Saving Syria’s Children – Notes for Editors

BBC News at Ten, 29 August 2013


Footage from the BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children (SSC) was first shown on the BBC News at Ten on Thursday the 29th August 2013 as parliament was voting on whether to join a US-led military strike on Syria.

The report by Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway showed adolescent victims of an alleged incendiary attack writhing and groaning in apparent agony. The scenes were harrowing, but oddly unreal. The most frequent comparisons people make upon seeing the sequences are to The Walking Dead or Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

SSC was broadcast a month later on 30 September 2013. Former local newspaper reporter Robert Stuart began corresponding with the BBC using its complaints procedure. As Stuart’s research continued a wealth of troubling information was brought to light:

  1. Accounts of when the alleged attack took place vary by up to six hours.
  2. Local witness statements – including from a Free Syrian Army commander – deny the attack took place.
  3. One of the alleged victims filmed by the BBC being stretchered out of the back of an ambulance screaming in agony can be seen in YouTube footage a short time earlier walking calmly and unaided into the same vehicle.
  4. Medical opinion is highly sceptical of the veracity of the alleged injuries presented in SSC. A GMC registered doctor concluded “the scene of the school children coming in with the burns was an act.”
  5. A former BBC employee, who has worked in Syria and knows Ian Pannell, has stated: “It was obvious to me that the casualties had been dressed up using CASSIM [Casualty Simulation].”
  6. One of the “stars” of SSC, Dr Saleyha Ahsan, fronted a BBC Newsnight report about highly sophisticated British military casualty simulation exercises – is there a connection with the alleged injuries seen in SSC?
  7. One of the alleged victims appears to have been identified as a resident of The Netherlands. Subsequent social media images suggest she was not scarred by an incendiary substance.

During production of SSC Ian Pannell and Darren Conway were embedded with Ahrar al-Sham, a then ISIS partner group co-founded by one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted couriers“, Mohamed Bahaiah. Spanish authorities believe Bahaiah delivered surveillance tapes of the World Trade Centre to al Qaeda leaders in 1998. The BBC itself describes Ahrar al-Sham as “hard-line Islamist”.

Less than three weeks before filming on SSC began, Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS and other groups jointly killed over 190 civilians, including women, children and elderly men, and kidnapped over 200 mostly women and children.

After passing through an ISIS checkpoint unmolested – a remarkable occurrence in retrospect – the BBC Panorama crew is then able to film, at close quarters, an ambulance bearing the ISIS emblem as it unloads victims of the alleged incendiary attack. This was flagged with then Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry but she did not respond.

Numerous other issues include:

  • The BBC failed to inform viewers that the other medic featured in SSC, Dr Rola Hallam, is the daughter of a prominent Syrian opposition advocate, who has publicly called for the west to arm the Free Syrian Army.
  • An employee of the UK charity of which Dr Hallam is an executive has been photographed posing with an arsenal of weaponry, including assault rifles, an anti-aircraft gun and a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. The Charity Commission found that this did “not raise sufficient regulatory concern”.
  • The BBC blocks all footage from SSC on YouTube while ignoring countless other editions of Panorama on the platform – why?
  • Why is London’s Frontline Club withholding video of an event at which Stuart confronted SSC cameraman Darren Conway over the alleged attack?

In 2019 actor Keith Allen fronted a crowdfunding campaign to make a documentary about SSC. Criticisms of the campaign levelled by The Huffington Post are addressed here.

In May 2019 talkRADIO host Matthew Wright interviewed Robert Stuart and Keith Allen. Wright said on Twitter: “This is going to be fascinating – do look again at the footage in question by following the link (it follows straight after Keith Allen’s intro).”

Notes

The view that SSC contains fabricated scenes has been endorsed by:

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray

“This video of Robert Stuart is a must see. Let me pin my colours to the mast and say that I am absolutely convinced that the BBC did deliberately and knowingly fake evidence of chemical attacks.” https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2016/03/moderate-rebels-use-yellow-phosphorus-kurds-aleppo/

“Finally, it is worth noting that this Gdansk experience was one of a number which led me immediately to understand that the famous BBC report on “Saving Syria’s Children” was faked. The alleged footage of burns victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.” https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/12/gdansk/

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook

“But Stuart’s sustained research and questioning of the BBC, and the state broadcaster’s increasing evasions, have given rise to ever greater concerns about the footage. It looks suspiciously like one scene in particular, of people with horrific burns, was staged.” https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2017-03-08/is-the-bbc-still-lying-over-syria-footage/

