CS-2014-8766(E) distributed 10/09/2014 *CS-2014-8766.E*
OPCW Technical Secretariat
Office of the Director-General
10 September 2014
NOTE BY THE TECHNICAL SECRETARIAT
SECOND REPORT OF THE OPCW FACT-FINDING MISSION IN SYRIA
1. On 29 April 2014, the Director-General announced the creation of an OPCW Fact-
Finding Mission in Syria. The Mission was mandated to establish the facts
surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile
purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic.
2. The Fact-Finding Mission submitted its summary report covering the period from 3 to
31 May 2014 on 16 June 2014 (S/1191/2014, dated 16 June 2014) which was
circulated to the States Parties.
3. The Second Report of the Fact-Finding Mission, including its key findings, is hereby
circulated for the information of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
4. The Director-General considers it expedient for the Fact-Finding Mission to continue
its work, which will include transcribing the recorded evidence and data that it has
obtained as well as continuing to look into other alleged incidents.
Annex 1: Cover Note by the Head of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria
Annex 2: Second Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria – Key Findings
COVER NOTE BY THE HEAD
OF THE OPCW FACT-FINDING MISSION IN SYRIA
10 September 2014
In continuation of the Summary Report of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria, dated
16 June 2014, I submit herewith the second report on the work recently conducted by the
FFM, including its key findings.
Head of the FFM
SECOND REPORT OF THE OPCW FACT-FINDING MISSION IN SYRIA
1. On 16 June 2014, the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria submitted to the
Director-General the “Summary Report of the Work of the OPCW Fact-Finding
Mission in Syria Covering the Period from 3 to 31 May 2014” (S/1191/2014, dated
16 June 2014). The Executive Council of the OPCW (hereinafter “the Council”), at
its Forty-Second Meeting, and then at its Seventy-Sixth Session, emphasised its
unequivocal support for the Director-General’s decision “to continue the Mission,
while stressing that the safety and security of Mission personnel remains the top
priority. The Council called upon all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic to extend
their full cooperation to the Mission and to ensure that it completes its work safely
and effectively. The Council also encouraged all States Parties that are in a position
to do so to work with the relevant parties in the Syrian Arab Republic in this respect.”
2. Based on the Director-General’s decision and the guidance provided by the Council,
the FFM commenced preparations to conduct the second phase of its work. A key
objective for the FFM was to carry out some of the activities that it had been unable to
perform because of the attack on its convoy while heading for Kafr Zita on
27 May 2014. Such activities would have included on-site collection of samples and
other evidence and, more significantly, the acquisition of the testimony of victims,
treating physicians, first responders, and eye-witnesses. On return to the
Headquarters, the FFM began planning to interview witnesses at a safe location
outside of Syria as an alternative to visiting the sites in question. A plan was finalised
to bring witnesses from the villages of Talmenes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita to an
identified safe location. The FFM arrived at the location on 18 August 2014. The
first group of witnesses from Talmenes arrived on 25 August 2014 and the interviews
started the same day. Subsequently, two additional groups of witnesses from Al
Tamanah and Kafr Zita were interviewed, with the process concluding on 4
3. As part of the arrangements for the interviews, the FFM agreed that, except for the
names of the villages in question, the names of individuals and any other such
information that the witnesses deemed might cause risks to their safety, would not be
mentioned in this report or otherwise divulged.
4. This report presents the key findings from the interviews and the considerable amount
of documentation and other relevant information collected by the FFM. For
background purposes, reference may be made to the earlier report of the FFM
Organisation of work
5. The FFM organised its work in two teams, each led by an OPCW medical doctor and
supported by another interviewer/note-taker and an interpreter. The Head of the FFM
acted as the interview coordinator. All witnesses agreed to participate in a recorded
interview by signing a consent form. This includes both an audio and video record.
Four individuals consented to an audio record only. After each interview was
recorded (audio and video), the consent form, the recordings, and any other
information provided by the witness, such as medical documents, sketches,
photographs, or videos, were collated, sealed, and registered as confidential material.
