Saving Syria’s Children: the sequel

BBC Panorama, Syria’s Schools Under Attack, March 2021

BBC Panorama has produced a follow-up report to 2013’s Saving Syria’s Children (SSC).

The new documentary, entitled Syria’s Schools Under Attack (SSUA), is produced, filmed and narrated by SSC director and cameraman, Darren Conway. [1]

SSUA was screened several times over the weekend of 20/21 March 2021 on BBC World News and BBC News Channel. An extended version was broadcast solely on BBC World News on 24 and 25 April. As far as I am aware this is the first time an edition of Panorama, the BBC’s flagship current affairs series, has not been broadcast on BBC1.

Promotional image for BBC Panorama Syria’s Schools Under Attack, March 2021

The programme includes interviews with several of the alleged victims and relatives from SSC. It contains several inconsistences with the original documentary as well as fresh incongruities which raise new questions.

The observations below are discussed as they arise in SSUA. (BBC iPlayer copy here, YouTube copy here and above). [3]

02:30 – “We heard sound of a warplane like in the air”. (Abu Taim, teacher) [4]. “There were more than 75 children at school that day. Abu Taim started to evacuate his students from the classrooms immediately after the bomb struck the school’s courtyard”. (Conway)

This account suggests [A] that the first intimation of anything unusual that day was the sound of a warplane above the school and [B] that the students only began to leave their classrooms after a bomb hit the school’s courtyard. [5]

In respect of [A], accounts by Dr Saleyha Ahsan, Dr Rola Hallam, another purported teacher at the Iqra school and journalist Paul Adrian Raymond [6] all refer to an initial attack on a nearby apartment building shortly prior to the attack on the school. The first attack was also confirmed by the BBC in correspondence [7].

In a November 2020 Human Rights Watch report victim Muhammed Assi [8] recounts how, after the initial attack on a three-storey building 100 metres away [9], he and other students hurried outside to see what had happened:

““We saw a plane in the sky. It was very far away so we thought, ‘OK, it won’t hit us,’” Muhammed told Human Rights Watch and IHRC. Teachers urged the students to return inside where it was safer. Muhammed and five classmates, however, stayed in the courtyard with a playground talking about the attack and what they would study the following year. The group suddenly heard a faint, “unfamiliar” sound, and “[t]here were large fires, and choking fumes.” An incendiary bomb had landed in the middle of the six students, immediately killing the other five”. 

In respect of [B], in the BBC’s initial report of the incident Conway’s colleague Ian Pannell states (00:15):

“What happened here almost defies words. The end of the school day, a playground full of teenagers and an incendiary bomb that killed over 10 pupils and left many more writhing in agony”.

This would seem to contradict Conway’s statement that Abu Taim began to evacuate students only after the bomb had hit the school and Assi’s testimony that just he and five classmates were outside when the bomb struck the playground.

Dr Rola Hallam has also claimed on several occasions that the playground was full of children when the attack occurred, for example:

“a schoolyard full of children was aerially bombarded with an incendiary weapon”. [10]

“a big incendiary weapon which is basically a big ball of fire that was dropped from the aeroplane. Onto a, umm, a school yard where ten to sixteen year-olds were waiting after school to be picked up by their children, by their parents”. [11]

Adding to the contradictions Dr Saleyha Ahsan has claimed that parents and family members had rushed to the school after the initial bombing of the nearby residential building and consequently were also present when the second bomb struck:

“The first bomb had hit a nearby building penetrating three floors and injuring my first patient, the baby. Everyone ran to help. Parents had rushed to the school on the first hit to take their children home. Anas had come for his 14-year-old sister – a student. She was saved but he was so terribly burnt”. [12]

These accounts by Ahsan, Hallam and Conway’s SSC colleague Ian Pannell appear inconsistent with the picture painted in SSUA of students sitting in their classroom oblivious to the possibility of an impending attack. [13] [14]

Abu Taim giving testimony to Bonnie Docherty of Human Rights Watch in the extended version of SSUA

03:40 – “It was a children’s hospital run by a local charity called Hand in Hand for Syria“.

Hand in Hand for Syria was a UK registered charity, not a local Syrian charity. Three of its executive team are now trustees of another UK charity Hand in Hand for Aid and Development.

A June 2014 article on Hand in Hand for Syria’s website makes it clear that Atareb was a general, not a children’s, hospital:

“When we first opened the hospital in May 2013, it was just a small A&E unit. We’ve grown it very successfully since then, and it now offers 68 beds and a wide range of services – from maternity and neo-natal facilities to many outpatient departments, three excellent operating theatres and a laboratory. It cares not only for those injured in the conflict but also non-conflict-related conditions such as cancer, heart disease, asthma and diabetes. It even has a dialysis unit. It provides FREE healthcare to anyone, regardless or political or faith affiliation”. [15] [16]

03:46 – 04:00 – This scene features the Hand in Hand for Syria nurse who was later photographed at the same hospital “treating” a child fighter. [17]

L-R: Dr Rola Hallam, Hand in Hand for Syria nurse, father and baby (the first victims of the attack in some accounts), Dr Saleyha Ahsan (03:50, SSUA).
Hand in Hand for Syria nurse (logo visible on tunic) at Atareb Hospital, in what appears to be a staged scenario glorifying the exploits of a 15 year old fighter. Image from a web article dated June 2014.

The sequence also features the “burnt” father and baby.

Accounts of the baby’s supposed burns range from “nasty scolds on his legs” to “80% burns”. Full references here.
The baby’s purported father appears entirely unscathed. Full references here.

04:23 – A girl’s scream is patched into the soundtrack here and again at 05:38. The same disembodied scream was also woven into the soundtrack of SSC at 33:26 and 34:41.

04:25 – An ISIS insignia is visible in the rear window of the ambulance filmed by Conway as it enters Atarab Hospital’s courtyard. As discussed here, the Panorama team was embedded with then ISIS partners Ahrar al-Sham during the production of SSC, enabling them to pass unmolested through an ISIS checkpoint. Were the occupants of the ambulance, at least one of whom was armed, members of ISIS? [18]

Ambulance pulls into Atareb Hospital courtyard on 26/08/2013, filmed by Darren Conway. An ISIS insignia is displayed in the rear window and two militarily attired figures emerge (4:27, SSUA)
YouTube footage of the ambulance at the commencement of its journey plainly shows the ISIS insignia. This information was forwarded to then Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry in 2017.

07:55 – “This is Ahmed Darwish, he was 16 years old”.

In SSC a younger child is named as Ahmed Darwish – the small boy shaking in a chair in the corridor.

Ahmed Darwish, Atareb Hospital, 26/8/2013 (SSC)

The person now referred to as Ahmed Darwish in SSUA did also appear in SSC but was unnamed.

