Monday, January 5, 2015

Innocents Abroad

by MJ

On New Year’s Eve, a true story of “babes in the woods” appeared in the news: two sweet, innocent-looking, and very young Italian women, had disappeared into Darkest Syria, and had reappeared, as prisoners of the al-Nusra Front, humbled, eyes turned to the ground, wrapped-up in black shrouds.

It all started when Greta Ramelli and Vanessa Marzullo, 20 and 21-year-old university students, discovered Syria’s humanitarian crisis. They become involved in the plight of Syria’s children. They did all the right things, according to progressive standards: they signed petitions, they went to demonstrations, they added their little voices to those of the Free World press, crying out for “something” to be done.

Anybody who’s anybody agreed: “something” had to be done, and that “something” was for NATO to turn into the Free Syrian Army’s air force. The young ladies were interviewed, passionately wrapped in the FSA flag—three stars denotes “Free Syria”, as opposed to the cheaper Assad model, deserving only two stars.

Italy of course is where Syrians hope to land, after their families sell their homes to pay smugglers to send a son to Europe. A son, who should—insha’Allah—get as close as possible to Italy, before the smugglers push him overboard or before the unseaworthy boat sinks. Then, he might be able to send some money home and keep the entire family from starving. So, many Syrians come to Italy.

Greta and Vanessa marched; they spoke; they agitated; they were interviewed. They met Syrians with terrorist connections, they met Italians with connections to NATO and the Italian services. They were photographed at a demonstration, holding a sign praising a Syrian Islamist group. In another photo, an Ukrainian flag was seen in the background—the war on Russia has many fronts.

Vanessa, in June 2014, posted in praise of the military success of “Jabhat a-Nusra”. A trip to Syria was planned; it was arranged that the two activists would cross into Syria from Turkey, with a reporter, Daniele Raineri.

Daniele Raineri, a reporter with access to Syria

On April 20, 2014, President François Hollande declared that Syria was still using chemical weapons: “We have a few elements of information but I do not have the proof.”

The Economist observed: “The use of chlorine gas is hard to prove. It is not banned under the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention] and it does not linger, making the extraction of evidence from soil samples almost impossible.”

Nevertheless, on April 29, The Telegraph had a piece under the title “Syria chemical weapons: the proof that Assad regime [is] launching chlorine attacks on children.” The article explained that “chemical tests conducted with The Telegraph now confirm that chlorine gas and ammonia have been used in Idlib, and that the toxins came from barrels that were dropped from helicopters.”

That was an odd conclusion to reach, from some dirt in plastic baggies that an agent had brought to Turkey. How could the chemist tell whether that any unlikely eventual trace of chlorine in the baggies came from chlorine gas in Assad’s bombs, or from chlorine tablets stolen from Assad’s swimming pool?

Clearly, the international community needed a daring agent to travel on location. That was Daniele Raineri, who for years had reported from the Middle East, for the conservative business daily Il Foglio. Conversant with Islamist affairs, he tweets @DanieleRaineri. On May 11, 2014, he had a piece in The Telegraph, with the photograph of the chlorine bombs that President Hollande had been musing about. So, as far as the Free World press goes, the case was closed.


The Telegraph was pleased to report that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had confirmed that “Bashar al-Assad's regime made systematic use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.” Apparently, The Telegraph’s reporter had not read the one-page OPCW report in its entirety; what it said was that “a toxic chemical has been used repeatedly as a weapon in Syria.” However, the OPCW said that it “attempted to visit Kafr Zeta to gather on-site evidence in the aftermath of an alleged use there but was prevented from doing so when the convoy was attacked. The FFM [Fact Finding Mission] then decided to carry out witness interviews in a safe location outside of Syria.”

The OPCW report shows remarkable parallels with another intentionally non-conclusive report, on the MH-17 case, by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB): both DSB and the OPCW investigators said they were attacked, both seemed uninterested in finding out who had attacked them, both decided to go investigate the crime far from the scene of the crime, and both have not been heard from ever since.