6. Each individual submitted their identification documents issued by the Government of
the Syrian Arab Republic, indicating their date and place of birth, place of residence,
and other particulars. The treating physicians also submitted copies of their medical
7. In organising the interviews, the FFM worked closely with the organisation
“Violations Documentation Center in Syria”.
8. Independently of the individuals from the three villages who were interviewed, the
FFM interviewed and received information from members of the “CBRN1 Task
Force”, who had performed a systematic collection of data in the field following
reported attacks in Talmenes and Kafr Zita.
Events and conditions in the three villages as described to the FFM
Salient description of events relating to each of the three villages
9. Talmenes, a village located in the province of Idlib, has a population of some 20,000
inhabitants. The village has one small field medical clinic, established about
18 months ago, with very limited resources and facilities offering only basic medical
aid. Fourteen individuals from Talmenes were interviewed between 25 and
29 August 2014. This group included two treating physicians, two nurses/medical
responders, and 10 victims/witnesses. Witnesses recalled two attacks with barrel
bombs containing chlorine dropped from helicopters. These attacks occurred on
21 and 24 April 2014, respectively. The first attack, as related to the FFM, was at
around 11:00, with two devices striking close to each other and resulting in nearly
200 casualties. One woman, a teenage girl, and a seven-year old boy died as a result
of exposure to lethal doses.
10. Al Tamanah is a nearby village that has two field medical clinics with minimal
resources in terms of medicines and medical equipment. They have the capability to
provide only the most basic medical aid to limited number of individuals. The FFM
interviewed and collected testimonies from 14 individuals, including two treating
physicians, two nurses/medical responders, and 10 victims/witnesses. These
interviews were held from 29 August 2014 to 2 September 2014. According to the
witnesses, this village has been attacked five times with barrel bombs containing
chlorine dropped from helicopters. The dates recounted are 12, 18, and 30 April
2014, and 22 and 25 May 2014. All attacks, except the one of 22 May 2014, occurred
at night. These attacks resulted in more than 150 casualties, and eight of the most
severely affected, mostly women and children, died from exposure to lethal doses of
the toxic chemical.
1 CBRN = chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear.
11. Kafr Zita is a small town located some 30 km from the city of Hama in northern
Syria. The town had two hospitals, one of which was destroyed during an air raid.
Witnesses reported some 17 “chlorine” attacks, with the last one occurring as late as
28 August 2014. These attacks led to dozens of casualties. The witnesses could
recall at least two deaths, and a high number of casualties. One of these attacks
occurred in the vicinity of the town hospital and medical personnel themselves
suffered exposure. The FFM interviewed nine individuals from this town, including
two treating physicians, two nurses/first responders, and five witnesses/victims.
These individuals were interviewed from 2 to 5 September 2014. Given the
frequency of the attacks on Kafr Zita, these witnesses seemed to suffer from stress
and could not exactly recall the numerous dates and the times of the attacks. The
medical records handed over to the team by the treating physicians, however, provide
the dates on which casualties were treated.
Key Findings in Narrative
12. The 37 recorded testimonies from witnesses belonging to the three villages, together
with documentation, including medical records collected by the FFM, present a
composite account of the conditions experienced in the three villages, especially in
the aftermath of the attacks. The frequency of the reported attacks, the first-hand
accounts provided by a relatively large number of witnesses, and the significant
amount of supporting data and documentation create a distinctly discernable and
13. When the attacks began, people responded in the manner to which they had become
accustomed. These villages are under constant attack from high-explosive ordnance.
Such attacks would typically occur following the sound of helicopters flying at high
altitude. A rudimentary early-warning mechanism would warn people to take shelter.
Some spotters would position themselves so as to keep an eye on the movements of
the aircraft. Given the high altitude, the features of the helicopters would be barely
visible, though some witnesses described the helicopters as having a “wing like”
extension on both sides, from which the ordnance—described by them as barrel
bombs—was released. Once released, people expected the familiar strong
thunderclap of high explosives and proportional destruction.
14. In describing the incidents involving the release of toxic chemicals, witnesses
invariably connected the devices to helicopters flying overhead. When dropped, a
piercing heavy, whistling sound—some comparing it to that of a fighter jet in a
dive—would be heard before the barrel hit the ground. Witnesses also invariably
reported the explosions as being muffled. As described, these explosions were more
akin to high-impact crashes rather than to loud explosions. The descriptions of the
locations impacted and of immediate environments suggest that the devices were
designed either to rupture on impact or carry a small improvised explosive charge.