The person now also named by the BBC as Ahmed Darwish, Atareb Hospital, 26/8/2013 (sequence originally shown in SSC and repeated in SSUA)
The person now named Ahmed Darwish watching the above footage of himself being carried into Atareb Hospital on 26/08/2013 (SSUA)
The person now named Ahmed Darwish (SSUA)
The person now named Ahmed Darwish (SSUA)

If there were only one person named Ahmed Darwish involved in the events of 26/8/2013 and the misattribution of the name by the BBC, either now or in 2013, were simply an error, it would be an odd one to make. The “original” Ahmed Darwish was one of the focal points of SSC, appearing in the Atareb Hospital sequences and towards the end of the programme, where he is seen in a different hospital recovering from his alleged injuries. [19]. In 2014 SSC reporter Ian Pannell claimed he and Conway had “sporadic contact” with Ahmed’s father. Panorama used an image of the “original” Ahmed Darwish in its promotion for SSUA in April 2021.

The “original” Ahmed Darwish, SSC 44:04
The “original” Ahmed Darwish in a promotional image for SSUA

As discussed in this recent post, the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria (VDCS) compiled a list of 41 fatalities of the alleged attack. [20] The list contains several names plainly recognisable from SSC, albeit transliterated slightly differently in some cases (for instance the BBC refers to one of the victims as Lutfi Arsi while the VDCS lists a Loutfee Asee). The VDCS list contains a single victim named “Ahmad Darwish“.

A peculiar point about the VDCS list is that it gives the date of death of all those on it as 26/8/2013, the day of the alleged attack. However some of those listed are claimed by the BBC to have either died some time later (e.g. Anas Sayyed Ali, listed by the VDCS as Anas al-Sayed Ali) or to still be alive (e.g. Muhammed Assi, listed by the VDCS as Muhammad Assi).

In 2014 Ian Pannell stated that the “original” Ahmed Darwish – the small boy shaking in the corridor – “is alive and living back in Syria”. Evidently the “new” Ahmed Darwish – the balding, bearded man seen in SSUA – survived the events of 26/8/2013.

10:09 – “This is Ahmed’s classmate Omar Misto. He also managed to escape Syria and lives in Turkey now”.

Omar Misto had not previously been named by the BBC.

Omar Misto (SSC)
Omar Misto (SSUA)
Omar Misto (SSUA)

According to the VDCS two children, Omar Mestow and Muhammad Mestow were among those who died in the attack on 26/8/2013. Bearing in mind the very close correlation between other names ascribed to victims by the BBC and names on the VDCS list, plus the fact that according to SSUA Omar’s brother was named Mohammed (see below), it is safe to assume that the names Omar Misto and Omar Mestow refer to one individual.

10:52 – “he [Omar] has had 25 operations“.

How did a student from a rural Aleppo town pay for 25 operations? Where and when did they take place? If his treatment involved leaving and returning to Urm al-Kubra, how was he able to move in and out of territory controlled by jihadist groups? [21]

11:20 – “And this is his younger brother Mohammed. He’s 15”.

Mohammed Misto had also not previously been named by the BBC.

Mohammed Misto, Atareb Hospital, 26/8/2013 (SSUA)

Mohammed Misto features in the “tableau” scene in SSC and associated BBC News reports. He is the boy in the back vest on the right of the image below. Following a gesture by Muhammed Assi (the central figure in the tattered white t-shirt) Mohammed Misto rolls over onto his right then sits back up, glances in the direction of the camera and peers around the room. In the full sequence he then slumps onto his front. The “tableau” sequence is included in SSUA at 05:47 and there are a few seconds of previously unbroadcast footage from it at 13:28.

12:18 – “Mohammed Misto died eight days later“.

As noted above, a Muhammad Mestow is listed by the VDCS as having perished in the same “Warplane shelling” as Omar Mestow and other familiar names from SSC (and now SSUA) on the date of the alleged attack, 26/8/2013.

More perplexingly still, a casualty report published by the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) on 25 November 2013 lists “6 victims who have fallen in previous days”. The report states that the victims were “killed by indiscriminate shelling of the Syrian regime warplanes” in “Orm Al-Kubra” on 28/6/2013, two months before the alleged airstrike of 26/8/2013 featured in SSC. The list includes the name “Mohammad Mastou”.

As discussed here, two other names on the above list – Seham Qanbri and Lutfi Assi – have close parallels with victims named in SSC. Five of the six have close parallels with names on the VDCS casualty list of 26/8/2013.

How is it possible for the same victims to have apparently died on 28 June 2013, again on 26 August 2013 and then, according to the BBC, for some of them to have died at an even later date?

DCHRS casualty report – date of death in all cases 28/6/2013VDCS casualty report – date of death in all cases 26/8/2013BBC sources
Seham Qanbri Siham Qandaree – child femaleSiham Kanbari – died 19/10/2013 (end credits of SSC).
Lutfi AssiLoutfee Asee – child maleLutfi Arsi – “died on his way to hospital”, i.e. either 26/8/2013 or 27/8/2013 (BBC Complaints)
Mohammad MastouMuhammad Mestow – child male“Mohammed Misto died eight days later”, i.e. 3/9/2013 (SSUA)
Walaa AqraaWalaa al-Ali – child female not named in BBC’s reports
Wesam HusseinWisam Hosain – adult malenot named in BBC’s reports
Mustafa Ash-ShaikhMostafa al-Shaikh – adult malenot named in BBC’s reports

Is this simply a mistake, in which 26/8/2013 was erroneously recorded as 28/6/2013? I have contacted the DCHRS to request clarification but have not received a response.

12:34 – The groaning from the “tableau” sequence is patched into the soundtrack here.

12:38 – “This is Muhammed Assi. He suffered 85% burns to his body”.

Muhammed Assi is the central figure in the “tableau” scene in SSC and related BBC News reports. He looks directly into the camera for several moments before raising his arm, at which point the rest of the group becomes animated:

Muhammed Assi in 2013 (SSC)
Muhammed Assi in 2020 (SSUA)
Muhammed Assi (SSUA)
Muhammed Assi (SSUA)
Muhammed Assi (SSUA)
Muhammed Assi (SSUA)

This video, filmed in Urm al-Kubra in 2018, appears to corroborate that Assi has at some point sustained injuries:

Further observations on Assi’s injuries are noted towards the end of footnote [22].

At 04:22 in the BBC1 News report of 16 March 2021 Conway narrates:

“For 23 year old Muhammed the future is not bright”.

Both the BBC in complaints correspondence and Human Rights Watch in its November 2020 report have stated that Assi was 18 at the time of the attack in August 2013. The Human Rights Watch report further states that Muhammed is “now 25 years old”.

