Attack on Red Crescent convoy in Urm al-Kubra

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SARC convoy preparing to leave Aleppo
For further details and discussion, see the talk page. (To see what is hot, see recent changes)
A tail section of a OFAB-250 bomb planted in the alleged SARC warehouse in an effort to blame Russia and Syria for the alleged airstrike.
Destroyed trucks outside the alleged SARC compound (right, behind trees)
Was the Red Crescent flag in this spot at the time of the attack or was it placed there after the attack? Note the flimsy attachement.
Omar Barakat of the Syrian Red Crescent is said to have died in the attack
U.S. State Department reacts
An activist in east Aleppo dressed in a SARC outfit protesting against the killing of Omar Barakat in a "regime airstrike"
Photo used by BBC News article to promote claim of a airstrike on the convoy. See discussion

A Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy was attacked at a warehouse in Urm al-Kubra (أورم الكبرى - Big Orem‎‎, also transliterated Urum, Uram / Urem al-Kubra etc.) west of Aleppo on September 19, 2016. At least 18 out of 31 trucks were said to be destroyed with some 10-12 people reported killed - a number later raised to about 20, and then 31. The attack is said to have happened around 7:10-7:30 pm, right after the 7 day ceasefire ended at 7 pm and the Syrian and Russian air forces restarted airstrikes.

The United States and allies have placed the blame on a Russian or Syrian airstrike, and insisted Russia be held responsible either way. Russian and Syrian authorities have offered some alternative explanations that the convoy was attacked by armed groups on the ground, and/or by a 'predator' drone overhead at the time.

The convoy came from government controlled west Aleppo with government clearance and opposition acceptance. The convoy was monitored by a Russian reconnaissance drone with real time streaming on YouTube. It sat parked in Islamist-rebel-administered areas for about six hours or more before the attack. It's unknown whether any terrorist surveillance became aware of their presence.

The attack happened two days after the US airstrike on Syrian Arab Army in Deir ez-Zor, and just as the United States and Russia were set to coordinate their air offensives against Islamic State, as well now as against Jabhat al-Nusra, which will clearly be complicated now, at best.

Activist claims

  • مجزرة أورم الكبرى 19-9-2016 (Urm Kubra massacre 19/09/2016) - Syrian Civil Defense - Aleppo (Facebook)
    Today, at 7:12 PM, regime helicopters targeted a Syrian Red Crescent warehouse in the town of Urem in the western countryside of Aleppo
    A total of four regime helicopters targeted it with 8 barrel bombs.
    Russian aircraft then stuck the location with cluster bombs, preventing the civil defense from reaching the location of the attack, giving first aid to those requiring it and removing the dead bodies.
    25 vehicles have been burnt and the fire has not yet been put out.
    The head of the Syrian Red Crescent, Omar Barakat, was killed along with eight of his staff.
    More than ten drivers have been burned to death.
    The video was recorded this evening by a member of the civil defense at the location of the attack.
  • Comments heard on the video: first attack, 'regime helicopter with 4 barrels'; second attack, 'regime attacked this place again'
1:19 shows irregularly shaped piece of metal taken from a hole in the ground, interpreted as a bomb (barrel bomb)
fires and smoke are seen, and some medicine on the ground. A burning truck (1:58), followed by undamaged truck with damaged tires
different story is presented, and S5 missile use alleged (how does he know, and why this is brought up now?)


Mixup with UN convoy

Much of the media and its readers are mixing up the UN convoy that never entered Syria with this SARC convoy that came from west Aleppo. This false information is constantly repeated by Western media, even two weeks after the attack.

Sources

Video

Starts with blaming Russia (rusie)(?) 1:36 street washing; 1:46 bobcat/loader.