Villagers have collected a grainy compound from an unexploded device that
resembles synthetic chemical fertiliser. A bag full of this material was presented to
15. The physical damage in the immediate environment of the points of impact, as
described and as seen on video, is consistent with what would normally occur as a
result of a heavy object impacting a built-up area with massive force: no fires were
reported, and no obliteration of residential compounds. Common features included
the partial collapsing of roofs—where these devices struck the houses directly—
collapsed walls, and impact craters.
16. In courtyards, domesticated birds and animals died, and leaves on plants facing the
point of impact withered and wilted “as autumn leaves”. In one case, a child standing
close to the impact site died later because of exposure to the toxic chemical, while
showing none of the obvious physical trauma as that usually inflicted by a
conventional explosive device. In the houses that were exposed to the toxic chemical,
discolouration of clothes and furniture was reported.
17. These descriptions are consistent with many publicly available accounts as well as
with the video footage acquired by the FFM. Some of the locations described by the
witnesses tally with those previously reported to have been attacked. Videos seen and
retained by the FFM include a demonstration of geographic coordinates confirming
the points of impact in Talmenes and Kafz Zita.
18. Other reports that provide further insight into the conditions include observations by
ordinary citizens that low-lying areas created greater exposure than higher elevations.
In one village, citizens had identified and used a low-lying area in the north-east of
the village as a refuge against shrapnel and flying debris during conventional attacks.
On 21 April 2014, when Talmenes was first struck by toxic chemicals, the wind was
blowing towards the east. Unaware of the downwind hazard of toxic chemicals,
unsuspecting villagers attempted to escape to their usual shelter. The gas cloud also
headed in the same direction and descended into the depression, thus leading to the
large number of casualties. Relating a similar observation, a volunteer first responder
with no training and only basic education said that, driving through the village, the
lower lying parts carried a stronger odour of the substance than higher elevations.
19. The FFM repeatedly encountered accounts of people attempting to flee the affected
areas and taking precautions instinctively or to best of their knowledge and resources.
One family, whose house was struck, reportedly took shelter in the bathroom,
standing under a shower; others reported covering their mouths and faces with wet
towels, and still others unsuccessfully tried to protect themselves using paper masks
that are effective only against dust. A sleeping toddler escaped serious exposure
because her face was covered with a blanket to protect her against insects. Other
family members suffered much greater exposure.
20. One account described to the FFM concerned an attack that occurred “one day before
the end of Ramadan” this year, and just a few minutes before the time to break the
daily fast. The affected individuals in this case had taken refuge in a basement
shelter, expecting a conventional attack from a helicopter, when a barrel bomb with
chlorine fell some 40 to 50 m away from the shelter. This basement shelter,
approximately 10 x 10 m in size, has two entrances/exits; one opening to the north
and another opening to the south-east. The latter is connected to a street at a higher
elevation compared to the northern exit. The shelter was packed with people from the
neighbourhood. They were informed about the chlorine attack and asked to escape to
higher ground. By this time, the victims also began to smell the odour of chlorine.
Some people took the south-east exit and were less exposed, whereas those who took
the north exit ran directly into the chlorine cloud heading in a north-south direction.
These individuals developed more severe symptoms, with some immediately falling
unconscious and regaining consciousness later in the hospital.
21. People typically described a dense, honey wax-to-yellow hue towards the centre of
the cloud rising from the impact of the devices. The cloud would rise to a height of
approximately 60 to 70 m and then settle, moving along the ground in the direction of
the wind. All described the toxic chemical smell as being very strong, irritating, and
of “chlorine”. The intensity of the odour would begin to reduce in the vicinity of
impact sites some 30 to 45 minutes later.