12:45 – “This is me after arriving. I was in a red pickup vehicle”. (Muhammed Assi)

SSUA, 12:48

This detail is also mentioned by Omar Misto at 11:27:

SSUA, 11:27

The red pickup truck is also mentioned by Darren Conway in an interview (from 01:54:10) on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 17/03/2021. [22]

“There are a couple of students that, er, really stayed in my mind, one I guess is Muhammed Assi, he had this white powder all over his face, he had burns all over his face, all over his body in fact. As it turns out, we now know that that Muhammad Assi had burns to 85% of his body, that’s 85% of his body and he arrives on a (pause) red pickup truck and he walks himself into a hospital, I mean it it was not only shocking but it was heart-breaking”.

The inclusion of this insignificant detail by three individuals in linked BBC reports appears unnatural and coached.

13:51 – “They were my friends since the first grade“. (Muhammed Assi)

Assi’s statement gives the impression that the Iqra school in Urm al-Kubra was a regular Syrian state school which the students had all attended together for some years. However BBC Complaints Director Colin Tregear has said (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”.

In the extended edition of SSUA (35:35) Abu Taim states “At that school I had been working three years”.

The Syrian conflict began in March 2011. If the Iqra school were, as the BBC Complaints Director understands, a private establishment set up in response to the conflict, it would not have existed three years prior to August 2013.

Moreover, as discussed towards the end of this piece, the school’s name “Iqra” may indicate that it was a religious institution established by one or other of the jihadist groups holding the area and to which parents sent their children primarily in order to demonstrate loyalty. If so, this raises questions about the mix of male and female students and the casual attire of the teaching staff as presented in the BBC’s reports.

16:50 – “17 year old Siham was in her maths class at Iqra school when the blast ripped through the window”.

The BBC and Human Rights Watch have previously given Siham’s age at the time of her death as 18. Saleyha Ahsan has described her as a “young 16 year old girl”.

If Siham were between 16 and 18 in 2013, had she survived then in 2020, when SSUA was filmed, she would have been between 22 and 25. There would therefore appear to be a very large age gap between her and her younger brothers as depicted in SSUA.

Siham’s father and his young sons filmed in 2020 (SSUA).

17:53 – This shot of Siham Kanbari is captioned “Ankara Children’s Hospital 19 September 2013”. Part of the same footage also appears in SSC from 43:22.

17:54, SSUA
43:23, SSC

However in complaints correspondence with the BBC in 2014 Ian Pannell stated that the footage of Siham was shot at the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital in Antakya.

“The IEA asked about the circumstances surrounding the follow-up visit to the hospital in Turkey a few weeks later, sequences from which were shown in the subsequent Panorama. Both men went to Turkey and the IEA was supplied with the name of the doctor who treated the victims and who could attest to their injuries and the facts of Siham Qanbari’s death. Ian Pannell said:

“The hospital was the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital in Antakya – home to one of the country’s specialist burns units. It may be worth adding here that we spent two days in meetings trying to secure permission to film inside the unit as the Turkish government has a policy of refusing media access. It was an eleventh hour decision by the head of the burns unit to approve our request just four hours before we were due to board a plane back to Istanbul.

“We arranged the visit ourselves. (Our fixer) had been in contact with the head of the burns unit and the BBC’s Istanbul Producer was in contact with Turkish health officials.””

Update: I have been informed that the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital is in Ankara, not Antakya. Presumably therefore this was simply an error on the BBC’s part. However the same source advises that there is no hospital named Ankara Children’s Hospital.

Regarding the date in the caption, 19 September 2013, a discrepancy arises. Footage of alleged victim Ahmed Darwish in hospital is presented alongside that of Siham in SSC (from 43m). The furnishings of Siham’s and Ahmed’s rooms are very similar, suggesting that they were both filmed at the same facility. However, as discussed at footnote [19] below, Ian Pannell has previously indicated that the footage of Ahmed Darwish was filmed “about a week” after the alleged attack, i.e. around 2 September 2013. There is no suggestion that the Panorama team made more than one follow up visit to the Turkish hospital.

Ahmed Darwish in Turkish hospital (BBC News report 30 September 2013). The bed, bedside cabinet and chair are the same type that can be seen in Siham Kanbari’s room in the above images, captioned 19 September 2013. However Ian Pannell has suggested that the footage of Ahmed was filmed more than two weeks earlier.

18:50 – “Siham died one month after begging the world to stop the suffering in Syria”.

As discussed above and here a Seham Qanbri and other familiar names from SSC are listed by the DCHRS as victims of a warplane shelling in Orm Al-Kubra on 28/06/2013, two months prior to the alleged events reported by the BBC.

According to VDCS a Siham Qandaree, age 17, and an adult, Siham Qonbori, “fell due to Syrian Regime airstrike using Napalm” on 26/08/2013, the date of the alleged attack.

The DCHRS also reports that a Siham Qambri from Aleppo was “killed by indiscriminate shelling of the Syrian regime warplanes” in Orm Al-Kubra on 23/10/2013.

19:57 – “This is Bayan Khannas, with her brother Muhammed”.

At 02:55 in the accompanying BBC News website report of 17 March 2021, Syria: The scars left by a school bombing, Bayan says of her brother:

“The palms of his hands were burnt and there were holes in his shirt. His hair was burnt”.

Bayan Khannas, Syria: The scars left by a school bombing
Bayan Khannas, Syria: The scars left by a school bombing

This is a peculiarly understated account of Muhammed’s alleged injuries. As is plain from sequences in SSC and repeated in SSUA, Muhammed arrives at Atareb Hospital, accompanied by Bayan, with his skin apparently falling off his hands and arms and with his shoulders and back apparently severely burned. Bayan is shown applying cream to her brother’s burned back and shoulders.

Muhammed Khannas arrives at Atareb Hospital, skin apparently trailing from his hands and arms. (Syria: The scars left by a school bombing)
Bayan Khannas ushers her brother into Atareb Hospital, his back and shoulders seemingly scorched. (Syria: The scars left by a school bombing)
Bayan (white scarf) applying cream to her brother’s burns. (SSUA, 20:14)
Bayan’s assessment of her brother’s alleged injuries. (02:55, Syria: The scars left by a school bombing)

Note that the VDCS fatality list for the alleged attack includes a female child victim Bayn Khansa.

21:06 – “Mohammed died two days after the attack on his school. He was 15 years old”.

This conflicts with information presented in SSC (42:26):

“Muhammed Khannas, 14 years old. He died on the way to hospital in Turkey”.

This would indicate that Muhammed died either on the day of the attack or early the next morning, i.e. 26/8/2013 or 27/8/2013.

While Mohammed Khanass does not appear on the VDCS fatality list, a “Mohamad Feda Khenass” is appended to a truncated version of the VDCS list which is included in a November 2013 Human Rights Watch report (p20). This may indicate that Mohammed died after 26/8/2013, the date of death ascribed to all those on the original VDCS list.

The DCHRS lists a “Child Mohammad Fida Khannas” as a fatality from a warplane shelling on Orm Al-Kubra on 30 August 2013.


