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Chemical attack evidence was manipulated to blame Syrian government, report claims

WEAPONS inspectors deliberately manipulated evidence to frame the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack in Douma last year, according to a whistleblower.

A panel convened by the Courage Foundation, a trust for the legal defence of whistleblowers and journalists, met with a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team that investigated the site of the alleged attack in April 2018.

It heard “disturbing evidence” of how information was manipulated to favour a “preordained conclusion.”

The alleged chemical attack on Douma drew international outrage and sparked air strikes by Britain, France and the United States after those countries blamed the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

But the case began unravelling soon after as many of those on the ground disputed the details, some saying the attack had been staged by pseudo-humanitarian group the White Helmets.

A dissenting engineering report leaked earlier this year – having been inexplicably excluded from the OPCW report – had already cast doubt on the official narrative that Mr Assad’s forces were responsible.

The report found that the chemical gas cylinders had not been dropped from above as claimed, but had in fact been manually placed at the two locations investigated.

The OPCW whistleblower told the panel, which included Dr Jose Bustani, the first director-general of the OPCW, that key evidence had been withheld from the inspectors.

This included the omission of controls from chemical analyses, which that meant there was no way of making a comparison – a basic component of scientific experiments.

The lack of controls obscured whether the chemical markers detected were from a chemical attack or just naturally occurring background traces.

The OPCW report was highly flawed, with no adequate peer review, the Courage Foundation warned, adding that it was carried out with a predetermined outcome – to blame the Syrian government.

OPCW inspectors who took part in the investigation should be allowed to come forward and report their differing observations to the states that are party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the group said.

Mr Bustani said: “The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had.

“I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing.”

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