US online magazine Paste

“Speaking of atrocity propaganda—very chic these days—the eminent BBC joined the club in 2013, throwing journalistic integrity to the wind with its broadcast of Saving Syria’s Children, a documentary that ostensibly showed the aftermath of an incendiary bomb raid. According to the report, the Syrian government used either napalm or thermite to attack schoolchildren in a remote district of Aleppo. The resulting footage, filmed in a nearby hospital, is bizarre in the extreme, with the alleged burn victims clearly taking stage directions from people off-camera. The story was dissected and ultimately exposed as a sham by journalist Robert Stuart, at which point the BBC began removing all traces of the film from YouTube, citing copyright issues. No formal retraction was ever made, to the BBC’s everlasting shame.” https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/04/lets-call-western-media-coverage-of-syria-for-what.html

Crowdfunding campaign video featuring Keith Allen

Presentation by Robert Stuart, Media on Trial, London, October 2017 (age restricted). Bitchute copy here.

Other presentations and interviews on Saving Syria’s Children

Copy of Saving Syria’s Children (most contentious section from 30:38)

Robert Stuart’s blog

BBC Panorama team embedded with ISIS partners Ahrar al-Sham

BBC Panorama team films ISIS vehicle at close quarters

Medical opinion on alleged injuries in Saving Syria’s Children

Responses to BBC Panorama’s footage on Twitter

180829_2180829_1

BBC whistleblower – interview with Anna Brees

The testimony of a former BBC employee who flagged Saving Syria’s Children as “stage managed” is discussed in this interview with the author of this blog, Robert Stuart, conducted by former BBC and ITV journalist Anna Brees.

Email to BBC crisis actor

I have today contacted the Dutch-Armenian woman who I believe participated in a staged event which was filmed by a BBC Panorama team in Aleppo, Syria in August 2013. My email to the woman is reproduced below.

My reasons for believing this person to be a crisis actor are set out in this previous post: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/identification-of-possible-participant-in-the-napalm-bomb-event/

Here is an image of the woman I have emailed (left), taken from one of her Facebook accounts, alongside what I believe is the same person in the guise of an incendiary attack victim at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013.

24

Scenes featuring other alleged victims of the alleged attack filmed at the same hospital on the same day were included in the September 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children (from 30:38). For more background see the home page of this blog.


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 19 May 2020 13:55
To: X.XXXXXXXXX@gmail.com
Subject: Atareb Hospital, Aleppo 26 August 2013

Dear XXXX

My name is Robert Stuart.

I am a journalist. I was given your email address by a friend of yours in the Netherlands.

You contacted me on Facebook six years ago and asked me to remove an image from film taken at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26th August 2013. Here is the image:

pastedImagefile

I replied to your Facebook message and asked you to please explain more but you did not respond.

Then I found a video online which showed you at Atareb Hospital on 26th August 2013. You had white cream on your face as if you had been burned – here is a link to the video. Here is a still image from it:

pastedImagefile (1)

I understand that you are originally from Kamishli in Syria and that you came to the Netherlands about 20 years ago to seek asylum. I have spoken with someone who used to live in your neighbourhood in Kamishli. This person recognises you in the video from Atareb Hospital.

I would very much like to speak with you to ask you some questions:

  1. Can you confirm that you were at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013?
  2. Why did you travel to Aleppo at that time?
  3. Were you injured by a bomb?
  4. Do you still have scars from a bomb attack?
  5. If you were not injured by a bomb, why were you at Atareb Hospital?
  6. What was happening at the hospital on that day?
  7. How did you get involved?
  8. Who organised the events at the hospital on that day?
  9. Can you give me the names and/or contact details of anyone who was involved?
  10. Why did you want me to delete the picture from Facebook?

It would be good if we were to speak in person. You can call me on +44XXXXXXXXXX.

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart

Former BBC employee: Saving Syria’s Children was “stage managed”

1

A scene from Saving Syria’s Children


A former BBC employee has provided the following statement regarding the 2013 Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children:

As soon as I saw Saving Syria’s Children I knew it was stage managed, far too many red flags shown in the piece throughout.

It was obvious to me that the casualties had been dressed up using CASSIM [Casualty Simulation] [1].

CASSIM is used to simulate visible injuries used for moulage training. It wasn’t even well done and very amateurish, it was over dramatised [2], the alleged casualties did not show the correct signs/symptoms of individuals who had been caught up in a chemical attack nor that of individuals suffering from the effects of chemical burns or that of those subjected to the blast/detonation/spread of the alleged detonation of a large munition [3].

It also struck me that none of the doctors/medical staff in the report were wearing PPE, which would be standard if there really was a suspected chemical attack.

Although I’d left the BBC by then I spoke with various contacts I had and told them I was appalled at what I’d just seen. I got generic responses, ums and ahs mostly. I was shocked by the lack of accountability and integrity shown by a main stream media organisation.