[1] Ian Pannell, the reporter on SSC, subsequently left the BBC to work for American broadcaster ABC. In 2019 Pannell narrated a report which misrepresented footage from a Kentucky firing range as a Turkish assault on Kurdish civilians in a Syrian border town.

[3] Reference is also made to the following related BBC News reports:

[4] It is unclear to me whether “Abu Taim” is the same teacher who speaks in this November 2020 Human Rights Watch video (at 3 mins 11s) and who is described as Iqra school’s headmaster in SSC (from 41 mins 40s). If so, then SSC reporter Ian Pannell and Dr Saleyha Ahsan have previously named him, possibly pseudonymously, as Achmed Abu Omar and Mohammed Abu Omar respectively.

Full references here.

[5] This scenario is echoed by Ian Pannell in the narration of SSC (37:09) where he states that “eighteen year old Siham had been sat in a maths class when the blast ripped through the window”.

[6] Collated in Section 13 (Number of bombs), Second letter of complaint to BBC | Fabrication in BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ (

[7] Section 13, BBC response to second letter of complaint | Fabrication in BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ (

“There were two attacks. There is eyewitness footage from the first that we have seen: it was a residential apartment block. The second attack was on the school”.

Two separate attacks are also indicated in these remarks by alleged victim Ahmed Darwish:

[8] Both Human Rights Watch and SSUA transliterate the name this way. I will use this spelling here when not citing other sources.

[9] This analysis indicates that the apartment building was in fact on the next block along from Iqra school, considerably closer than 100 metres away.

[10] Woman’s Hour – Emma Barnett covers the reaction to Sarah Everard’s vigil and the actions of the Metropolitan Police – BBC Sounds (32:31)


[12] Ian Pannell’s claim in SSC (42:32) that alleged victim Anas Said Ali had “been waiting to pick up his little sister from school” suggests a normal school day routine rather than Dr Ahsan’s hectic scenario of parents and relatives rushing to the school following a bomb.

Dr Hallam’s claim in [11] that “ten to sixteen year-olds were waiting after school to be picked up by their… …parents”, also indicates a normal day but here it is the children who were waiting for their parents and/or family members rather than vice versa.

[13] At 35:45 in the extended version of SSUA we hear more of Abu Taim’s account:

“We heard sound of a warplane like in the air. But we didn’t imagine that this criminal pilot will attack like civilians, will attack innocent students. The explosion was horrible and and we saw like a kind of smoke and the smell were like was terrible and we started to evacuate the students to a safe place so we thought everyone like was safe until we went to the front of the school where the playground and then I saw, I saw bodies of my students”.

If there had indeed been an initial strike just a short time earlier on a residential building 100 metres away – according to Human Rights Watch – or indeed on the very next block – see note [9] – then Abu Taim’s faith that a pilot would not attack civilians is inexplicable.

[14] This purported teacher from the school claims that the students started to be evacuated after the first alleged bomb attack on the nearby residential building, prior to the school being struck:

“The plane hit a residential area in Urum Al-Kubra … we tried to get out quickly so we didn’t get hurt but it seems someone’s fate caught up with them today. A gathering of students formed which is normal as the students needed to leave under these circumstances and the plane hit us”.

[15] The dialysis machine and an adult patient were featured on Atareb Hospital’s Facebook page a month prior to the filming of SSC.

[16] More details of the clinics that were available at Atareb Hospital at that time are detailed on the website of the NGO Orient for Human Relief, which partnered with Hand in Hand for Syria to fund Atareb Hospital between April and August 2013. Orient for Human Relief was founded by Dubai based Syrian entrepreneur Ghassan Aboud. Further details of Atareb Hospital’s funding history can be found here.

[17] Hand in Hand for Syria employee Iessa Obied has posted social media images of himself posing with an arsenal of weaponry. The Charity Commission found that these images and other information about Obied’s associations “do not raise sufficient regulatory concern”.

Iessa Obied’s Facebook photos, now deleted (Hand in Hand for Syria logo enlarged for clarity)

Iessa Obied is the younger brother of Atareb Hospital’s then Medical Director, Abdulrahman Obied. Abdulrahman is filmed in conversation with Dr Hallam at 07:34 in SSC.

Top row: Hand in Hand for Syria executive Dr Rola Hallam.
2nd row: Dr Hallam and Abdulrahman Obied in SSC; Iessa Obied posing with surface to air rocket launcher.
3rd row: the Obied brothers and their father.
4th row: Iessa Obied with more weapons and armaments.

[18] The ambulance was transporting a female alleged victim. As discussed here, this woman was able to walk unaided into the ambulance at the outset of her journey yet was filmed by Conway at Atareb a short time later being carried out of the same vehicle by five men, two of whom had accompanied her into the vehicle and so were fully aware that she could walk.

[19] Precisely when the latter sequence was filmed is unclear. In September 2013 Pannell wrote “We visited Ahmed, in a Turkish hospital, a few weeks after the incident.” However a Word document authored by Pannell in February 2014 (part of my complaints correspondence with the BBC) states “here is a screen grab of Ahmed about a week later in hospital in Turkey”. The image appears to be from the sequence shot by Conway:

Screengrab of Ahmed Darwish contained in BBC Complaints correspondence authored by Ian Pannell. This scene is claimed to be “about a week” after the alleged attack, however Pannell had previously claimed the footage of Ahmed was shot “a few weeks after the incident”.

[20] VDCS appears to have removed this list sometime after I published this analysis in January 2021. I have included a link to a copy stored on the Wayback Machine. The individual listings for victims linked to from the main list are still accessible on the VDCS site.

[21] Similar questions apply in respect of Muhammed Assi. Human Rights Watch reports that Assi “has since received psychological treatment from a Syrian doctor in France”. The same Human Rights Watch report states:

“He took jobs as an aid worker with a Syrian nongovernmental organization that provides heaters for refugees in camps before winter and as a security guard protecting equipment at a Covid-19 isolation center”.

At 18:44 in the extended edition of SSUA Conway states:

“Muhammed roams the streets during the day looking for work”.

With presumably very modest resources, how was Assi able to fund his travel to France for psychological treatment?

As evidenced by the video Assi was resident in Urm al-Kubra in March 2018. We learn from SSUA (12:59) that he now “lives in Idlib, rebel held north west Syria”. How was Assi able to move freely in and out of “rebel” held areas?

[22] Conway’s interview, which commences at 01:51:40, raises a number of further questions.

01:52:12 – “We were filming inside the hospital and a baby had just come in and Dr Rola [Hallam] and Dr Sal [Saleyha Ahsan] were treating that baby. I heard a commotion outside, I remember it vividly because it was a pretty quiet day and the hospital was fairly empty except for the baby who was crying and then I heard this commotion outside. I sort of decided to go out and have a look”.

