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Wednesday
Jan232013

Syria Exclusive: Proving the Assad Jet Fighter's Attack on Aleppo University

UPDATE: We have posted an important follow-up story with additional evidence. See Syria Exclusive: Definitive Evidence of Regime Airstrikes on Aleppo University.

Original article is below:


On 15 January, two explosions, three minutes apart, ripped through Aleppo University during the first day of final exams. At least 80 students were killed, and many more were wounded.

Within minutes, reports flooded social media that a regime warplane had fired two missiles at the campus. A student posted on Twitter:

A plane hit with two shells. We saw the plane with our own eyes. I am not going to doubt my eyes and believe regime media.

When the plane roamed above the university following the shelling, the university guards and soldiers told us, "Hide, the plane is back!"

Many witnesses saw an aircraft. Several contacts told EA that the aircraft was at a relatively high altitude when it fired, then it circled around and fired again. However, no videos appeared to show an airplane. One video may have revealed the puff of a jet vapor trail. but this was inconclusive.

The regime claimed that these were car bombs. With no hard evidence, the question of who killed the Aleppo students seemed destined to remain a mystery.

Until today.

This video shows the smoke rising from the roundabout, the location of the first blast. As the cameraman walks towards the blast, just around the 27-second mark, there is a loud sound. It is the roar of a self-powered subsonic aircraft-delivered explosive --- a missile.

This is not a car bomb. Neither the sound, nor the explosive pattern, nor the flash of flames, nor the debris field match that type of explosive.

Consider the damage pattern in this picture from the University. The cars are leaning to the left, away from the building and towards the road, indicating that the blast came from the right side of the road (click for full-sized image):

An analysis of the audio on the video reveals no evidence that this was faked. Moreover, a second video corroborates the audio, with a similar sound is heard immediately before the 2nd explosion.

Spectrographic analysis software indicates, the sound shares many characteristics with that on the first video, though the acoustics are different. This suggests that both videos have captured the audio of the same missile from different angles.

Another analyst looked more closely at the first video. Immediately before the explosion, one can make out the missile in four different frames. In frame 1. the missile is near the lamp post, in the 2nd frame it has moved forward, in the 3rd it is barely visible, and in the 4th there is an explosion (click for full size):

A question remiains: was this a missile launched from an aircraft, or was this a missile launched from the ground? If it was the former, then this was a cold, pre-meditated attack on the behalf of the pilot, and likely his commanding officers. If it was the latter, is it possible that the insurgents launched a surface-to-surface rocket or a surface-to-air missile, trying to hit a regime warplane, which went astray and struck the University?

In initial dissections of the event, the consensus of a group of arms specialists and military experts was that the insurgents do not have any weapons this advanced. No RPG or shoulder-fired missile has this destructive power. It is unlikely that a vehicle-mounted SAM could do this level of damage, and it is even less likely that such a weapon was in range. The insurgents have also not been seen with GRAD rockets or any other long-range surface-to-surface or surface-to-air missile that is capable of this kind of damage.

The first explosion was 400-500 feet north of the second, at the roundabout. The cameraman was walking north, towards the roundabout, and was about 400-500 feet away from the second explosion --- we can tell by video analysis and the audio delay). Felim McMahon of Storyful has created the map below:


View Double explosion at Aleppo University in a larger map

We know that the missile travelled from the south because we hear the missile before we see or hear the explosion. We also know that the two explosions were three minutes apart. The proximity of the blasts point away from a dumb-fired rocket or artillery shell, given their relative lack of precision, particularly since there was a significant and unpredictable wind that day. The closeness of the two explosions could be explained if the missile or artillery shell were fired down the road from a relatively short range. But, in this case, the insurgents are almost certainly not responsible, since the western half of Aleppo is occupied by the regime, and to the south of the university are Assad's largest military bases in the region.

Nothing in the video is consistent with a surface-to-surface missile or artillery shell. All but the most advanced surface-to-surface missiles are not under active power when they strike their target. The rocket fires, propels the missile on a course, and then the rocket glides to its destination.

This audio does not sound anything like an unpowered rocket obtainable in Syria. It sounds even less like an artillery shell. It is the sound of a fully-powered missile, like the ones fired from jet fighters.

Furthermore, the larger surface-to-surface rockets would leave destroyed rocket casings and other tell-tale signs that we constantly see across Syria. None of this evidence is visible.

But where is the airplane? The answer may be in the first video we posted above. Around the 40-second mark, a low roar can be heard. Analyzing the frequencies of the audio. it is clear that the sound is not caused by wind --- that set of frequencies are only consistent with the roar of a jet fighter.

Here's what the evidence suggests. A regime jet fighter lined up on the main street that leads south to north through the center of Aleppo and fired a missile. The plane then circled, lined up on the boulevard again, and fired a second missile three minutes later.

While the evidence clearly supports this conclusion, it also raises a disturbing question. The precision of the two strikes suggests that this was a deliberate target --- a clearly non-military target --- with explosions designed to have maximum impact. Did at least some of the command structure of the Syrian military, and not just the individual pilot, have knowledge of this mission? If so, was the goal was to kill as many students as possible and then --- using the quick reaction of the Syrian media --- blame this attack on the insurgents?

Those are questions deserving further examination. But, at least on this occasion, it is possible to at least get past the initial "fog of war" to establish responsibility.

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