In July 2019, Hidden Syria’s Phillip Watson published an investigation looking into two alleged chemical attacks in Syria’s Aleppo in November 2016.
It specifically looked into the interesting “anomaly” of one and the same chlorine cylinder being used in two separate alleged chemical attacks 24 hours apart.
It all began when Watson looked into a report by Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, who used an image of an alleged chlorine cylinder from an alleged attack in December 2016 to claim that another attack had been carried out in March 2017.
The original photo and claim for the December 2016 were written on Bellingcat itself, which stands to prove the integrity, professionalism and investigative skills of an individual who evidently failed to “investigate” what content his website had used earlier.
Bellingcat’s Christiaan Triebert reported that the first incident had allegedly taken place in the Al-Bab Road District in Aleppo around 16:30 on November 20th, 2016.
“Incident 4: Al-Bab Road district
Location: Al-Bab road district near Al-Helwanyeh roundabout, Aleppo city
Date: November 20, 2016, around 16:30
Reported casualties: no information
Claimed chemical: chlorine gas
Alleged perpetrator: Syrian government”
One of the videos the author uses as evidence is from the Aleppo Media Center.
It’s supposed to show a man by the name of “Othman” who, according to Christiaan, “claims to be a lawyer and activist working for the Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability”
Othman, having heard the alleged attack take place, rushed to the scene and did “the only logical thing” – took possession of the alleged chemical canister containing a deadly chemical agent.
He did so while being protected by a simple dust protector mask.
The individual, Othman, claims that he is a lawyer and that he is also an activist with the Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability. He claimed that a helicopter dropped the alleged chlorine cylinder. He went to the location of impact to document the attack, and said he found a cylinder which is 1 meter in length and 25cm in width.
The back of the cylinder had evidently exploded, with a hole there of about 50 cm. A logo of the Al-Baha Company for Caustic Chlorine Industry (BCC) can be seen on the cylinder. There is also a warning written in English on the cylinder that it contains gas.
The Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability for whom Othman is reportedly an activist were also on-site to record the impact location.
“Was this just another example of a random cylinder resting on a road minus impact crater and fragments? Or is the video suggesting the corner of the building was brought down by this cylinder? It is not clear and so far none of my searches have thrown up any mention of this alleged attack that didn’t draw a path back to Bellingcat and Christiaan’s article,” Watson concluded.
Bellingcat then geolocated the video. And they did all that without a shred of evidence that a chemical attack had even taken place.
The investigation suggested that the cylinder had been thrown from a helicopter, hit the corner of a building and broken it.
However, Watson by using Google Earth discovered that the corner of the building was already broken in imagery from June 21st 2016, not 5 months later on November 20th, 2016 when Bellingcat suggested it happened.
Watson provided a screenshot of the geolocation by Bellingcat, and his own showing where the building was.
The entire video and the situation of the cylinder just makes little sense.
“If that is not what is being implied, then what is? That the cylinder just came to rest at that location with no impact crater or other shrapnel? It picked an interesting place to land; right beside a damaged building.”
A similar incident took place on January 22nd, 2018 in Douma. The cylinder magically appeared on the rooftop of a building, no impact crater or anything to suggest that it fell from anywhere, rather than being placed.
Some other discrepancies further include that the videos published by the Aleppo Media Center and the Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability show the exact same cylinder.
The left side of the photo shows the cylinder in the Aleppo Media Center (AMC) video, the right side the one from the Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability (SIJA).
The timeline is as follows:
- The alleged attack took place on November 20th, 2016 at 16:30;
- On November 22nd, SIJA published the video of the alleged impact site;
- On November 23rd, AMC uploaded the video of the alleged SIJA activist Othman discussing the cylinder;
Then, on the very next day, November 24th 2016, a video published by SIJA shows the cylinder at a different location, at Al-Jisr.
Here are photographs of stills from “all three” cylinders, showing that they are, in fact, just one and the same.
The claims of chlorine attacks in Aleppo on the 20 November 2016 were also noted by the OPCW in a report dated 27 December 2016. This wasn’t simply a case of some random claim that didn’t make it into the news. These were allegations that were taken seriously.
As it has been made apparent time and again, Bellingcat and others frequently and unabashedly attempt to fit the evidence to the narrative, and not the other way around.
In late November 2019, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva also rebuked allegations made by Bellingcat regarding her investigative work and integrity. She responded in an article that provided ample evidence for all her claims. As for an investigation to be an adequate one, duly presented and proven evidence needs to be provided, and then a hypothesis (a narrative) is constructed based on what has been found, rather than Bellingcat’s practice of establishing the narrative and then attempting to fit reality to it.
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