Drs Hallam and Ahsan have provided differing accounts of the start of the crisis. Dr Ahsan, while concurring with Conway that “it was quite a quiet day”, has claimed that the first victim she encountered was not a baby but rather a boy with “wide staring eyes” who asked her where he should go. In another account Dr Ahsan stated that an ambulance siren preceded the simultaneous arrival of the baby and young girls:

“The sound of an ambulance siren and then the screams first of all from a baby and then young girls – that I still hear as I write this – alerted me that something disastrous had happened”.

More starkly at odds with all previous tellings of the alleged incident, in 2017 Dr Hallam claimed that, far from the “quiet day” described by Conway and Ahsan, the staff of the hospital were sheltering in the hospital basement because a warplane was flying overhead.

Full references here.

In the same account Dr Hallam also omits any reference to a baby, instead claiming:

“So we’d just come out [of the basement], and one by one we were seeing these ghoulish-looking children walking in”.

01:53:02 – The groaning from the “tableau” sequence is patched into the soundtrack here, again at 01:53:49 and at the conclusion of the report at 01:56:48.

01:53:25 – “I also noticed some kind of white, sort of powder stuff on them, we didn’t know what this white powder would have been, this had obviously come from the incendiary weapon that was used and it wasn’t only on the outside of their bodies but they’d breathed it in as well, and that’s ultimately what was causing them burning inside the body as well as out.”

Conway’s belief that the white powder “had obviously come from the incendiary weapon” is peculiar as the narrative has long been established that the munition used in the alleged attack contained an incendiary gel. In September 2013, less than a month after the alleged incident, Dr Ahsan wrote on the BMJ website:

“Peter Bouckaert, of Human Rights Watch, believes the weapon was a ZAB incendiary device. It contains a jellied fuel which “adheres to the skin increasing the level of injury … it’s a nasty weapon””.

Moreover the source of the white powder was explained in Human Rights Watch’s November 2020 report:

“At first, the medical staff did not know the source of these patients’ severe burns and the white powder that covered them… …They were later told that the white powder covering the victims was actually dust from the impact of an incendiary weapon”.

01:55:38 – “He [Assi] has pain almost every day and discomfort”.

Human Rights Watch states of Assi

“Although he no longer feels chronic pain, scars cover 85 percent of his body and he can no longer use his left hand”.

Regarding HRW’s claim that Assi “can no longer use his left hand” note the sequence in the BBC News website report of 17 March from 06:16 in which Assi removes his shirt with both hands and sweeps his hair over his head with his left hand with no apparent impediment.

06:17, Syria: The scars left by a school bombing
06:32, Syria: The scars left by a school bombing

Note too the below images from Assi’s Instagram account from between 2018 and 2021 in which he appears to favour his left hand when taking selfies and holding his phone.

Did Saving Syria’s Children “victims” die two months before BBC report?

A casualty report published by the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) appears to show that at least two of the purported victims featured in the 2013 BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria’s Children died two months before Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s initial report.

Teenagers Siham Kanbari (or Qambari/ Qanbari) and Lutfi Arsi are depicted in Saving Syria’s Children supposedly being treated for their injuries at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo following an alleged incendiary attack on their school playground in nearby Urm al-Kubra on 26th August 2013.

However a DCHRS casualty report of 25 November 2013 contains a list of “6 victims who have fallen in previous days”. All six are from Urm al-Kubra and are documented as having died on 28 June 2013. The list includes the names “Seham Qanbri” and “Lutfi Assi”.

All six names on the DCHRS list have parallels on a Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDCS) list of 41 casualties of the purported napalm incident reported by the BBC. The date of death of all those on the VDCS list is 26 August 2013, the day of the alleged incendiary attack.

DCHRS – date of death 28 June 2013VDCS – date of death 26 August 2013
Seham QanbriSiham Qandaree – child female
Siham Qonbori – adult female
Lutfi AssiLoutfee Asee – child male
Mohammad MastouMohammad Mesto – adult male
Walaa AqraaWalaa al-Ali – child female
Wesam HusseinWisam Hosain – adult male
Mustafa Ash-ShaikhMostafa al-Shaikh – adult male

The names “Walaa Aqraa” and “Walaa al-Ali” are less closely analogous than the other instances. I include the comparison because non-BBC footage from Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013 purports to show a deceased victim named “Wala’a”.

DCHRS casualty reports subsequent to 26 August 2013 list three other alleged victims of the purported incendiary attack who appear to correlate with individuals named in the BBC’s reports and/or on the VDCS list:

DCHRS casualty report dateName on DCHRS reportName/s on VDCS listName in BBC report/s
27 August 2013Mohammad Abdunnasir Fakhouri, a 15-year-old, from AleppoMohammad Abdulnaser Hakhouri
30 August 2013Child Mohammad Fida Khannas, a 15-year-old, from AleppoMohammed Kenas/Kanas
23 October 2013Siham Qambri, from AleppoSiham Qandaree – child female
Siham Qonbori – adult female
Siham Kanbari

In total, the VDCS list contains eight names which parallel those in the BBC’s reports, in contemporary DCHR casualty reports or in other accounts of the events of 26 August 2013 of which I am aware. In several cases the VDCS’s blanket claim of a date of death of 26 August 2013 runs counter to these other narratives.

Entry on VDCS listDate of death (DCHRS)Date of death (VDCS)Date of death (BBC)Date of death (other sources)Notes
Muhammad Abdullatif age 1526/8/13An adult Mohammed Abdullatif is presented as a witness by the BBC (02:55).

Blog page.
Walaa al-Ali age 1728/6/13 (Walaa Aqraa)26/8/13A non-BBC video from Atareb Hospital on 26/8/13 purports to show a deceased victim “Wala’a”.
Anas al-Sayed Ali age 1526/8/13“a few days later in hospital in Turkey”. BBC Complaints, 2 December 2013.
(Anas Sayyed Ali)
“two weeks later”. Dr Saleyha Ahsan, Human Rights Watch report, November 2013 (p15). (Anas Said Ali)Blog page.
Loutfee Asee age 1528/6/13
(Lutfi Assi)
26/8/13“He died on his way to hospital in Turkey”. [i.e. 26/8/13 or 27/8/13]. BBC Complaints, 2 December 2013. (Luffi Arsi)Evidence which may contradict the BBC’s claim that Asee died en route to hospital is discussed here.

Blog page.
Muhammad Assi age 1826/8/13BBC Audience Services provided an image of Assi (Mohammed Asi) “two weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey”.

A Human Rights Watch report of 9 November 2020 contains an interview with, and video of, Assi.

Blog page.
Ahmad Darwish age 1526/8/13The BBC filmed Ahmed “in a Turkish hospital, a few weeks after the incident”.

Blog page.
Siham Qandaree age 1728/6/13 Seham Qanbri


23/10/13 Siham Qambri
26/8/1319/10/13 – update to end credits of Saving Syria’s Children (Siham Kanbari)“Seven weeks later” (approx 14/10/13), The Daily Beast (Siham Qambari)

20/10/13 – Dr Saleyha Ahsan, BMA blog and Human Rights Watch report November 2013 (p15)
A Human Rights Watch report of 9 November 2020 corrects the VDCS’s “Siham Qandaree” for “Siham Kanbari” (p20, footnote 48). I therefore assume that the VDCS’s “Siham Qonbori” (row below) is a separate individual.