Photo

News

  • The Latest: Airstrikes hit aid convoy in Aleppo province - AP, September 19, 2016
    The aid convoy was part of a routine dispatch from government-held Aleppo to rural rebel-held parts of the province. There was no immediate comment from the government.
  • Elizabeth Tsurkov ‏@Elizrael on Twitter
    The trucks left regime-held areas. Their exit was coordinated with the regime. Russian drones w cameras followed the convoy's movements.
  • Syria conflict: US 'outraged' over aid convoy attack - BBC, September 20, 2016
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the attacks were carried out by either Syrian or Russian aircraft.
    It added the dead included the Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers and drivers.
    The UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien said if the "callous attack" was found to be deliberate it would amount to a war crime.
  • UN suspends all convoys in Syria after attack on aid trucks AP Sept. 20
    In Geneva, spokesman Jens Laerke of OCHA said on Tuesday that further aid delivery would hold pending a review of the security situation in Syria in the aftermath of the airstrikes. Laerke called it "a very, very dark day... for humanitarians across the world."
  • At least 12 aid workers killed in Syria airstrike - Erin Cunningham, The Washington Post, September 20, 2016
    NEW YORK – At least a dozen humanitarian aid workers, and an unknown number of civilians, were killed Monday in an airstrike on a convoy delivering assistance west of Aleppo that the Obama administration said was likely launched by the Syrian government or Russia.
    “We know it was an airstrike and not one from the coalition. We don’t know if it was Russia or the regime,” the only others flying over Syria, a senior administration official said. “In either case, the Russians have a responsibility certainly to avoid doing it themselves, but also to keep restraint on the regime.”
    In a statement issued late Monday, the State Department said, “The destination of this convoy was known to the Syrian regime and the Russian federation and yet these aid workers were killed in their attempt to provide relief to the Syrian people.”
  • CBS News, Sept. 20:
    President Bashar Assad’s government and its key backers in Moscow, however, finally offered comment on the incident Tuesday, flatly denying any responsibility. Russia’s Defense Ministry said no Russian or Syrian aircraft had carried out the strikes, and claimed only rebel factions knew the precise whereabouts of the aid convoy.
    “We have strong indications -- not just from our own information, but from the United Nations, from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, from the White Helmets -- the first responders who so bravely serve the Syrian people -- that this was an airstrike that led to these deaths,” a senior administration official told CBS News on Tuesday. “We know it wasn’t an airstrike by the coalition that we work with. That only leaves two possibilities for people -- for nations that are operating in the air in Syria, and in any case Russia is responsible for its side of this equation and will need to speak to whatever information it has about how this came about.”
  • Russian, Syrian Air Forces did not strike UN aid convoy in Aleppo - Russian MoD, RT, Sept 20, 2016
    “Russian and Syrian warplanes did not carry out any airstrikes on a UN humanitarian aid convoy in the southwest of Aleppo,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement Tuesday.
    "Around 13:40 Moscow time (10:40 GMT) the aid convoy successfully reached the destination. The Russian side did not monitor the convoy after this and its movements were only known by the militants who were in control of the area,” Konashenkov added.
  • UN rows back from describing Syria convoy attack as air strikes Reuters via Asia Times, September 21, 2016
    The United Nations rowed back on Tuesday from describing an attack on an aid convoy in Syria as air strikes, saying it did not have conclusive evidence about what had happened.
    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, attributed to the top UN humanitarian officials in the region and in Syria, 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," he said.
  • UN unsure if ‘air strikes’ behind convoy attack - al-Arabiya, September 20, 2016
    Original title: UN: Syria convoy attack ‘could be war crime’
  • US coalition Predator drone spotted at time & place of Syria aid convoy attack – Russian military - RT, September 21, 2016
    “On the evening of September 19, in that specific region, a drone belonging to the international condition, which had taken off from the Incirlik air base in Turkey, was flying at a height of 3,600 meters and traveling at around 200 kilometers per hour,” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
    “The object was in the area around the town of Urm Al-Kubra, where the convoy was a few minutes before it caught fire,” Konashenkov added. “It left after about 30 minutes.”
Discussed on talk page.
After last week's bombing of a U.N. aid convoy in Syria dealt a death blow to a ceasefire deal in which he had invested all his diplomatic capital with Russia ...(etc.)
"I listened to my colleague from Russia, and I sort of felt a little bit like they're sort of in a parallel universe here," said a visibly angry Kerry, effectively calling Lavrov a liar for blaming the United States for spoiling the ceasefire.
Also stated in Answers to questions from French journalists from TF1 TV channel, October 11, 2016 (we know for certain that the attack was delivered by a terrorist group) , with an additional detail
An exotic proposal has been made – I am going to surprise you and your audience. It has been proposed that our armed units, Russian military personnel, be deployed on the road to ensure transit safety. The Russian military, who are courageous and decisive people, have said they would do it. But I told them that this could only be done jointly with the US, and ordered them to make the proposal. We have proposed this, and they (the Americans) promptly refused.

