this post, a fear that not even this ham handed false flag attack will convince your heroes in Washington to swoop to the “rescue” of the Syrian people with Freedom Bombs. I hear that Trump has been waffling lately on his pledge to cooperate with Russia in eliminating our ISIS proxy forces in Syria so perhaps there’s still hope…

    Comment by Bill J. — April 6, 2017 @ 3:53 am

  8. State Department socialists are about as low as a human can sink.

    Comment by Robert McMaster — April 6, 2017 @ 6:59 am

  9. Can those like McMaster or Bill J really be considered ‘left wing’? They strike me as being akin to Nazis. There is of course a long history of this kind of supposition being a political mistake. But we live in a world where what used to be Stalinism now has no international working class base and hence no political anchor. And as with Nazis their pronouncements are a form of incitement against the powerless. I view them as enemies of humanity. You wouldn’t find me on a picket line if they were picked up by the international court of human rights for incitement to genocide.

    Comment by John Gamey — April 6, 2017 @ 7:30 am

  10. “McMaster” and “Bill J” are generally the sort of people I run into on Twitter who spend their entire day Tweeting the same Assadist talking points to each other, having absolutely no interaction with people like me. Without exception, they use fake names like RedKahina. It is really quite a pathology. Also, without exception, they have never been part of a left group or took part in a mass movement like Central America solidarity. If you ran into them in person, they’d look something like this:

    Comment by louisproyect — April 6, 2017 @ 12:13 pm

  11. “Zan” wants us to believe that is no big deal making Sarin and refers us to the Japanese cult that used it against commuter train passengers. Here is the reality:

    To get a sense of the challenges, consider the only large-scale example of non-state sarin manufacturing. Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult, used sarin twice: in a 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and in an earlier attack in Matsumoto.

    What is most striking about the documents related to Aum’s production facility was the scale of the undertaking. The plant was a free-standing three-story building, staffed by workers with chemistry and chemical-engineering expertise who designed and built proper process controls. It was a complex, expensive operation, and its production capacity was approximately 2 gallons of sarin per batch. This tells me that a kitchen-size micro-sarin production line, even if it were safely run, could never produce the quantity of sarin used in the Syria attacks.

    Even if the Syrian regime’s claims of homemade sarin are almost certainly false, they do provide a valuable lesson: Don’t try this at home.

    full: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2013-10-10/no-you-can-t-make-sarin-in-your-kitchen

    Comment by louisproyect — April 6, 2017 @ 12:43 pm

  12. If the rebels had that much money and resources to acquire such state of the art facilities to produce and store sarin, one would think that with much LESS effort and money they could have acquired, say, surface-to-air missiles and missile launchers and would have been a lot more successful at fighting back against the main killing machine in Syria: aerial attacks.

    Butchers like Assad and Saddam use chemical weapons because of the terror such weapons instill in the heart of the opposition. NOT because they just want to kill the opposition. The terror is the point of such weapons, and if you own the state, you are the only one with the resources to produce such weapons that terrorize.

    The other thing butchers like Assad use to demoralize their opposition is reactionary knuckleheads in the west who claim to be leftists and whose sole job is to spread lies and deceits.

    Comment by Reza — April 6, 2017 @ 4:35 pm

  13. For some reason, Max Blumenthal hasn’t tweeted since 3 April.

    Comment by Poppa Zao — April 6, 2017 @ 6:48 pm

  14. Have you creamed your pants yet Louis? I told you to cheer up. Chicken Hawks rejoice!

    Comment by Bill J. — April 7, 2017 @ 5:09 am

  15. Bill J. – Don’t you see how wrong you are? Donald Trump unilaterally lobbing 50+ missiles into Syria has been one of the greatest advances for the world’s working class since the raising of the red flag over the Reichstag in 1945.

    You should also salute those heroic al-Nusra/al-Qaeda fighters holding Khan Shaykhun against the evil Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party – Syria Region.

    Trump and al-Nusra/al-Qaeda (and Proyect) against the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party – Syria Region – isn’t it obvious which side the dialectic gears of historical materialism will favor?

    Comment by Adelson — April 7, 2017 @ 5:29 am

  16. I’m sure the dialectic gears of historical materialism will favor whichever side the western media tells them to favor.

    Comment by George — April 7, 2017 @ 7:35 am

  17. What a bunch of cretins. By simply pointing out that the crap written in Information Clearing House was not based on chemistry but on alchemistry, a rafter of comments turn up that are totally unconnected. When I write an article calling for US intervention in Syria like a Nicholas Kristof op-ed, then we can have a decent debate. Your problem is that you know nothing about Syria or about my politics. I am opposed to American intervention everywhere and under all conditions but at the same time I am opposed to alchemical accounts of how some poor Muslims in Idlib lost their lives. If a drooling imbecile like Bill J has some ideas about how Sarin gas can be stored on a unitary basis, let’s hear it. But I don’t expect anything from a stupid troll.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 7, 2017 @ 11:46 am

  18. Adelson, you write “You should also salute those heroic al-Nusra/al-Qaeda fighters holding Khan Shaykhun against the evil Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party – Syria Region.” I take it this means you approve of Assad using Sarin gas against civilians who happen to be living in the same town alongside bearded men who believe in Sharia law. No wonder Hamas supported the rebels in East Aleppo. They could see how Assad was using the same Islamophobic propaganda about “head choppers” as Netanyahu. How human garbage like Adelson and Bill J end up reprising IDF propaganda here on behalf of Assad is something for specialists in abnormal psychology to unravel.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 7, 2017 @ 11:51 am

  19. […] I predicted in an April 5th article, Paul Antonopoulos’s “false flag” account of the Khan Sheikhoun sarin […]

    Pingback by Going Postol: how an MIT professor ended up in Bashar al-Assad’s camp | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — April 17, 2017 @ 9:40 pm

  20. Antonopolous was just doxxed. It turns out he had an account on Stormfront and was an actual Nazi.

    This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who knows the history of the Ba’ath Party.

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — April 28, 2017 @ 2:14 pm

  21. […] April 5th, one day after the sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, I wrote an article titled “Sarin gas deaths in Khan Sheikhoun: separating fact from fiction” () that called attention to an article by Paul Antonopoulos that could have been written within […]

    Pingback by Baathists caught with their pants down | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — April 29, 2017 @ 6:48 pm

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