Phosphorous claims linked to BBC incendiary bomb story “scientifically proven to be false”

Claims that phosphorous bombs were used in an alleged attack which was reported in the 2013 BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria’s Children were “scientifically proven to be false” according to a contemporary report on the website Suriye Gerçekleri (Syria Truths).

The Suriye Gerçekleri report relates the claim of an unnamed Syrian doctor who purportedly travelled to Turkey with the victims of an aerial attack on the high school in the town of Urm al-Kubra, Aleppo on 26 August 2013. [1]

While these details identify the event as that featured in Saving Syria’s Children and related BBC News reports, the doctor’s reported claim that “warplanes first fired missiles and then phosphorus bombs” is at odds with the BBC’s account, which describes one plane which dropped a single bomb containing “something like napalm or thermite” on the school. [2]

In respect of the phosphorous claim Suriye Gerçekleri asserts that:

“It turned out that the “phosphorus bomb” claim, which was also covered in the Turkish media, was a lie after no chemical findings were found in the wounded”.

The article elaborates:

“Border experts, on the other hand, said that the wounded had undergone chemical inspection at the border entrance, but that no such suspicion had yet been encountered”.

“No chemical findings were found. The injured who came to the Cilvegözü Border Gate last night and their relatives were sent to hospitals by ambulances, after being strictly controlled by Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear (KRBN) experts.”

“CBRN experts did not find any chemical or biological findings in their rigorous screening. When a chemical or biological attack is detected in the CBRN scan at the border, he is allowed to enter the country after certain cleaning and drug treatment”

“It did not go unnoticed that the phosphorus bomb allegations, which turned out to be false, were met with great interest in the Turkish media”.

The phosphorous claim was reported by Reuters and other sources. [3]

As phosphorous is classed as an incendiary rather than a chemical weapon, Suriye Gerçekleri’s apparent assumption that the substance would register in a CBRN screening may be flawed. Napalm or thermite, as suggested in the BBC’s accounts, are also incendiary substances.

Some of the conflicting accounts of the nature of the munition/s used in the alleged attack are collated here.

In 2020 a former BBC employee claimed that sequences of the aftermath of the alleged attack broadcast in Saving Syria’s Children had been staged using casualty simulation techniques.

Victims of the alleged incendiary attack, BBC 10 O’Clock News, 29 August 2013

In 2019 actor Keith Allen fronted a campaign to crowdfund a documentary to investigate the many anomalies and controversies surrounding Saving Syria’s Children, including the Panorama team’s embedding with then ISIS partners Ahrar al-Sham and possible collusion with ISIS itself.

In 2021 Darren Conway produced a follow up Panorama to Saving Syria’s Children entitled Syria’s Schools Under Attack, which, possibly uniquely for an edition of the BBC’s flagship current affairs series, was not broadcast on BBC1.

The new documentary introduced a number of further incongruities which remain unresolved.


Notes

[1] Google translation of the full article:

The news that phosphorus bombs were used in Syria has been scientifically proven to be false.
Added Date and Time: 27 August 2013 18:52

A Syrian doctor, who came to Turkey with the wounded in Syria last night, claimed that warplanes first fired missiles and then phosphorus bombs. It turned out that the “phosphorus bomb” claim, which was also covered in the Turkish media, was a lie after no chemical findings were found in the wounded.

A Syrian doctor, who claimed that chemical weapons were used in Orm El Kubra Town of Aleppo city and came to Turkey with the wounded last night, claimed that warplanes first fired missiles and then phosphorus bombs. Border experts, on the other hand, said that the wounded had undergone chemical inspection at the border entrance, but that no such suspicion had yet been encountered.

Claiming that warplanes targeted the high school in the town, the Syrian doctor said, “Last night at around 18.00, the warplanes first launched missiles and then rained phosphorus bombs. Many children and many of our people were burned to death in the attack. We brought the injured to Turkey to be treated. Our relatives, who had significant burns on their bodies, were subjected to chemical and biological control when entering Turkey.

No chemical findings were found
The injured who came to the Cilvegözü Border Gate last night and their relatives were sent to hospitals by ambulances, after being strictly controlled by Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear (KRBN) experts.

CBRN experts did not find any chemical or biological findings in their rigorous screening. When a chemical or biological attack is detected in the CBRN scan at the border, he is allowed to enter the country after certain cleaning and drug treatment

It did not go unnoticed that the phosphorus bomb allegations, which turned out to be false, were met with great interest in the Turkish media.

[2] The article reports the Syrian doctor as claiming that the attack occurred at 18:00. As noted in the graphic below, Ian Pannell has stated that the attack happened “at around 5.30pm at the end of the school day” while Darren Conway recalls more vaguely “I would say it was around, I don’t know, between three and five”. Other sources have put the alleged attack as early as midday.

Full references here.

The article also reports the doctor as claiming the alleged attack targeted “the high school” in Urm al-Kubra. However in the course of complaints correspondence regarding Saving Syria’s Children BBC Complaints Director Colin Tregear stated (p10):

“My understanding is that the vast majority of schools in Syria have shut down as a result of the ongoing conflict within the country. Many students have not been to school for many, many months. Some private schools have been set up and these are often run from any available premises. In this case I have been informed that the venue was a residential home hired by the headmaster and his colleagues, and they were holding summer courses at the time of the attack”.

[3] Posts on The Syrian Archive (ironically now archived, here and here) refer to a “phosphine chemical attack” while captions beneath images of alleged victims taken by photographer Amer Alfaj refer to “Napalm and White Phosphorous bombs”.

About Robert Stuart

Researching the 2013 BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria's Children and associated BBC News reports.

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