I also showed the report to medical professionals including a dermatologist. They all responded similarly that it was ludicrous, burns victims would not behave in the way that was shown, plus the treatment being shown for the management of burns was incorrect, and the doctor shown in the interview would have known this, yet at no time was she directing/advising anyone in the correct procedures. Even within a conflict zone the basics would have been available.

I knew Ian Pannell some years prior. He was an exceptional journalist, a good guy who stated the facts. But the agenda is driven by producers and editors, especially foreign desk editors and department heads. In my experience there is also influence from outside from the civil service.

However it came about, I found it pretty disgraceful. It was evident there was an agenda. Tugging at the heartstrings is one thing, but news gathering should not be stage managed. It’s known that Ian Pannell left the BBC some time afterwards, which is sometimes what happens after a bad story, however it’s unknown as to whether this was the case and may have been a longer term career move.

Another red flag was the emblems for designated terrorist organisations on the vehicles [4]. I [was] observing ISIS and other group elements in Syria during that time and they were prevalent in that area. So why was it possible for the BBC team to be filming in that location at that exact time, it wasn’t coincidental.

A lot of things do not ring true about that report and there are a lot of questions to be asked of the BBC. But as ever to save face amongst those that digest the news from the media, I’d say they will never raise their hands and admit or acknowledge that the event was stage managed.

This testimony is discussed in this April 2020 interview with the author of this blog, Robert Stuart, conducted by former BBC and ITV journalist Anna Brees:

The former BBC employee’s statement is consistent with observations made by author and human rights activist Craig Murray:

Finally, it is worth noting that this Gdansk experience was one of a number which led me immediately to understand that the famous BBC report on “Saving Syria’s Children” was faked. The alleged footage of burns victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.

In 2019 actor Keith Allen fronted a crowdfunding campaign to produce a documentary investigating Saving Syria’s Children. The campaign was featured on Talk Radio’s Matthew Wright Show.

A copy of Saving Syria’s Children is available on Vimeo. [5] The most contentious sequence commences at 30:38.

For more analysis of Saving Syria’s Children see the home page of this blog.

Notes

[1] See HOSPEX injury simulation techniques.

[2] See Tableau of alleged male casualties.

[3] See Plausibility of injuries and demeanour of alleged victims.

[4] A vehicle in Ian Pannell’s convoy in the programme bore the logo of ISIS-linked jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham. An ambulance filmed at close quarters by the BBC bringing alleged casualties to Atareb Hospital displayed the ISIS emblem in its rear window.

[5] While countless other editions of Panorama remain available to view in their entirety on YouTube, all copies and clips of Saving Syria’s Children are instantly removed from the platform.

Saving Syria’s Children – more footage

The first two videos below show victims of the alleged incendiary attack depicted in BBC Panorama Saving Syria’s Children arriving at Reyhanli State Hospital, Turkey on either the evening of 26 August or early morning of 27 August 2013.

A conflict between still images of these events and the BBC’s narrative was discussed in this previous post

Readers of this blog will be aware of my contention that scenes featuring the same alleged victims filmed by BBC Panorama at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013 were staged. If this is correct then the shots from 30 seconds in the second video of the young girl apparently under sedation would add child abuse to the list of the crimes of those responsible for the fabrication. 

A rough transcript [1] of the first video indicates that the man interviewed from 49 seconds onwards (and who also features in the second video from 1:12) is the father of one of the alleged victims and had attended the scene of the alleged strike scant hours earlier. His calm and collected manner might appear to belie both of these claims.

The man also refers to a phosphorous bomb. The original BBC news report of the incident claimed “the injuries and debris suggests something like napalm or thermite” and Human Rights Watch also referred to “a fuel similar to napalm“. There have been several contradictory claims about the munitions allegedly used in the attack, some of which are collated here.

His reference to “around 60 injured people” at the scene does not necessarily contradict the varying accounts of numbers subsequently treated at Atareb Hospital, which range from 25 to 50

Now that the location of the alleged attack, Urm al-Kubra, Aleppo, is under Syrian government control it is no longer out of the question for journalists to visit. Local residents could elucidate what occurred at the scene and also confirm if the alleged victims filmed by the BBC were indeed inhabitants of the town – as would appear in at least one instance not to be the case.

The third video, below, is a trailer for Saving Syria’s Children which was included in the end credits of another edition of Panorama, Terror in Nairobi, broadcast earlier the same evening, 30 September 2013. It contains two brief clips, not seen in the full Saving Syria’s Children programme: firstly Dr Rola Hallam, in an echo of her famous “chaos and carnage” speech, once more referring to “absolute chaos”; followed by Dr Saleyha Ahsan exclaiming that she’s “never seen anything like it, ever!” 

