On 7 April 2018 reports emerged from a suburb of Damascus, Douma, claiming that a chemical weapons attack had occurred. Images of dead women and children inside an apartment building were circulated over the internet along with hospital scenes showing alleged victims being hosed down with water. Within days, images of two yellow cylinders purported to have been dropped by Syrian Arab Air Force air helicopters also appeared. Images of the deceased, which showed over 40 civilians appearing to have dropped dead on the spot, gathering in piles and with some showing profuse foaming at the mouth, suggested to many experts and officials that a fast acting nerve agent had been used. Within days a Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) was deployed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in order to investigate the alleged incident, although not before the US, Britain and France had carried out military strikes against Syria having already concluded the attack had occurred as alleged.
This rush to judgement was far from warranted. Quite aside from the fact that the Syrian government denied having carried out any attack, reports from the ground suggested ample grounds for caution in drawing hasty conclusions. Interviews with civilians suggested no attack had occurred whilst the late Robert Fisk reported in the British newspaper the Independent similar doubts by a Syrian doctor. Experienced military commander Major General Jonathan Shaw questioned why the Syrian government would launch a chemical weapons attack when it had already enjoyed a clear military advantage. Perhaps most significantly, on 26 April the Russian Federation took witnesses to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague who testified to the hospital scenes as having been staged.