22. Casualties were evacuated from the vicinity of the impact sites by ambulance; some
were makeshift, with volunteers using personal cars and motorbikes, and some people
were evacuated on foot. Another striking feature in the testimonies was that local
field hospitals established to treat the war wounded were severely handicapped in
treating the high number of casualties, and there was therefore a frequent transfer of
patients to the neighbouring villages. The doctors who were interviewed reported
treating patients from other locations. This was a recurring theme during the
interviews. Many severely affected individuals were reported to have been evacuated
for treatment outside of Syria. The hospital admission and discharge records from
these hospitals have not yet been accessed by the FFM. The FFM was made aware
that autopsies on at least two victims were also performed outside Syria, and the
findings from the pathology report are also of interest to the FFM as further
23. In the earlier attacks, first responders rushing to the scene to help reported getting
exposed themselves, some seriously, with many requiring medical attention. As the
attacks became more frequent, people adapted. First responders started using wet
cloths or trauma bandages as masks. With the very first attacks, medical
professionals expecting the usual war victims reported being taken aback by the fact
that the mere presence of victims in the hospitals made the entire premises smell
strongly of a substance similar to what was variously described as bleach, cleaning
material, or chlorine. The medical personnel at these clinics did not have personal
protective equipment for their personal safety, and had to manage with surgical masks
and latex gloves. Most of them also later suffered from symptoms resulting from
cross-contamination. Physical injuries, such as those caused by conventional
ordnance, were nearly always absent among those reporting to the hospitals for
24. Those reporting casualties to the clinics frequently decontaminated themselves by
washing their face and exposed parts of body with soap and water. In one instance,
people even used the available carbonated drinks, believing these to be effective.
Clinical effects of exposure as described to the FFM
25. The typical presenting symptoms of those who were exposed to the toxic chemical
included a burning sensation in the eyes, redness and itching in the eyes, excessive
tearing, blurred vision, a burning sensation on the face and exposed skin, burning in
the throat, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a feeling of suffocation,
excessive nasal discharge, excessive watering in the mouth, nausea, vomiting,
abdominal pain, diarrhoea, headache, generalised weakness, drowsiness,
disorientation, a feeling of panic, and loss of consciousness.
26. The spectrum of clinical signs as observed by medical personnel included redness of
the eyes, excessive lacrimation, rhinorrhoea, coughing, tachypnoea, dyspnoea,
orthopnea, cyanosis, increased tracheal secretions, which were frothy and pink in
severe cases, hypoxemia, with pulse oximetry showing an SpO2 of less than 60% in
severe cases, agitation, and altered levels of consciousness. In the most severe cases,
patients had diffuse crepitations on auscultation and advanced respiratory distress.
Available X-rays of those most severely affected show pulmonary oedema.
27. The medical team members of the FFM clinically examined some of those who were
exposed but did not detect any abnormalities, though these individuals complained of
increased sensitivity to strong odours, generalised weakness, occasional bouts of
coughing, reduced stamina, and dyspnoea on exertion.
28. The treatment provided to those affected after initial exposure included oxygen
inhalation, nebulisation with salbutamol, intravenous delivery of the steroids
hydrocortisone or dexamethasone, intravenous fluids, and airway suction to remove
secretions. Most of the less exposed casualties responded well to the treatment
provided, with people being discharged from clinics within two to three hours. The
most severely affected needed to be intubated and required mechanical ventilation.
Since the local clinics are without ventilators, such casualties were referred to other
hospitals outside of Syria, with a number of them not surviving the journey.
29. Thirty-seven testimonies of primary witnesses, representing not only the treating
medical professionals but a cross-section of society, as well as documentation
including medical reports and other relevant information corroborating the
circumstances, incidents, responses, and actions, provide a consistent and credible
narrative. This constitutes a compelling confirmation that a toxic chemical was used
as a weapon, systematically and repeatedly, in the villages of Talmanes, Al Tamanah,
and Kafr Zeta in northern Syria. The descriptions, physical properties, behaviour of
the gas, and signs and symptoms resulting from exposure, as well as the response of
the patients to the treatment, leads the FFM to conclude, with a high degree of
confidence, that chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question.
30. Following the establishment of the FFM in late April, there was a marked reduction in
allegations, especially in the months of May, June and July. However, during the
month of August there was a spate of new allegations, with accounts of the incidents
bearing strong resemblance to those that are now confirmed as having been chlorine