UN Report Finds Syria Sarin Use (Updated)

The next shoe has dropped on the case against Bashar al-Assad for the use of chemical weapons.


The much-anticipated report from the UN chemical weapons inspectors has found “clear and convincing evidence” that sarin was used against civilians in Syria on August 21:

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. inspectors say there is “clear and convincing evidence” that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in an attack last month in Syria that killed hundreds of people.

A report from the inspectors says “the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used … in the Ghouta area of Damascus” on Aug. 21.

“The conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic … against civilians including children on a relatively large scale,” the inspectors said on the first page of their report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Ban is scheduled to present the report to the U.N. Security Council on Monday. The Associated Press saw the first page of the report.

The report does not determine who used the deadly chemical weapons in the attack—the inspectors were not tasked with that responsibility.

The complete report has not yet become available publicly but if it does I’ll link to it.


Interesting. An update from Reuters says that the contents of the report have been inferred from a photo released by the UN of weaopns inspector Ake Sellstrom submitting the report. Image enhancement was then used to see what the topmost page of the report had to say.

Update 2

The UN inspectors’report is here. Some interesting highlights:

  • The total duration of the inspection mission itself was 7.5 hours.
  • During the course of their inspection the mission actually came under attack from sniper fire.
  • They collected statements from more than 50 patients, health workers, and first responders.
  • The symptoms reported included

    shortness of breath, disorientation, rhinorrhea (runny nose), eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, general weakness, and eventual loss of consciousness.

  • Environmental samples were taken and blood, urine, and hair samples were obtained from individuals who showed signs of intoxication.

Here’s the conclusion:

On the basis of the evidence obtained during our investigation of the Ghouta incident, the conclusion is that, on 21 August 2013, chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.

The conclusions go on to say that surface-to-surface rockets containing sarin were used in the attacks.

The report continues with pictures, discussion of likely trajectories for the projectiles, and detailed cataloguing of information obtained. I hope that someone more knowledgeable than I will be able to comment on the remnants of the projectiles shown.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. al-Ameda says:

    The report does not determine who used the deadly chemical weapons in the attack—the inspectors were not tasked with that responsibility.

    The very fact that there may be doubt as to whether Assad or the rebels used the chemical weapons is enough to make me glad that Russia decided to take the lead on this.

  2. JohnMcC says:

    A little-discussed facet of this issue that interests me — the number of casualties — will possibly be addressed. The Dr’s Without Borders folks reported hundreds dead. The U.S. raised that to over 1400. There was controversy over the identity of the chemical involved: Did the first responders have casualties from handling the initial victims? At first, we heard they did not. Then there was some doubt.

    On such poorly supported evidence are large international wheels turning slowly.

    I’d like to know more just out of curiousity.

  3. Dave Schuler says:


    My understanding is that the U. S. casualty estimates come from reports from rebel forces we’re supporting.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    The odds of this being anyone other than Assad are disappearingly small.

    This was a strategic position. Had the rebels wanted to create an incident they’d have used a smaller, less vital target. To imagine this was the rebels is to wonder if we’d have attacked ourselves in the early hours of Normandy in an attempt to draw Spain into the war. It fails the laugh test.

  5. walt moffett says:

    FWIW, a UN News Centre link to the actual report.

    The case for the use of chemical weapons by someone is now air tight and the UN can be expected to assume the posture of “Deepest Concern”.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    @walt moffett:

    Thanks, walt. I’ve added the link and a brief summary of the report.

  7. Grumpy says:

    @michael reynolds: There have been reports a number of the victims were Christian Children kidnapped by the rebels the week before..

    Doctors Without Borders and even the French are reporting a considerably lower number of victims than Kerry’s State Department.. at under 400..

    One of Kerry’s primary sources Elizabeth Bagly turned out not to have the PHD everyone cliamed, but she was a paid lobbyist for the rebels..

  8. dazedandconfused says:

    The only guy worth having a go at was Assad. He’s got the authority to strip his boys of CW if anyone does. Fixes (as much as possible) a problem of rebels false-flagging to lure us in too.

  9. michael reynolds says:


    I said nothing about numbers. It’s about position.

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    The origin of the sarin can be answered by simply comparing the composition used in the attack to the composition of the Syrian stockpile, which we now have access to thanks to the recent agreement and Syria’s joining the CW convention. The rockets themselves tell us little given rebel forces have captured war material in the many tens of thousands of tons range.

  11. dazedandconfused says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Might not be possible. It’s binary and degrades fairly quickly. Rebs might have stole it too.

  12. Jeremy R says:


    One annex to the report also identified azimuths, or angular measurements, from where rockets had struck, back to their points of origin. When plotted and marked independently on maps by analysts from Human Rights Watch and by The New York Times, the United Nations data from two widely scattered impact sites pointed directly to a Syrian military complex.

    Other nonproliferation experts said the United Nations report was damning in its implicit incrimination of Mr. Assad’s side in the conflict, not only in the weaponry fragments but also in the azimuth data that indicated the attack’s origins.

  13. Just Me says:

    It will be interesting to see if the UN takes any action. Putin has done a pretty solid job of running interference for Assad at the UN. I for once am okay with the US letting Putin broker some kind of deal but I am not sure a deal with no teeth will hold very long.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    @Dave Schuler: Thank you for your response and thanks also to Mr Moffett for the link to the Report. Nothing in there about the numbers discrepancy. Intuitively, I find that a sort of ‘dog that didn’t bark’. Although it’s hard to see that there is anything left to prove, still I’d like to know how the difference of about 1,000 casualties crept in. Do you have a source for your ‘understanding’ that rebel sources gave Sec Kerry the higher number? Is it possible that ‘rebel sources’ have provided much more ‘intelligence’ about things inside Syria that ought to be confirmed with other sources?

  15. Dave Schuler says:


    Here’s the article that I had read:

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women. Rami Abdul-Rahman, a Syrian expatriate who runs the organization from his home in Britain, said he was shocked by the White House’s count.

    “I don’t know where this number came from,” Abdul-Rahman said in a phone interview.

    He said some Syrian opposition groups disseminate propaganda and exaggerated death tolls in an attempt to sway American politicians.

    “The U.S. took this high number from one part of the Syrian opposition that is supported by the U.S. government,” Abdul-Rahman said. “We don’t trust them.”

  16. rudderpedals says:

    Dave, have you had a chance to look at the stuff concerning provenance over at this guy’s site? http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/

  17. Dave Schuler says:


    Thanks for the link, rudderpedals. No, I hadn’t seen that specific site. There’s a lot of stuff floating around on Turkish, Iraqi, and Jordanian sites in a similar vein.

    As of this moment I think there’s a rising tide of evidence suggesting that the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack although it’s not beyond reasonable doubt. At least not yet.

    Whether it was authorized or not is an additional question. To the best of my knowledge the evidence for that comes from a single audiotape and the authenticity of that has been disputed.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Dave Schuler: I’d be dubious about any “data” which has passed through Israeli hands. Sad to say, but I wonder about getting dragged into this by fake data. (unfortunately not fake victims.)

    There’s also the possibility that this was done by some eager-beaver in the Syrian Army a la Manchuko Incident–where the higher-ups in the Japanese Army then backed up the lower officers because they didn’t want to lose face.