The OPCW had been in the news in 2002, when its Director General, the Brasilian Jose Bustani, had been removed; he was negotiating an inspection regime in Iraq, a policy at odds with John Bolton’s plans for Iraq. The OPCW is now chaired by Turkey’s former ambassador to NATO.

The Foreign Office in London was pleased to offer the positive conclusions that had escaped the OPCW: "The systematic and repeated use of chlorine in northern Syria and the consistent reports from witnesses of the presence of helicopters at the times of the attacks leave little doubt as to the Assad regime's culpability.”

The bombs

Mr. Eliot Higgins, “an expert on the munitions used in the Syrian war said this new, low-intensity chemical warfare has not been improvised but carefully planned.”

Which brings us to the issue of cui bono? Why put very valuable helicopters and crews at risk, just to deliver “low intensity” ordnance, when rockets and artillery are available? Only a dozen people were killed in the chlorine gas attacks. Why insist on using such an ineffective weapon—after giving up the very effective nerve gas?

Most important, Raineri’s photographs show improvised munitions, of the type that had been used in Iraq, since 2006.*_7_*_/le-prove-degli-attacchi-al-cloro-raccolte-sul-campo-in-siria.htm Such bombs were made by adding a chlorine cylinder to a car bomb.

Yet, the good folks at Human Rights Watch decided they had all the evidence required to condemn Syria; they presented the photos of Raineri, adding that a “video shot on the western edge of Keferzita and uploaded to YouTube on April 11 shows the near vertical descent and detonation of an unidentified munition fully consistent with a barrel bomb dropped by helicopter.” Oddly, I fail to see any falling object in the video. An Islamist website did propose a photo of a helicopter with two barrels hanging from it. , but it was a pretty obvious photoshop project.

HRW also cited witnesses of barrels from the sky. I do not find them sufficiently persuasive, since
a. no videotaped testimonies are presented;
b. in wartime, compliant false witnesses for God and Country are not hard to find;
c. in an area where dissidents are beheaded without trial, testimony loses value.

Yet, one simple “conspiracy theory “ can explain everything: when the stakes are high enough, political leaders are tempted to see their own citizens as expendable subjects. Perhaps “only for the sake of liberty and justice”, rulers may order false-flag operations. In recent history, decisions to value the end above the means have given us the Sarajevo breadline bombing, the Markale Market bombings, the 2013 sarin attacks, and in the 2014 chlorine attacks: all those events were just desperate pleas for the intercession of NATO’s angels.

A kidnapping by the "good guys"?

All the good work of Mr. Raineri was placed at risk by NATO leaders’ indecisiveness and by the U.S. military’s resistance. Now NATO’s fiery eye was turning away from Syria, and fixing itself upon Russia, once again.

Still, until the stunning success of ISIL in Iraq, there was some hope, some chance to see the U.S. Air Force in Syria’s sky, and Daniele Raineri was asked to shepherd two young women into the eye of the storm. Upon their return to Italy, the two young ladies would have qualified as an attractive, energetic, vocal FSA-Moderate Islamist propaganda team. They could speak, they wrote well, and their looks and styles made them stand out of the usual crowd at demonstrations; some saw them as the perfect “useful idiots”, ready to do the rounds of TV shows. They crossed the border on July 28.

They were still together on July 31, visiting the chief of the Revolutionary Council of El Ismo, near Aleppo, where the two women were detained; Raineri got away. On the road, they could have fallen into an ambush by chance; however, as guests of a militia leader, it would appear that they were sold, by a leader of the “moderate opposition”. Neither Raineri nor his paper have published details of the event.

As things stand now, we can be sure that we will not have any further information until the appropriate ransom is paid by the Italian government. The Italians will reject any adventurous raid to liberate the ladies. The record of Italy, from years of experience in the Iraq war, is clear: Italian prisoners are not abandoned.