In both instances the doctors are speaking directly to the camera during a crisis when one would assume the sole focus of their attention would be the patients in their care. The sense of soundbites crafted for dramatic effect is hard to avoid.

The trailer as originally broadcast by the BBC can be viewed in the tweet below.

 

Copies of all three videos are also saved here:

[1] Arrived at via YouTube’s Turkish transcript of the video followed by Google translation. I would be very grateful if someone could provide a more accurate translation.

00:02
and ambulances are again hospitals across the border
00:06
E wounded, this time I carried the numbers
00:08
and his wounds were higher than ever.
00:10
injured were different Syria’s Aleppo
00:14
from the town of Kübra, the forest of the city
00:16
was allegedly brought to Assad forces
00:19
bomb dropped from connected aircraft
00:21
The explosion that hit the town together
00:24
about 60 people injured with
00:26
with the efforts of relatives in Reyhanlı
00:27
Cilvegözü was brought to the border gate and
00:29
chemical biological radiation and nuclear
00:32
after checks in the scout
00:34
Shipped to hospitals in Hatay
00:37
over all of the injured and
00:39
a burns on their bodies
00:41
votes in claims about votes burns
00:44
according to the witnesses of the striking attack
00:46
cause of burns phosphor used
00:48
grenade turya kamilla plane school hit
00:53
bomb and phosphorus threw explosion sound
00:56
When we heard, we went to school and my daughter was among them
00:58
when we went to the scene high school
01:01
we saw the wrong situations of their students
01:03
Even the student’s lifeless body
01:05
there were around 60 injured people
01:10
life threatening of some injured
01:13
in Hatay and its districts
01:15
more wounded in hospitals
01:17
in the area of ​​Rasulayn with the possibility of
01:22
between PYD and Al Nusra forces
01:24
clashes continue and bullets bounce
01:27
Resul the same border neighbor Ceylanpınar
01:29
threatens his district
01:32
conflicts in that area
01:34
intensified anti-aircraft and gunfire
01:37
Meanwhile a bullet that crosses the border
01:40
Süleyman Doğantekin in Ceylanpınar
01:42
injured in the abdomen hit
01:44
Doğantekin was dispatched to Şanlıurfa
01:50
teachers’ house near the border
01:53
an anti-aircraft gun hitting the wall
01:55
bullets also caused panic in the restaurant
01:57
customers and employees panicked
01:59
took a look at themselves
02:02
explosion sounds came out
02:04
can hit the interior

Blocking Syria’s Children

The BBC’s Intellectual Property Department has confirmed (March 2019) that videos containing over 30 seconds of footage from the 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children are automatically blocked from YouTube.

However it has not explained why Saving Syria’s Children – referred to as “the Programme” – has been singled out for this special treatment when countless other Panorama editions are available in their entirety on the platform.

BBC IP Legal’s statement came in response to a challenge by former BBC and ITV journalist Anna Brees whose short video about Saving Syria’s Children (see tweet below) was removed from YouTube within a few minutes of being uploaded, accompanied by the statement “This video contains content from BBC Studios who has blocked it on copyright grounds”.

Here is BBC IP Legal’s full response to Anna Brees:

From: IP Litigation <IPLitigation@bbc.co.uk>
Date: 28 March 2019 at 17:33:03 GMT
To: “‘Brees Media'” <hello@breesmedia.co.uk>
Subject: RE: BBC Panorama Saving Syria’s Children

Dear Anna

Thank you for your patience while we have been investigating this matter.

Your video was blocked from being published on YouTube because it was identified by YouTube’s Content ID system as containing footage from the BBC Panorama programme, ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ (the Programme). The Content ID system is used by content owners like the BBC/BBC Studios to identify and manage their content on YouTube. In practice this means that any videos uploaded to YouTube by third parties containing more than 30 seconds of footage from the Programme will be automatically blocked, which was the case here.

We have now reviewed your video (via the link on Twitter). We note that you have used approximately 1 minute 13 seconds of footage from the Programme, which is more than half the actual length of your video (2 minutes 20 seconds). While we appreciate that you wish to use the footage for the purposes of criticism, review or quotation, from a copyright fair dealing perspective our view is that you have used more footage than was necessary to illustrate the points you were making. As you may be aware, fair dealing usually involves a short, illustrative use of another person’s copyright material within a longer work created by the person using it. The fairness requirement means that you should use no more material than is required to illustrate the specific point you are making. In this instance we consider that it would have been possible to have made the same points while using less footage from the Programme.

However, if you still wish to upload any videos to YouTube containing footage from the Programme please ensure that you use no more than 30 seconds of footage in any single video.

We hope that is helpful.