Social Media

Officials interviewed

Q (Sen. Lindsey Graham): Did Russia bomb the UN convoy? A (General Joseph Dunford): Senator, that has not been concluded, but my judgment would be that they did. They are certainly responsible.
Press leak about 'two SU 24 planes': evening of Sept. 21, 2016 (UTC), so prior to the above.
Denies that Syria or Russia are responsible. Does not know what happened. A detail not seen elsewhere: AP interviewer: There is footage of torn bodies...
“I will not speculate about [who perpetrated the attack]. It’s important to get the facts and to find out how this could happened, but I won’t speculate,” Stoltenberg said after a meeting with Lavrov.
Here in New York, we have learned about that for the first time from the US Secretary of State, who said in a private conversation, that according to 'their' (his/US) information, that two Russian planes for several minutes were somewhere in the area where the humanitarian convoy was, where it was hit. But, he said, do not worry, we will not announce publicly this fact, as we need to figure out what happened (надо разобраться). 'In a few minutes' as usual there were leaks from various news agencies in Washington, and next day, Secretary of State made this tragedy a central part of his dramatic presentation at UNSC ... We have said from the very beginning that it needs to be investigated (надо разобраться) . They first said it was an artillery strike, than helicopters, than planes. I am not a military expert, but I have read somewhere today that the strikes were delivered for 7 hours. But if Russian planes were somewhere in that area for several minutes, could the bombs be falling for several hours? I do not think so.
Samantha Power remarks. Quite a lot on White Helmets.
Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.

UK FM Boris Johnson (on video), BBC news, October 11, 2016

Satellite photographs in the public domain leave no doubt that the convoy was struck from the air
Russian MoD asks Boris Johnson to show 'open access satellite photographs' to them too. Restates that there were no Russian planes in the area of the Red Crescent convoy. Russian military has objective control data, and knows 'the exact reason of loss of interest to this topic by our American colleagues'-TASS, October 12, 2016
RU MOD Facebook post (Russian)

Op-Eds

Stop Assad Now—Or Expect Years of War, by John McCain, WSJ, 4 Oct. 2016

America’s intrepid secretary of state has now taken the meaningless step of suspending talks with Russia over Syria. Meanwhile, Mr. Assad and Mr. Putin are creating military facts on the ground in Syria that will enable them to dictate the terms of a peace secured by carnage. They have decimated coalition-backed Syrian groups, slaughtered countless civilians, consolidated the Syrian regime’s hold on power, and even struck a United Nations humanitarian-aid convoy. And they have done all of this with no consequences. Thus the war grinds on.

"Syrian and Russian planes have to be shot down-McCain", Rusvesna, Oct. 5, 2016

Attempts to prove Russian or Syrian blame for the attack have failed

UN Inquiry

  • 'Summary of UN Headquarters ‘Board of Inquiry’ Report', "UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy attacked from the air", -found at dpa-ps.atavist.com (direct link=?).
    • The report itself remains an internal document; it contains footnotes detailing relevant sources and citations, two substantial appendices and hundreds of annexes of relevant evidence and information, including witness statements, investigative reports, medical reports, photographs, video footage, audio recordings, meeting notes, correspondence and other materials.
    • It is not really explained here on what grounds it is believed to be an airstrike.
  • Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, 2 February 2017
    85. The claim made by victims that the attack was the result of an air strike is corroborated by a site assessment, including analysis of remnants of aerial bombs and rockets documented at the site, as well as satellite imagery showing impact consistent with the use of air-delivered munitions (cites 'UNOSAT satellite imagery analysis', below)
    86. The munitions employed were particularly appropriate for attacking unarmoured vehicles and individuals. Photographs provided by witnesses indicate that several S-5CB unguided air-to-surface anti personnel rockets produced in the Soviet Union, at least one RBK-500 series air-delivered cluster bomb carrying hundreds of sub-munitions, and at least two OFAB 250-270 unguided aerial bombs were used. The Syrian air force possesses all of these weapons in its arsenal. S-5CB rockets, loaded with flechettes, are intended for use against soft-skinned vehicles and personnel. Use of sub-munitions against a wide area target such as a convoy is also consistent with a planned attack targeting dispersed vehicles. Improvised air-delivered munitions and OFAB series munitions are suitable for targeting individuals, unarmoured vehicles and buildings. It appears that once aircraft had exhausted their weapon stores they continued to press the attack with guns, thus prolonging the attack and maximising civilian harm.
    87. Early warning reports, satellite imagery, witness testimony, forensic evidence gathered at the site and data provided by Member States are consistent with the use of air delivered munitions and implicate Syrian forces in the attack. Syrian Su-24M strike aircraft and at least one and possibly two Syrian Mi-8 attack helicopters were operating in and around Orum al-Kubra at the time of the attack. No coalition aircraft employed weapons within 50 kilometres of the attack, and no Russian strike aircraft were nearby during the attack.
    88. The types of munitions used, the breadth of the area targeted and the duration of the attack strongly suggest that the attack was meticulously planned and ruthlessly carried out by the Syrian air force to purposefully hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid and target aid workers, constituting the war crimes of deliberately attacking humanitarian relief personnel, denial of humanitarian aid and targeting civilians (see annex I, paras. 34-35).

