Evidence Consistent with the Possibility of a Poison Gas Release from an Attack on an Ammunition Depot in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017

By Theodore A. Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT.  Postol’s main expertise is in ballistic missiles. He has a substantial background in air dispersal, including how toxic plumes move in the air. Postol has taught courses on weapons of mass destruction – including chemical and biological threats – at MIT.  Before joining MIT, Postol worked as an analyst at the Office of Technology Assessment, as a science and policy adviser to the chief of naval operations, and as a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory.  He also helped build a program at Stanford University to train mid-career scientists to study weapons technology in relation to defense and arms control policy. Postol is a highly-decorated scientist, receiving the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society, the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Richard L. Garwin Award from the Federation of American Scientists.

I have been examining the possibility that the attack on April 4, 2017 hit an ammunition dump as claimed by the Russians. Videos taken on the morning of the attack of the explosive debris clouds from four targets that were hit provide strong circumstantial evidence that this Russian explanation could be true. One of the clouds is quite distinctly different from all the others – with a base-area of the debris cloud stem that covers an area five or more times larger than the cloud-stem bases of the other bomb debris clouds.

This is consistent with the possibility that this debris cloud was created by an initial explosion followed by a series of secondary explosions – a situation that would be expected if the site was in fact an ammunition dump.

I have also looked up data on poisonous gases that could be generated by the combustion of plastics and photographs of the dead and dying from the Bhopal, India chemical accident of December 2/3, 1984. Many of the apparent symptoms of the victims from the Bhopal catastrophe are similar in appearance to those observed in victims of the Khan Sheikhoun attack.

In Bhopal, the gases released were not only extremely toxic, but they were also capable of burning the skin and eyes. The immediate and most deadly effect of these gases was when they were inhaled. The gases reacted with water in the lungs and created a large generation of fluids that caused victims to drown in their own lung fluids. This effect led to some victims showing foaming at the mouth and nose – an effect that can be generated from many toxic gases and is not unique to nerve agent.

There is no apparent evidence of burns from caustic gases in the pictures of alleged victims from the Khan Sheikhoun event. However, the case of Bhopal is distinctly different because of a particular pesticide component that was released during the accident. There is no doubt that very dangerous materials like phosgene, carbonyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide and a variety of highly toxic and dangerous organic compounds can be produced by a simple mass fire that simply involves plastics. One could expect a considerably more toxic release of gases if an ammunition dump was hit where a variety of chemicals could be stored, including precursors for the production of nerve agents.

This is not proof that the Russian explanation for a mass poisoning is correct, but given that there is no evidence to support the American alternative explanation of a sarin release from an airdropped munition at a site identified by the White House Intelligence Report, this additional data does provide some information that is relevant to the ongoing discussions on this matter.

Images of Poisoned Victims from the Gas Release from a Chemical Pesticide Plant in Bhopal, India on December 2/3, 1984

Postol - BhopalEvidence of Bomb Hit on Possible Ammunition and Chemical Storage Site

Postol - Bhopal 2Postol - Bhopal 3Postol - Bhopal 4Summary of Toxic Gases That Can Be Created from Combusting Plastics – Does Not Include Toxic Gases That Can Be Created from Other Materials Released in Accompanying Explosions

Postol - Bhopal 5


Here’s the .pdf version of Dr. Postol’s essay: Evidence Consistent with the Possibility of a Poison Gas Release _(April25,2017)_Optimized

For Dr. Postol’s previous essays on this issue, see:

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  • magchiel matthijsen

    This is the First time I saw something of an explanation. Thank you!

  • Marko

    There’s a lot of unanswered questions that haven’t been addressed by on-the-ground reporters ( who would all be rebel-friendly ) that makes me think there’s a massive cover-up in play.

    The video of the mushroom clouds came out almost right away – it was downloaded to youtube about 10 AM local on the 4th. Higgins and crew immediately geo-located the 4 target sites , none of which were in close proximity to the “sarin pothole”. In all this time , we’ve seen hardly any damage assessments from those four sites , even though reporters did manage to find the time to give us an extensive tour of the silo area that was bombed months ago , a tour which was – save for the picture of the dead goat – a total waste of time.

    Only one witness that I’m aware of spoke about the event in a way that can be linked to one of those four sites – a 14-year-old girl who said she was close by when a bomb hit a 1-story building on its roof , with a big mushroom cloud then rising over it.

    The mushroom clouds themselves aren’t particularly unusual , you can find hundreds of pics from other Syrian air strikes that look similar. I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see evidence of rebel CW materials even if we had close-ups from overhead drone shots of the target sites. That stuff is usually stored below ground , in basements and tunnels.

    We’ve seen almost nothing connecting any of the dead or injured to a specific geographical location in the town. ” Corniche St. ” is about all we’ve got , and nobody knows where the hell it is.

    Is the reason there were no pictures taken at those sites because there was no early-morning Syrian air strike at all ( which is the Russian story ) ? If so , the video is a fake , copy-pasted from some earlier strike on Khan Sheikhun ( there’ve been quite a few ) , and we have no video or photos of the actual Syrian air strike , which they claim happened closer to midday , on the eastern outskirts of the town.

    If the strike did happen , could noxious fumes still be leaking from deep beneath the rubble at one or more of the four sites, and nobody will get near those areas , for pictures or anything else ?

    Say the early-morning video is real. What are the chances that a news agency out of Gazientep , the location of Head-Choppers Inc. headquarters , would have a drone in the air at just the right time and place to capture that beautiful video ? That’s what’s been claimed , here :


    “…The truth begins to emerge with the video shot by a drone operated by the Gaziantep-based Qasioun News Agency, which just “happened” to be hovering north of Khan Sheikhoun at daybreak, when a Syrian Su-22 fired 4 missiles at the town….”

    Questions , so many questions…..

  • Marko

    I think it’s only a matter of time now. They’re not worried about doing a proper investigation. Fake investigations were always going to be the best we could hope for. Here’s the start of what I’m sure will be a trend in reports assigning blame , which eventually will lead to Assad hiding in a drainpipe somewhere , while the future leaders of Syria rape his wife , behead her , and then take Syria back to the good old days of medievalism ( who knows , that might be better than idiocracy ):

    National evaluation
    Chemical attack of 4 April 2017 (Khan Sheikhoun)
    Clandestine Syrian chemical weapons programme


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