Syria Christian Nun Claims Rebels, Not Assad, Set Off Chemical Weapons
Caution: The report linked to in this article contains graphic images of the casualties of the August 21 Syria chemical weapons attack.
A Syria-based nun has claimed that the chemical weapons attack in Syria in August was caused by rebel groups, contradicting claims by the United States and its allies that the attack was instigated by President Bashir Al-Assad.
Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix, a Lebanese nun who has lived in Syria for decades, released a report last month arguing that the chemical weapons video footage was manipulated to frame Assad's regime.
"Our study highlight without any doubt that [children's] little bodies were manipulated and disposed with theatrical arrangements to figure in the screening," stated the report.
"We accuse the editors of the video of artificial scenic treatment of what should have been honest information footage. The cynic manipulation of the little inanimate bodies, that seem to be under anesthesia, endangered the life of the children and raises in our minds the question of their safety and the real reason of death," the statement continued.
The report claims it has come to this conclusion based on evidence from screening 13 of the first 35 videos uploaded after the attacks.
Mother Agnes claimed to the BBC that after comparing video footage, she believes she can see the same child's body in several locations, an indication in her mind that the rebels had manipulated the information.
"Why should they take a corpse to many locations?" she said. "It is evidence my dear... I am not a commission of inquiry, but for me it is sure. I have evidence that confirms there's been manipulation of the corpses."
Mother Agnes also found it suspicious that she did not find images of the parents of many of the child victims.
"What strikes every one is the amount of children that seem mostly sleeping, that are coming from nowhere, are deprived of family or simply lost by their relatives and that remain until the moment of their burial unidentified," the report stated.
Another section of the report asked why multiple animals who died of chemical attacks were shown together.
"How was it possible to gather those animals while thousands of human beings were dying and in bad need of help?" the claims continued.
The report also alleged that Ghouta, the main area that was targeted by chemical weapons, was relatively deserted, and suggested that those killed were none other than a group of Alawite women and children who had been kidnapped from the rebels.
However, the claims by the nun have been rebuked by a host of others, including Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director of Human Rights Watch, who told the BBC that his organization, which has consistently documented Syria Civil War atrocities, that "there's just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes."
"She is not a professional video forensic analyst... we have found no evidence to indicate any of the videos were fabricated," he added.
According to Human Rights Watch, contrary to Mother Agnes' claims, thousands of civilians were trapped in Ghouta and human rights documenters who spoke to family members of the kidnapped Alawite families did not recognize their families in the footage.
Further, the group claims the bodies of the dead women, men and children were placed in separate rooms to better prepare for burial and the number of children casualties was high because they had been sleeping in basements to protect themselves from shelling.
While Mother Agnes has denied being an Assad apologist, she has accused the rebels of committing atrocities before, and pointed to an image of Afghanistan as an example of what the situation would turn into if the rebels won.
"I found a situation like Afghanistan with Islamic tribunals... which decided if people would be beheaded, cut to pieces or raped," she told BBC.
Throughout Syria's civil war, Christians have been targeted by rebels and been the victims of kidnappings. Many Syrian Christians have expressed fear that a rebel takeover could been an end to their presence in the country and church leaders have begged the U.S. not to move forward with military intervention as they fear it would lead to rebels taking over the country, with Islamic extremist groups, who wish to eradicate Christians from the country, taking the core role in the country's future.