Yours sincerely

BBC IP Legal
BC2 B6 Broadcast Centre 201 Wood Lane London W12 7TP

The now defunct BBC commercial subsidiary, BBC Worldwide, began blocking YouTube copies of Saving Syria’s Children in July 2014, five months after I had begun to include links to a YouTube copy of the programme in my complaints emails to the corporation and publishing my emails and the BBC’s replies on my blog. By the end of July 2014 at least four copies of Saving Syria’s Children had been removed from YouTube. 

In response to my querying the reason for the blockings BBC Worldwide’s Brand Protection team stated on 1 August 2014:

BBC Worldwide is not specifically blocking this Panorama and not others, the blocks are made by the automated YouTube copyright protection system.

As this is a relatively new Panorama, the illegal uploads are blocked faster than older and archive episodes which can take up to 6 months for the YouTube system to find and block.

The sheer volume of BBC produced/invested content means that the Brand Protection team can only scratch the surface in terms of removing infringing content from YouTube, so it is difficult to protect everything in the archive – including Panorama – immediately. The priority is to protect the newest episodes and work backwards, and this is true of all new content that the BBC produce, regardless of programme strand.

I pointed out in reply that this rationale – “to protect the newest episodes and work backwards” – did not appear to hold water as a far from exhaustive search on 2 August 2014 located YouTube copies of 25 editions of Panorama which were broadcast by the BBC subsequent to Saving Syria’s Children.

BBC Worldwide responded two days later:

There are many factors involved in the automatic removal of copyright infringing material from YouTube. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose the inner working of the YouTube system, as this is commercially sensitive information that could be used by members of the public to attempt to circumvent the protection mechanisms.

However, I can once again assure you that the Brand Protection Team has not been pursuing a deliberate policy of seeking out or blocking this episode of Panorama above others. Once we have provided YouTube with the information they need to identify our content, the system is automated. We can, of course, intervene to request that YouTube takes down specific posts. However, I can confirm that there has been no such intervention by the Brand Protection Team with regard to the episode of Panorama in question.

Thank you for highlighting those episodes of Panorama that are still live on YouTube, we will look into removing these as soon as possible.

Of the 25 newer editions of Panorama than Saving Syria’s Children that BBC Worldwide said they would “look into removing..  ..as soon as possible” in August 2014, ten remain available on YouTube in March 2020. This is in addition to the scores of subsequent editions, including the most recently broadcast Panorama at the time of writing Coronavirus – The Week That Changed Britain, which was uploaded to YouTube on 24 March 2020.

The BBC’s protestation that it “has not been pursuing a deliberate policy of seeking out or blocking this episode of Panorama above others” appears increasingly hollow.

How The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville Created Fairytales Of Underground Hospitals In Syria

Post by Moon of Alabama

In August 2013 the BBC produced a fake video headlined “Saving Syria’s Children” about an alleged chemical weapon attack in Syria which it claimed was caused by the Syrian government. Robert Stuart has since pressed the BBC to admit the obvious fabrication of these scenes.

Today the BBC posted on its website another Syria clip under the title Idlib’s secret hospitals hiding from air strikes:

Air strikes have been targeting hospitals in the rebel-held province of Idlib, Syria, despite the fact that it is a war crime. Medics have been forced underground in order to survive.The UN accuses the Syrian government and allied Russian warplanes of conducting a deadly campaign that appears to target medical facilities.

BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Quentin Sommerville, visits one hospital in a secret location.

Sommerville starts with standing next to destroyed building claiming that it has been a hospital that was bombed.

Full post here.

Note: the team responsible for Sommerville’s report includes Saving Syria’s Children cameraman Darren Conway and the programme’s “fixer/translator” Mughira Al Sharif, pictured below with White Helmets head Raed Al Saleh.

Robert Stuart vs the BBC: One Man’s Quest to Expose a Fake BBC Video about Syria

It’s a David vs Goliath story. A former local newspaper reporter, Robert Stuart, is taking on the British Broadcasting Corporation. Stuart believes that a sensational video story about an alleged atrocity in Syria ‘was largely, if not entirely, …

Source: Robert Stuart vs the BBC: One Man’s Quest to Expose a Fake BBC Video about Syria

“Keith Allen Thinks The BBC May Have Faked ‘Apocalyptic’ Attack In Syria”: corrections and clarifications


The Huffington Post has criticised my campaign to crowdfund a documentary about the 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children.

Keith Allen Thinks The BBC May Have Faked ‘Apocalyptic’ Attack In Syria was published on May 4th 2019. Some notes in response follow. Excerpts from The Huffington Post article are in block quotes.

Stuart says he has spent nearly six years compiling “a mountain of evidence” that shows the BBC’s footage was “faked”. He claims the national broadcaster worked “cheek by jowl with Isis” to produce the Panorama documentary, which was broadcast in September 2013.

