Just a coincidence? Attack on Sarmada coincided with Russian orchestra's Palmyra performance

A screenshot from a YouTube video posted by the Syria Civil Defense group allegedly showing the aftermath of an airstrike on a Syrian refugee camp in the town of Sarmada near Aleppo on May 5, 2016. © YouTube / media.civildefense idlib
Genuine coincidences are rare, and that this attack should take occur at same time as Russia’s Palmyra performance could have been planned to knock that event out of the headlines, Charles Shoebridge, former UK army officer and security analyst, told RT.

The attack on the Aleppo refugee camp on May 5 was being described by the majority of media reports as an airstrike. But the UN's refugee agency chief said that could not be confirmed. Russia's Defense Ministry also cast doubt on whether war planes were involved. Moscow said it registered no air activity in that area over at that time. The White House also confirmed that coalition planes were not operating there.

RT: You've seen the pictures from the scene of the attack. Does it look to you like it's not an air strike, as the Russian Defense Ministry believes?

Charles Shoebridge: I think the question is good but has to be rephrased: whether there is actually conclusive evidence that an airstrike has taken place. And I think the answer to that at the moment has got to be ‘no there isn’t’. I think from the outset, even those who were able to watch the video on their phone, for example, as I was at the beginning can see that there are a number of questions to be answered.

For example, one would normally associate from an airstrike, as the Russian Defense Ministry said, some degree of cratering if heavy weapons were used. There is no sign in these videos as far as I can see of any substantial craters left by these weapons. Also it is interesting to see while there was clearly a lot of effect from the impact of fire in the camp in the videos that I’ve seen at least, there doesn’t seem to be much sign of the effects of blast. Although it may have taken place, but it hasn’t taken place on the videos that I’ve seen that are widely available and being used as an evidence of the strike online. When you get blast, for example, it would be surprising – a blast can act in different ways for sure - but nonetheless with a blast that you would expect from the heavy weapons used in an airstrike you wouldn’t expect tent structures still to be standing, notwithstanding in other words, the frames are still standing in the video even though the cloth is in bits and pieces still lying around...

When you look at this Russian analysis of, for example, fracture patterns on the ground, they, with their analysis tools, are in a better position to judge what kinds of weapons were used. But also it is important to realize that there is saturation reconnaissance coverage from the area and from space of this area by Russia and the US. And it is clear both parties in this have the ability to analyze, if the weather was clear, and it probably was, what are those fracture patterns on the ground was and what kind of weapons were likely used. That is in the gift of all powers to actually know. 

RT: The Russian Defense Ministry suspects the attack was by the al-Nusra Front, which uses rocket launchers. The group recently released a video showing they can carry out such shelling. Are they the likely culprits?

CS: Well, al-Nusra are certainly operating in this area. It is fair to say the kind of weapons that - without the very detailed analysis… and detailed inspection of satellite or air photos can reveal, for example, this fracture or strike patterns on the ground. Without having that ability in our possession, it is difficult to say. But remember these kind of rocket launchers that could cause this kind of attack - even mortar rounds could cause this kind of attack - are widely used by all parties in the Syrian conflict. So, therefore, whether by accident or design or whether it is a deliberate false flag, perhaps, to distract attention and to blame issues again on Assad or Russia, it is difficult to say at this stage. What is needed is – as has been said elsewhere - an independent investigation. How likely that is to happen is anyone’s guess. But again another point here is really to say how - without clear and conclusive evidence - yet again much of the Western media – not all of it - has jumped to the conclusion that whatever the opposition says and produce videos is actually true notwithstanding the lack of clear evidence to actually support those claims.  

Former Pentagon officer Michael Maloof told RT: "It is Al-Nusra’s interest to cast as much aspersion on the Assad government as possible. And I don’t think Assad’s military would undertake such an effort considering that it is part of the ceasefire: the Russian government and Assad have agreed that they are going for a ceasefire. And this just would be contrary to anything that has been agreed to. And certainly by the Russian government which has a major influence over President Bashar Assad. I find it ludicrous that it was an airstrike… either by the Russians or the Syrians. And the White House is claiming that there was no US activity, that’s probably correct."

RT: Moscow says it's significant that the attack in Sarmada coincided with the Russian orchestra's concert in Palmyra. What do you make of the timing?

CS: Well it is. Again, if people don’t believe in coincidences - and for one as a former investigator and observer of life generally, genuine coincidences are actually rare. And the fact that this so-called attack should take place just at that time, just to knock that off the headlines and again to put the Assad government and Russia back on the back foot, it wouldn’t be surprising.  As well given the speed of comment by certain individuals, for example, Philip Hammond the UK foreign secretary was very quick to blame Assad for this attack; very quick to distract attention from what Russia has achieved there. Yet again, though, it is worth noting that this attack again using rebel-supplied opposition video comes in the very week, largely uncovered by Western media except The Guardian, I would say, to its credit, it’s been revealed that for many years opposition video, YouTube channels and Twitter accounts have in fact been run by the UK government and the UK military. And if people are interested in that story, look at The Guardian website or my Twitter feed where the links are prominently there. It’s an interesting story.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.