The BBC filmed Siham Kanbari “in a Turkish hospital, a few weeks after the incident”.

Blog page.
Siham Qonbori (adult female)28/6/13 Seham Qanbri


23/10/13 Siham Qambri
26/8/13Likely this is not the Siham claimed to be presented in the BBC’s reports (see note directly above). However it is not certain which, if either, of the DCHRS listed victims this name corresponds to.

One other alleged victim is named both by the BBC and the DCHRS. While he does not appear in the VDCS list, his name is appended to a truncated version of the VDCS list which is included in a November 2013 Human Rights Watch report (p20).

Name on VDCS listDate of death (DCHRS)Date of death (VDCS)Date of death (BBC)Date of death (other sources)Notes
30/8/13 (Mohammad Fida Khannas)“on the way to hospital in Turkey”. [i.e. 26/8/13 or 27/8/13]. BBC Panorama Saving Syria’s Children narration. (Mohammed Kanas)26/8/13 (presumed)
Human Rights Watch report, November 2013 (p20). “Mohamad Feda Khenass” is appended to a truncated version of the VDCS list

Blog page.

The list of casualties in the November 2013 Human Rights Watch report omits four names from its VDCS source: Siham Qonbori, Mohammad Mesto, Wisam Hosain and Mostafa al-Shaikh. These are four of the six names whose counterparts are listed by the DCHRS as having died as a result of shelling on 28 June 2013. The VDCS counterparts of the two remaining 28 June 2013 DCHRS casualties – Loutfee (rendered as Loutfi) Asee and Walaa al-Ali – are included in the truncated HRW list.

The Human Rights Watch report is fastidious in clarifying minor errors and omissions in the the original VDCS list, such as the precise spelling of names and ages of some of the victims (p20, footnotes 47 & 48), however it omits mention of the fact that the VDCS allocates a date of death of 26 August 2013 to all the victims on its original list. Indeed, the text of the Human Rights Watch report contradicts the original VDCS list by explicitly claiming (p20) that two victims died after 26 August 2013 – Anas Said Ali, whom the report claims died “two weeks later from complications caused by the severe burns” and Siham Kanbari, whom it is stated “died in a hospital in Turkey on October 20”.

Conflicting accounts of date of death of Siham Kanbari/Qambari/Qanbari, excluding the newly analysed DCHRS data.

As suggested in this previous post, it is not readily apparent that the girl featured in Saving Syria’s Children and the person who appears in the programme’s updated end credits are one and the same.

A summary of further issues surrounding Saving Syria’s Children can be found here.

Update March 2021: after seven and a half years online, the VDCS list of casualties of the alleged napalm incident is no longer available. However several copies exist on the Wayback Machine.

Human Rights Watch publishes interview with Saving Syria’s Children victim

Muhammad Assi (centre, giving peace sign) in report by Ian Pannell and Darren Conway broadcast on BBC 10 O’Clock News, 29 August 2013.

Human Rights Watch has published (9 November 2020) a report heavily referencing the purported events featured in the 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children (hereafter SSC).

“They Burn Through Everything” The Human Cost of Incendiary Weapons and the Limits of International Law includes an interview with Muhammed Assi, the central figure in the tableau of male purported incendiary bomb attack casualties filmed by the BBC at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013.

The tableau sequence was initially shown on the BBC 10 O’Clock News on 29 August 2013 as parliament was voting on whether to join US-led military strikes on Syria. The scene, and others featuring Assi, were broadcast in SSC a month later on 30 September 2013.

34:19 to 34:36 in SSC, broadcast 30 September 2013. Muhammad Assi is the central figure who gives the peace sign at the start of the tableau sequence.
Muhammed Assi in video accompanying the new Human Rights Watch report.

Assi is recognisable in the video which accompanies the Human Rights Watch report as the individual who made the distinctive peace sign in the BBC’s report seven years earlier:

Assi arriving at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013 (BBC)
Assi inside Atareb Hospital (BBC)
Assi making peace sign while being filmed by BBC Panorama team. Full sequence here.
Assi (shirtless) in the courtyard of Atareb Hospital (BBC). Over his left shoulder is an ambulance displaying the ISIS emblem. This vehicle was filmed at close quarters by the BBC Panorama team. This information, plus evidence that the Panorama team was embedded with then ISIS partner group Ahrar al-Sham during the production of SSC, was forwarded to former Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry.
Muhammed Assi in SSC (left) and in a social media post from 2018

The HRW report gives an account of Assi’s purported experience:

On August 26, 2013, Syrian government forces attacked a three-story building about 100 meters from Urum al-Kubra’s Iqraa Institute, a school serving intermediate and secondary students in a town in the northern Aleppo governorate.[199] Muhammed Assi, then 18 years old, and other students hurried outside to see what had happened. “We saw a plane in the sky. It was very far away so we thought, ‘OK, it won’t hit us,’” Muhammed told Human Rights Watch and IHRC.[200] Teachers urged the students to return inside where it was safer.[201] Muhammed and five classmates, however, stayed in the courtyard with a playground talking about the attack and what they would study the following year. The group suddenly heard a faint, “unfamiliar” sound, and “[t]here were large fires, and choking fumes.”[202] An incendiary bomb had landed in the middle of the six students, immediately killing the other five. “The intensity of the explosion threw me a distance of about 3 to 4 meters from where the missile struck,” Muhammed recounted. “We were surrounded by the fire. I used my hands to hit my head to try to snuff out the fire.”[203] 

The report continues:

Encircled by flames, Muhammed did not move for some time. “Time seems to stop when these things happen to you…,” he said. “[W]ords can’t describe my feelings, but I saw the fire completely surrounding me from everywhere, and when the breeze blew, it fed oxygen into the incendiary substance and made it burn even stronger.”[206] Finally, a teacher told him they needed to leave. Muhammed remembered that as he began walking, he saw “many students laying on the ground, badly burned, trying to get someone to help them, and no one was helping them. Students were trying to break the windows and the glass with bare hands to get out without getting hurt.”[207] Local civilians rushed him and others in a pickup truck to al-Atarib Hospital about 20 to 25 minutes away because there was no hospital in Urum al-Kubra.[208]

Muhammed recalled, “When we first got to the hospital, the doctors didn’t have a lot of experience dealing with this kind of substance, so they started by dousing us with water and with some serums, and this was calming to us at first, but then after less than a minute, my pain would multiply.”[215]

Muhammed suffered from burn injuries over 85 percent of his body’s surface area.[217] He said his burns extended to half of his face, one of his ears, his neck, his shoulders, his back, his hand, and both legs and feet. He also struggled to breathe and had burns in his stomach.[218] Despite the pain, he flashed a peace sign at a BBC camera crew that had been doing a documentary on Dr. Hallam and Dr. Ahsan.[219] “The peace sign was just to express that, despite everything, we want to live and stay alive and we won’t stop no matter what,” he said.[220]

In 2014 BBC Audience Services provided this photograph of Assi “taken two weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey.”