Evidence that sequences in Saving Syria’s Children were fabricated is set out on my blog. Readers are free to make their own topographical analogies.

During the programme’s making BBC Panorama reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway were embedded with then ISIS partner group Ahrar al-Sham – a group described elsewhere by the BBC as “hard-line Islamist”. Less than three weeks earlier Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS and other groups together killed over 190 civilians, including women, children and elderly men, and kidnapped over 200 mostly women and children. In the programme’s climactic scenes of the aftermath of an alleged incendiary attack the BBC crew filmed at close quarters an ambulance prominently bearing the ISIS emblem and its militarily attired occupants, at least one of whom was armed.

In an interview with TalkRadio on Friday, Stuart claimed “the only source of [this attack] is the BBC”. However, the strike was also reported by NBC News who interviewed doctors who described the “apocalyptic” attack in detail, documented in painstaking detail by the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria (VDCS), and confirmed by Human Rights Watch.

The NBC News article cited features an interview with a single volunteer doctor named “Roula”. This is clearly Dr Rola Hallam. Dr Hallam and Dr Saleyha Ahsan were being followed by the BBC Panorama team of reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway as they visited hospitals run by the UK charity Hand in Hand for Syria. As such Hallam was central to the BBC reports in question and cannot be considered an independent commentator. [1] [2] [3] [4]

The Violations Documentation Centre in Syria report cited gives the time of the alleged attack as follows:

On 26 Aug 2013, at 02:00 pm, the Syrian air forces shelled ‘Iqraa’ Institution in Orm Al Kubra in Aleppo, which had been under the Free Army’s control for several months then.

The VDCS report also quotes Mustapha Haid, “Head of ‘Doulati Organization/My State Organization’”:

At 3 in the afternoon, On 26 Aug 2013, I was in Al Atareb City and I heard rumours about a ‘chemical attack’ on Orm Al Kubra and that tens of casualties were brought to Al Atareb Hospital.

However the BBC has stated in complaints correspondence that:

The attack happened on the 26th of August at around 5.30pm at the end of the school day. [5]

The VDCS report quotes a second witness, Issa Obeid, “Head of Nursing Department in Al Atareb Hospital”, who provides a first-hand account of his actions at Atareb Hospital:

We washed the casualties with water and serums after taking off their clothes. We used ‘Florasline’ liniment on the burnt areas and provided the casualties with fluids and some of them were given tranquilizers like Morphine.

Issa Obeid, or Iessa Obied, was employed at Atareb Hospital until 2016. Iessa is the younger brother of Atareb’s then Medical Director Abdulrahman Obied. Iessa’s testimony in the VDCS report is false: on 26 August 2013 neither of the Obied brothers were present at Atareb but were attending a battle first aid training course in Antakia, Turkey. [6]

Iessa Obied has been photographed posing with an arsenal of weaponry including assault rifles, an anti-aircraft gun and a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. [7] [8]

The Huffington Post reports that the strike was “confirmed by Human Rights Watch”. However Mary Wareham, Advocacy Director of HRW’s Arms Division, stated in a contemporary (August 2013) article that Human Rights Watch has “not investigated this incident“. [9]

HuffPost UK asked a team of ex-military and medical professionals who teach hostile environment training to view the full Panorama footage to comment on its authenticity.

Questions about Hostile Environment Awareness Training, the company cited by the Huffington Post, are raised by journalist Kit Klarenberg.

They described it as “legitimate” and “consistent with chemical exposure”, adding the select footage in Stuart and Allen’s promotional video had been “cleverly” edited in a way to manipulate the viewer.

The BBC has been at pains to assert “that this was an attack using an incendiary device, rather than a chemical weapon.”

As noted on my blog a GMC registered doctor with burns experience has concluded that the scenes of alleged incendiary bomb victims arriving at Atareb Hospital in Saving Syria’s Children were “an act”. Further sceptical comment by medical professionals, including former UK and US military personnel, plus observations by lay people with experience of burns victims, is collated here. [10]

None of the BBC footage used in the crowdfunding video has been altered in any way, save for basic editing techniques such as freeze frame and fade.

Stuart also takes issue with the fact the documentary makers – reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway  – worked alongside the armed Islamist groups that controlled the Aleppo region where Atarib is situated.

When required, all major media organisations negotiate access with whoever controls the area in question. Numerous journalists have risked their lives to report on what is happening inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Hamas-controlled Gaza or Boko Haram-controlled Nigeria, for example.

It is clearly in the public interest for BBC audiences to be made aware that a portion of their license fee revenue has apparently been paid to a jihadist group co-founded by “one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted couriers”.

The BBC rebutted the claims made by Stuart and Allen in a statement to HuffPost UK, saying there is “absolutely no evidence that any part of the programme was fabricated”.