There are some small craters, but nothing that looks like a 250kg bomb dropped from the air, nor is there any suggestion in the text that these small craters are evidence that the convoy was struck from the air. Pmr9 (talk) 22:31, 11 March 2017 (UTC) .

Media

ACLOS Assessment

... of the DPA summary (Department of Political Affairs) of United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry into the attack, which heralds in a by-line "UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy attacked from the air." They believe it was an air attack, apparently without any ground attack aspect. From the evidence we see, this could be true, or untrue. But motive does not point to Russia or Syria. The summary at least does not address the issue of motive, giving it a very poor basis for deciding between various competing claims and conflicting evidence.

  • The reason for deciding it was an air attack isn't clearly spelled out. But starting there, the rationale for deciding it was unlikely to be the coalition side is given:
38. The Board further noted that no party had alleged the involvement of International Coalition Forces aircraft and, as such, their involvement was highly unlikely.
    • Russia has previously suggested a Predator drone run by the coalition was in the area at the time, unlike all of their own craft, and presumably involved. It's unclear if they retracted this, or what. The board knows Russia and Syria both deny involvement, which implicitly blames the coalition, just as the coalition earlier blamed Russia and/or Syria simply by insisting it was a clear air strike and it wasn't any of their own jets.
  • Among the materials the board considered is mentioned "air tracks shared with it by the government of the Syrian Arab Republic." (point 7). There's no mention of air tracks provided by the coalition side. This is consistent with, but doesn't prove, coalition side guilt. They don't seem to show or describe or discuss this track any further.
  • The rebels of Jaish al-Mujiheddin, whose mortar truck was seen driving out ahead of the convoy, decided the trucks should move only five at a time - the first group was then...
...met by masked armed men, who wanted to take some of the supplies on the convoy. A dispute then ensued between these men and the SARC Urem al-Kubra team. Following the dispute, three trucks were diverted by these armed men. One of these was fully offloaded, while the remaining two were partially offloaded. The three trucks were then allowed to proceed to the SARC compound in Urem al-Kubra. (point 21)
    • There's no mention of a recent piracy-related dispute with pro-government elements to suggest they're to blame.
  • The board apparently didn't get to visit the site at all. Their investigators visited Syria Dec. 5-9, Damascus and West Aleppo, but were not cleared to visit the site, as the government couldn't assure their safety, which the SARC convoy attack suggests is quite true. But that might have yielded little anyway, they state, as much damage had been repaired. (point 4) They do claim to have looked at "over 370 photographs and videos" - apparently more than we've found in the public record, and they list these separately from "open-source information." (possibility: the available visuals were double-listed here) Supposed eyewitnesses interviewed in Turkey provided much information.(point 7)
  • Weapons remnants not considered, due to chain of custody questions (may include unstated concerns they were simply planted).
  • They heard very specific allegations that three Syrian helicopters, some unknown jets, and one Russian jet were all involved, and found this possible unlikely.
39. The Board stated that it had received reports that information existed to the effect that the SAAF was highly likely to have perpetrated the attack, and even that the attack was carried out by three Syrian Mi-17 model helicopters, followed by three unnamed fixed-wing aircraft, with a single Russian aircraft also suspected of being involved.
    • But the Russians say they don't do joint strikes, and it would be technically tricky, as the board notes, to coordinate such a thing, and they also note both sides deny involvement. (points 39 and 40)
  • They also see no proven connection between the JaM mortar truck and the convoy attack, as suggested by Russian military sources. The board "could not find any material link with the incident." Besides, they claim to believe it was exclusively an airstrike, which would rule out a mortar's involvement. But perhaps that call wasn't really as strong as it's made to sound by the DPA.

What happened?

As of September 22, 2016 none of these scenarios has been ruled out.

  1. Russian and Syrian planes bombed the SARC compound.
  2. A U.S. or coalition drone bombed the compound.
  3. The compound was attacked with mortars or hell cannon by terrorists.
  4. The SARC team was taken hostage and murdered, while terrorist set off explosives around the trucks.
    So far nothing has been heard in public about the SARC team or the drivers. Did any of the survivors return to west Aleppo?