The video accompanying the HRW report includes the following still images:

Images on Assi’s social media accounts appear to show burns to both of his hands:

Social media post, October 2016
Social media post, May 2020

A recent post (14 October 2020) pictures Assi reunited with members of the BBC Panorama team:

L-R: Mughira Al Sharif (Fixer/Translator, SSC); member of BBC High Risk Team glimpsed in sections of SSC; Muhammed Assi; Darren Conway (cameraman/director, SSC). A related post is tagged @ اطمة (Atmeh), indicating that this photo was likely taken around the time that Conway was in Atmeh refugee camp producing a report for the BBC entitled Syria: Inside a refugee camp where Covid is spreading for which, unusually, he acted as reporter rather than cameraman.
Still image of Assi (left) and frame from later in the HRW video

The HRW report notes that Assi

has since received psychological treatment from a Syrian doctor in France and grown accustomed to the questions from strangers, but, he said, some people fear him because of his scars.[239]

One might question how a student from a rural part of Aleppo would be able to fund such treatment.

The HRW report contains an account of the purported events of 26 August 2013 by Dr Rola Hallam “a British-Syrian doctor who helped treat” victims, Dr Saleyha Ahsan “another British emergency care doctor on duty at the same hospital” and others.

Left: Dr Rola Hallam in SSC; Right: Dr Saleyha Ahsan in Libya in 2011.

Dr Ahsan is a former British Army Captain who has served in Bosnia and a former presenter on the BBC Two health series Trust Me I’m A Doctor. Dr Hallam’s father is, according to Dr Ahsan in 2013, “involved politically with the Syrian National Council”. Previous inconsistencies in accounts of the events of 26 August 2013 by Drs Hallam and Ahsan are noted here and here.

Some observations on HRW’s new account of the Urum al-Kubra incident follow.

The case study is based on recent Human Rights Watch-IHRC interviews with Muhammed Assi, with a teacher who witnessed the attack and preferred to remain anonymous, and with Dr. Saleyha Ahsan and Dr. Rola Hallam, both volunteers with the UK humanitarian organization Hand in Hand for Syria who treated the injured students that day.

The “teacher who witnessed the attack” speaks in English at 3 mins 11s in the video accompanying the HRW report. This would seem to be the person whose words are translated from Arabic into English from 44s in the BBC 10 O’Clock News report of 29 August 2013 and from 41 mins 40s in SSC, and who is referred to as the school’s headmaster.

The school headmaster is not identified in the BBC News report of 29 August 2013

Despite claims to be preserving the headmaster’s identity, those involved in the BBC reports appear to have named this person on at least two occasions.

See Ian Pannell: contradictions in accounts of Aleppo school bomb attack

Contemporary reports by Sky and ITN featured footage of another purported teacher supposedly injured in the purported Urm al-Kubra incendiary attack. As is the case with several other purported victims and witnesses, this person appeared to be in little distress.

“Teacher” at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2103, after supposedly sustaining injuries from the purported Urum al-Kubra incendiary attack.

The same individual appears fleetingly in SSC, swaying and lurching in a bizarre manner.

The same individual (identifiable by the three dark spots on his white t-shirt) filmed by the BBC at Atareb Hospital swaying and lurching bizarrely .

The BBC claims (p10) that the school shown in its news report and in SSC “was a residential home hired by the headmaster and his colleagues, and they were holding summer courses at the time of the attack”. That the building is residential in origin is evident from the swimming pool.

The Iqra school in Urum al-Kubra, Aleppo. The building has been geolocated here. Videos showing the exterior and interior in the aftermath of the purported incendiary strike can be viewed here and here.

In several articles and interviews Dr Ahsan identifies the school as “the Iqraa Institute”. I am advised that the signage seen in this video, shot at the scene a day after the purported attack, confirms the use of the name “Iqraa” or “Iqra”.

A May 2014 article by Ola Rifai, research fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at St. Andrews university, describes how “Iqrà” schools were instituted in eastern Ghouta in 2011 by Salafi fighting group Liwa al-Islam (now Jaysh al-Islam). Rifai notes: “Mohamed Abu Ziad – the deputy manager of the Iqrà organisation – stresses that the curriculum focuses on religious affairs and attempts to “raise a generation that has a sense of pride in its religion”.”

The head of a local Syrian team which has investigated the purported Urum al-Kubra incendiary attack observed in 2014 (Word download): “An “IQRA” center is mobile and will receive Muslim clerics, imposed by the local rebel council, to verify if the “ideas” of the population are in harmony with the religious wahhabi fundamentalism that is adopted by the revolutionaries, let them be [sic] from the Muslim Brotherhood or from Al Qaeda.”

Assuming that the Urum al-Kubra school was affiliated to the Iqrà brand described by Rifai and/or is of the type described by the head of the local Syrian team, then the casual attire of the “headmaster” and of the purported teacher in the white t-shirt would seem to be out of place. Of the latter, the head of the local Syrian team wrote (Word download): “This man is said to be the “institutor”. This is in contradiction with the “IQRA” system where the “institutor” is not a civilian professor but a muslim cleric called “Sheikh”.”

Further, Rifai writes of Iqrà schools that “female students are not allowed to mix with their male peers”. As noted below, despite a jarring eyewitness reference to “seven martyrs and about 50 wounded from the religious college for women and girls”, the purported victims transported to Atareb Hospital consist mostly of adolescent males with a much smaller number of females. The BBC does not tell us whether classes at the Urum al-Kubra Iqra school were segregated by sex.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed Mustafa Haid, an activist who arrived on the scene in al-Atarib Hospital shortly after the attack.

Mustafa Haid is on record as claiming that he “heard rumours” of the attack at “3 in the afternoon”. The BBC reporter involved has stated that the attack happened “at around 5.30pm at the end of the school day”. As noted here there are discrepancies of up to six hours in accounts of when the attack supposedly occurred.

See Ian Pannell: contradictions in accounts of Aleppo school bomb attack

Shortly after the attack, the hospital was inundated by injured students.[209] “It honestly looked like a scene out of Armageddon,” said Dr. Hallam. “They all came in in very similar ways. Their clothes [were] hanging off them. They had the awful smell of singed flesh added to a weird chemical synthetic smell…. It was very clear they had severe burns and one of the most alarming [things] was how little pain [some of them] seemed to be in, which is immediately a red flag for how extensive their burns were because we know that major burns are not painful.”[210]

Dr Hallam here echoes phrases used in SSC: at 32:12 in SSC Dr Hallam’s colleague Dr Ahsan states “Their clothes are hanging off them”; at 39:17 Dr Ahsan says “Today was like something out of flippin’ Armageddon”. In a 2017 account of the purported Urum al-Kubra incident Dr Hallam also echoed very specific language used by Dr Ahsan in SSC (“white powder dust”). It is hard to avoid the sense that Dr Hallam is recalling the script of SSC rather than her own experience.