It added: “Any such suggestion is offensive to the victims, medics and reporters.”

This statement was published on Facebook by BBC Panorama editor Rachel Jupp over two years ago in response to challenges made by film, television and radio producer Victor Lewis-Smith.

An RT report based on Stuart’s work was found to be in breach of Ofcom broadcasting rules and described as “materially misleading”.

Some important caveats in Ofcom’s finding against the RT programme in question have been noted by OffGuardian:

To be clear, according to OfCom’s own description of its remit, in the dispute between RT and the BBC, OfCom did not look into the BBC’s accuracy or credibility. Nor did OfCom investigate whether RT’s allegations of fakery were true or false. In fact the Broadcast Bulletin makes it clear OfCom ruled in favour of the BBC based solely on two things:

    1. a finding that RT had broken “Rule 7 of the Code”, which requires a broadcaster to allow sufficient right of reply to anyone accused.
    2. a finding that RT had infringed “Rule 2.2 of the Code” which requires a broadcaster not to present facts in a way likely to “mislead the viewer” – based on the fact RT had referred to Robert Stuart’s ongoing investigation into the BBC’s Panorama program as a “massive public investigation”, when OfCom thought the size of his investigation did not merit such an epithet.

Anyone can visit Robert Stuart’s website and decide for themselves if his investigation can fairly be described as “massive”, but the extent to which OfCom’s findings are themselves factual inaccuracies I’ll leave for others to explore. The most significant point here is that OfCom has specifically not cleared the BBC of suspicion of wrongdoing, and is not claiming to have done so.

Notes

[1] At the time the BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children aired in 2013 Dr Hallam’s father, Dr Mousa al-Kurdi, was a prominent Syrian opposition advocate who in 2012 had personally lobbied senior political representatives of NATO member states, including US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, to either intervene directly on the side of the opposition in Syria or to provide arms to the Free Syrian Army.

[2] The NBC article reports Hallam’s claim that the first case she received was a seven month old baby who “was covered in full-body burns”. Hallam has elsewhere stated that the baby had “80% burns”.

However Dr Saleyha Ahsan, who is seen treating the infant in the same room as Dr Hallam in Saving Syria’s Children, has made the significantly lesser claim that the child had “nasty scolds [sic] on his legs”. Stills from the programme do not make it clear that the child had sustained any burns at all.

Hallam, Ahsan and BBC reporter Ian Pannell have made contradictory claims about whether the baby was the first victim to arrive at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013. Hallam and Ahsan have additionally made self-contradictory claims on this point.

Speaking at the Women of the World Summit in New York in 2017 Hallam gave an account of the attack which is at considerable variance with the BBC Panorama narrative, notably introducing a warplane flying over the hospital necessitating the staff’s retreat to the basement prior to the victims’ arrival. In stark contradiction Ahsan has claimed that she “was sitting on the hospital balcony… …drinking my fifth cup of sweet, sugary tea” immediately prior to the influx of casualties.

Numerous further striking inconsistencies exist in the accounts of the alleged attack by Saleyha Ahsan and Ian Pannell.

[3] Hallam, who is of Syrian heritage, describes an exchange with a sixteen year old female victim, presumably conducted in Arabic:

“She took a deep breath and asked me, ‘Do you think my face is going to be mutilated?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I hope not.’ She said: ‘All I was trying to do was study for my exams. I was just trying to do my baccalaureate because I want to be like you. I want to be a doctor.'”

Describing what is clearly the same incident a month later in The Independent Dr Ahsan claims that the girl’s question about her face was addressed in English to her (Dr Ahsan):

One girl spoke to me in English. I was humbled by her efforts despite her terrible pain. “How bad is my face, ukhti?” Her mother cried by her side. The girl, composed and calm but in obvious pain asked. “Do you think they can fix my face?” She continued in Arabic, speaking to Dr Rola Hallam my fellow British colleague, who is of Syrian origin. “I was just at school studying… because I want to be like you – a doctor to help people.”

Compounding the contradictions, in a BMJ blog post published the next day Ahsan attributes the question about the girl’s face to the child’s mother rather than to the girl herself.

Stretching credulity way beyond breaking point, in a June 2014 talk for advocacy group Cage Dr Ahsan offered up a third reversal in the narrative by claiming that the girl’s expression of her wish to be a doctor had been directed to her (Dr Ahsan) and not to Dr Hallam, as both doctors had previously stated:

“One of the girls was saying to me ‘ukhti, is it really bad on my face, is it really bad on my face?’ – I mean the rest of her was burned too – and she said ‘I’m just going to school because I want to be a doctor like you’”. (14:44)

[4] The NBC article is also notable in claiming that NBC News’ Richard Engel had spoken to a female victim of the alleged attack. However the words attributed to the woman appear to have been lifted from a YouTube video. Serious questions over NBC’s reporting of stories involving Engel have previously arisen.