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters the attack coincided with Al-Nusra and allies "on the Syrian government forces in the same area known as the Ramus road," Sputnik news reports, about 5-7 kilometers east from the site. Any connection is unclear but possibly of interest. (Attack on Humanitarian Convoy in Syria 'Provocation Aimed to Distract Attention' Sputnik News, September 23, 2016)

How Russia did it!

Victims

Initial reports had 12 killed (AFP/Arab News) (and 18 wounded?). Later, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent announced "Around twenty civilians and one SARC staff member were killed, as they were unloading trucks carrying vital humanitarian aid. Much of the aid was destroyed." (Syria: Attack on humanitarian convoy is an attack on humanity - SARC, September 20, 2016)

Other sources agree there was only one fatality among the Red Crescent workers, and it was their director, implying the rest survived. Some reports might give a larger number killed (8?).

A Free Syrian Army press release later cited a total of 31 fatalities — 19 civilians and 12 aid workers. (cited tweet)

Who provided the medical care for the wounded is not clear, but they seem to have a poor survival rate. At this time, it's nor clear if there was even one survivor. This is implied, however, in the Guardian.

Members of the Syrian Red Crescent, who had travelled from regime-held west Aleppo to make the delivery were too scared to share what they had seen, fearing punishment from Syrian officials. “They want to kill humanity, but humanity will not die,” said one of Barakat’s colleagues, insisting his name was not used. (Syria aid convoy attack: ‘the bombardment was continuous’ - Chulov and Shaheen, the Guardian, September 21, 2016)

The VDC lists only 11 victims - Mr. Barakat (SARC director) and 10 unidentified entries, listed as men from the town (given as Great Orme, or in Arabic غير معروف). This means they were given no real information.

Location

  • Russian drone footage (stills) show the trucks passing through Kafr Naha and at this facility further east, just east of Urm alKubra. Both spots are mapped below. If these images were taken at the same time, the convoy was divided. By shadows, when the drone passed (second photo anyway) the solar azimuth was about 207-211 degrees, equating to a time of about 1:30-1:40 pm. This must be Russia's source for the claim the convoy had arrived by 1:40.
Aleppo Convoy map1.png
Urm al-Kubra Attack Scene Map.png
This is the same spot where at least some vehicles remained at the time of the attack, starting about 6 hours later. This graphic maps out roughly how many damaged vehicles there were the next day (13 trucks and/or trailers numbered) and where, and gives a start at mapping where apparent impacts happened (to be updated/improved). See talk page: scene analysis for more details.



MoD Video Stream

  • TASS report, at 20:42, says that at about 20:00 a web camera and transmission equipment at Assad Academy was hit. No video feed from any source is seen on Russian MoD site, checking on it at about 21:16.
  • It is uncertain whether Russian MoD monitored in detail all of its own video feed; they would monitor areas of their own responsibility and attention, but not necessarily particular rebel sites, unless they had to, by prior agreements. There may be no arrangement for them to monitor security at the rebel warehouse, and they may not have prior experience that due to info warfare that might be quite a good idea.
  • After watching their own video some more, Russian MoD found rebel large caliber mortar on a pickup truck moving with the convoy (report and video;video also here).

Background

Urm al-Kubra was previously the site of the infamous fake Aleppo "Playground Napalm Massacre" in August, 2013.

The area all around is reportedly under control of Harakat Noureddin al-Zenki, "moderate Islamists" who formerly received US military aid (they've since been cut-off). (Beeley) Al-Zenki was recently accused of launching a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo (August 2, ACLOS), and earlier had two top commanders openly partake in the abuse and beheading by knife of a captured boy (al-Zenki promised the killers were arrested, but they were seen out with guns two weeks later - again, see ACLOS).

The attack came within minutes of the ending of a 7-day cease-fire negotiated between the US and Russia, just as a Russia-US campaign agains both ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra was to begin, and two days after the embarrassing 'error' by coalition forces in Deir ez Zor that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers. See talk page for more on this context.

June 27th attack?

Analysis

There are two possibilities: Thanks to all this surveillance might, the U.S. and its Allies know who exactly who destroyed that convoy—Syrian or Russian, or both— and from what base. But for reasons yet to be revealed, they haven't disclosed it to the world. This could be to protect secret electronic surveillance methods, or to preserve the administration's thus-far ineffective diplomatic efforts. The second possibility is also alarming: Because of gaps in the surveillance net over Syria, the military doesn't know.