Other students also suffered severe injuries. Dr. Hallam described one boy as looking “wooden” when he first came to the hospital.[221] “He was obviously burned. [His hoarse voice] immediately told me his insides were burned, burned through his throat…. I knew he was going to die inside the hour,” she said. “In terms of mass casualty treatment, I should have just left him to die because it was futile in the medical sense, but I knew he would suffocate to death. I ended up intubating and ventilating and sedating him … and he slipped away that way.”[222]

In her 2017 account Dr Hallam similarly describes a boy “so burnt he looks like a tree bark”. Neither description, in my view, matches any of the purported victims who feature in SSC or associated third party footage. In her 2017 account Dr Hallam appears to describe an exchange with the “wooden” boy in English, which might appear incongruous in the circumstances.

Doctors particularly remembered the suffering of an 18-year-old student named Siham Qanbari.[223] “She was meant to be the brightest and one of the best in her class, and despite the risks of [going to school] with all of these bombings, she insisted on continuing to get her education,” said Dr. Hallam, who treated Siham.[224] When she arrived at al-Atarib Hospital, Siham was in extreme pain due to injuries on over 60 percent of her body.[225] Dr. Hallam told Human Rights Watch and IHRC, “I knew things weren’t looking good. She had major burns, her face was burned, her clothes were hanging off her, she had an awful smell of singed flesh, not just from her but from the dozens of children who came in.” 

Siham Qanbari (or Kanbari) appears in footage shot by the BBC and others at Atareb Hospital.

Siham Qanbari (SSC, 37 minutes)
Female who I take to be Siham (based on hair and scarf ) purportedly being treated by Dr Saleyha Ahsan in non-BBC footage.
Same scene as above, moments later .

Despite claims by Dr Ahsan to have been alerted to the crisis by the “screams first of all from a baby and then young girls” and the witness reference to “seven martyrs and about 50 wounded from the religious college for women and girls”, the vast majority of purported victims filmed at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013 are adolescent males. Only six female purported victims are seen in all the footage of which I am aware.

While the majority of the male purported victims either arrived or were subsequently filmed with their clothing tattered or removed for purported emergency treatment, all of the adult female purported victims are fully clad.

The majority of male purported victims depicted in SSC (from 30:38) arrive with their clothing in tatters and/or have clothing removed to facilitate their purported treatment for burns.
In all available footage from Atareb Hospital on the day of the purported incident just six female victims are presented. The woman in black (left) and a woman (top centre) who appears alongside her in this video appear to have suffered no disturbance to their clothing, despite white cream on their faces denoting purported treatment for burns from an incendiary substance. The others are a Dutch-Armenian woman with whom I have been in contact (top right), a young girl (bottom right), Siham Qanbari (bottom centre) and an apparent corpse (centre).

Siham’s father, Ridwan, “kept begging me, ‘Please, treat her as your daughter.’ I didn’t have a daughter at the time, but I do now,” Dr. Hallam said.[226] Siham was transferred to a hospital in Turkey and later died from her injuries.[227]

The BBC has clarified (point 17) that the man in green who at 37:18 in SSC implores Dr Hallam: “I beg you treat her like your own daughter” is not Siham’s father but “presumably a relative”. Siham’s father, Ridwan Qambari, is the balding man in beige.

As an aside, earlier in the report HRW includes what is an unmistakeable reference, this time by Dr Ahsan, to Siham Qanbari and her father, although without naming either.

She recalled a man “begging for us to help his daughter,” who was “howling in pain and calling for her father. The sounds are in my ears still…. It was awful.”[31]

Accounts of when Siham is supposed to have died vary.

See: Dr Saleyha Ahsan: contradictions in accounts of alleged incendiary bomb attack

The BBC added the following image to the end credits of SSC when it was available on BBC iPlayer, purporting to show Siham among friends and/or relatives.

Compare with Siham as depicted in the Atareb Hospital sequences of SSC.

The HRW report comes at a time when the BBC is attempting to discredit those challenging the establishment narrative on Syria and as this blog exceeds a quarter of a million hits and the view that SSC contains fabricated sequences starts to become entertained in quarters which may feel rather close to home.

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. At least two of the alleged victims presented by the BBC appear on a list of casualties of an attack which took place two months earlier.
  4. One of the alleged victims filmed by the BBC being carried 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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].”
  7. One of the “stars” of SSC, Dr Saleyha Ahsan, later fronted a BBC Newsnight report about highly sophisticated British military casualty simulation exercises – is there a connection with the alleged injuries seen in SSC?
  8. One of the alleged victims appears to have been identified as a resident of The Netherlands. Her 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).”


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.”

“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.”

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.”

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.”

Former BBC Crimewatch presenter Sue Cook

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


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:

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.


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
Subject: Atareb Hospital, Aleppo 26 August 2013


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:


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”


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.


[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.

and ambulances are again hospitals across the border
E wounded, this time I carried the numbers
and his wounds were higher than ever.
injured were different Syria’s Aleppo
from the town of Kübra, the forest of the city
was allegedly brought to Assad forces
bomb dropped from connected aircraft
The explosion that hit the town together
about 60 people injured with
with the efforts of relatives in Reyhanlı
Cilvegözü was brought to the border gate and
chemical biological radiation and nuclear
after checks in the scout
Shipped to hospitals in Hatay
over all of the injured and
a burns on their bodies
votes in claims about votes burns
according to the witnesses of the striking attack
cause of burns phosphor used
grenade turya kamilla plane school hit
bomb and phosphorus threw explosion sound
When we heard, we went to school and my daughter was among them
when we went to the scene high school
we saw the wrong situations of their students
Even the student’s lifeless body
there were around 60 injured people
life threatening of some injured
in Hatay and its districts
more wounded in hospitals
in the area of ​​Rasulayn with the possibility of
between PYD and Al Nusra forces
clashes continue and bullets bounce
Resul the same border neighbor Ceylanpınar
threatens his district
conflicts in that area
intensified anti-aircraft and gunfire
Meanwhile a bullet that crosses the border
Süleyman Doğantekin in Ceylanpınar
injured in the abdomen hit
Doğantekin was dispatched to Şanlıurfa
teachers’ house near the border
an anti-aircraft gun hitting the wall
bullets also caused panic in the restaurant
customers and employees panicked
took a look at themselves
explosion sounds came out
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 <>
Date: 28 March 2019 at 17:33:03 GMT
To: “‘Brees Media'” <>
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.. 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.