[5] There is a six hour range in accounts of the time of the alleged attack.

[6] As deduced from the following Facebook posts.

(a) Iessa Obied outside Hotel Liwan, Antakia, Turkey. Upload date 25 August 2013.

(b) Iessa with his older brother, Atareb Hospital’s then Medical Director Abdulrahman Obied, in the restaurant-bar of Hotel Liwan. Upload date 26 August 2013, the day of the alleged napalm attack and subsequent treatment of alleged victims at Atareb Hospital as portrayed in Saving Syria’s Children.

(c) Abdulrahman Obied (second right) and other Atareb Hospital staff members “attending a battle first aid training course in Antakia, Turkey” in a post (subsequently deleted) uploaded to Atareb Hospital’s Facebook page on 26 August 2013, the date of the alleged napalm attack. Missing from this photo is Iessa Obied, who perhaps took the picture.

(d) Abdulrahman Obied (second left) wearing same shirt as in image (c) participating in first aid training. Upload date 26 August 2013.

(e) Iessa Obied (red t-shirt) participating in first aid training. While the upload date is 29 August 2013, Iessa Obied’s t-shirt is the same as in image (b), the man immediately above Iessa (another Atareb employee) is wearing the same shirt as in image (c) and the man second left is wearing the same checked shirt as in image (d). As images (b), (c) and (d) were uploaded to separate Facebook accounts on 26 August 2013 the strong likelihood is that they were all taken on that date – the day of the battle first aid training course – and that the above image was also taken on 26 August 2013 but was uploaded to Facebook by Iessa Obied three days later.

(f) Iessa Obied on the Orontes River bridge, Antakya. Upload date 26 August 2013.

Further undermining Iessa Obied’s first-hand account of his supposed actions at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013 is the fact that he does not appear among the medics and orderlies attending to alleged casualties during the relevant sequences in Saving Syria’s Children (from 30:38).

In fact, it would appear that virtually the entire staff team of Atareb Hospital was substituted between two sequences in Saving Syria’s Children. During Drs Hallam and Ahsan’s first visit to the hospital (from 05:47 to 08:22 in the programme) Atareb’s Medical Director Abdulrahman Obied is filmed speaking with Dr Hallam and the medic far left in (c) above is also glimpsed. However, of the many medics and orderlies who are filmed at the hospital a few days later on 26 August 2013 during the alleged crisis sequences (from 30:38), only one is clearly identifiable from the earlier section of the programme.

[7] The Charity Commission found that the images did “not raise sufficient regulatory concern”.

[8] Obied has also posted an affectionate photograph of himself with former freelance Reuters photographer Amer Alfaj. Alfaj has been photographed attending the firing of a “Hell cannon” mortar and has posted images celebrating the munition, some including small children.

[9] In the Human Rights Watch report cited by The Huffington Post, Saleyha Ahsan states that fifteen year old Anas Said Ali “died two weeks later from complications caused by the severe burns”. This contradicts both the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria, whose list of casualties states that Anas Said Ali (Anas al-Sayed Ali) died on 26 August 2013, the day of the alleged attack, and the BBC, which in complaints correspondence stated that Said Ali died “a few days later in hospital in Turkey”.

[10] Two more recent relevant observations.

Matthew Wright Show discusses Saving Syria’s Children

Kudos to broadcaster Matthew Wright for putting his head well and truly above the parapet and inviting Keith Allen and I onto his talkRADIO show on Friday 3 May to discuss our plans to make a documentary about Saving Syria’s Children.

You can listen to the interview at this link.

The interview began with a discussion of Ofcom’s 2015 finding against RT’s Truthseeker programme Media ‘Staged’ Syria Chem Attack. As noted at the time by OffGuardian:

The most significant point here is that OfCom has specifically not cleared the BBC of suspicion of wrongdoing, and is not claiming to have done so.

Although I managed to rattle through most of the main points I wanted to make, I kicked myself for failing to mention the links between the Panorama crew, al-Qaeda and ISIS linked jihadists Ahrar al-Sham and ISIS itself.

My fellow guest, journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, was evidently unimpressed with proceedings. I’d ask her to reserve judgement until she’s looked at the footage in question and engaged with the evidence set out on my blog.

Still, Matthew was clear that this is a topic he wishes to return to, hopefully once we’ve met our fundraising target. So please keep sharing the campaign!

Donate to this blog

Blog Stats

  • 248,920 hits
Follow Fabrication in BBC Panorama 'Saving Syria’s Children' on WordPress.com