Update: on 22 January 2016 all pages at the Demotix website, including the images taken by Amer Alfaj discussed below, were transferred to the website of Corbis Images. On 2 May 2016 “the best Corbis imagery” was transferred to the website Getty Images.
Alfaj’s images were not transferred to Getty, however archived copies of the original Demotix page are available on Wayback Machine – this copy shows the page when the images were dated 25 August 2013 and this copy when they were dated 26 August 2013. The full set of 18 images is also reproduced in the Appendix at the bottom of this page.
A series of eighteen photographs purporting to show two victims of “Napalm and White Phosphorous bombs on a student population in Aleppo” arriving and being treated at Bab al-Hawa border hospital were originally published on the website Demotix dated 25 August 2013, as is demonstrated by these screengrabs made in December 2013. The BBC states that the events at Atareb hospital depicted in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ occurred on 26 August 2013.
“The pictures that appear on the Demotix website were taken at a different hospital (Bab al Hawa, not Hand in Hand’s hospital). None of the victims pictured are the same individuals as those who appear in the BBC’s reporting. It would seem to add evidence to allegations by Human Rights Watch and others about the repeated use of incendiary type bombs by the Syrian government. The similarities in the appalling injuries sustained would also appear to be consistent with this”
However it seemed clear to me that, despite the discrepancy in the dates, the Demotix images related to the same incident featured in Panorama and drew attention to the matter once more in a subsequent letter to the BBC (published as a blog post) of 17 March 2014. After making this post I became aware that the date of the images on the Demotix site had been amended to 26 August 2013. I noted this fact prominently in an update to my letter/blog post. On 23 April 2014 the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit responded:
As you now acknowledge, the website appears to be date-stamped 26 August (see Appendix 1). If you do obtain any evidence which shows the photos were published before 26 August I would be grateful if you would draw it to my attention.
Writing once more on 7 May 2014 I included a link to screengrabs showing the original 25 August date of the Demotix images; furthermore I demonstrated that, contrary to Ian Pannell’s assertions, both alleged victims in the Demotix images did indeed also feature in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ (see discussion of images below) and expressed surprise that he had not recognised them, asking:
Would a “reasonable person” find it plausible that the BBC reporter who was present throughout the entire “4 to 5 hour period” during which the alleged events of 26 August occurred, and whose colleague Darren Conway had filmed them numerous times, could fail to recognise two of the victims – one in particular of whose alleged injuries are shockingly distinctive – in a series of eighteen clear and detailed photographs?
On 19 May the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit responded:
It is my opinion that at least some of the individuals photographed by Mr Alfaj at the Bab al-Hawa hospital were also filmed by the BBC at the hospital in Syria. I think that is clear from a study of the relevant material. I am aware that Mr Pannell has previously offered a different view but I do not believe that undermines the credibility of the material filmed by the BBC at the Hand in Hand for Syria hospital or can be regarded as evidence that the victims were not genuine.
Footnote 13 of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit provisional report of 23 April 2014 cites this You Tube video entitled “Documenting the massacre Great Orme 08/26/13”. The video contains footage shot at the Hand in Hand hospital and seemingly also at Bab al-Hawa hospital on the Turkish border, to which alleged victims were supposedly transported.
A seemingly severely burned victim (X) is seen in the “Great Orme” video from 1:26 to 1:40 (inside an ambulance), again fleetingly at 1:50 (with Dr Ahsan in the background) and once more, seemingly as a corpse, from 2:20 to 3:02 (again inside an ambulance).
This is without any doubt the person featured in Demotix photo numbers 4 – 7 , 9 – 11, 13 and 16 – 18. The pattern of skin on X’s left arm at 2:38 in the “Great Orme” video (Fig. 1) and in Demotix image 11 and others (Fig. 2) is identical.
The man (Y) filmed indoors with a plastic burns mask from 3:55 to 4:20 in the “Great Orme”video (Fig. 6) is the same person featured in Demotix photograph numbers 2, 3, 8, 12, 14, 15 and 19 (Figs 7 & 8).
(While the surroundings in the “Great Orme” video and the Demotix photographs vary slightly, the flooring, some of the surrounding equipment and Y’s blanket are recognisable, suggesting that this portion of the “Great Orme” video was also shot at the same location as the Demotix images).
Y himself is identifiable by the pattern of skin on his left hand, the pattern of the cream smeared on his chest, and most prominently by the distinctive white patch on his forehead.
On 7 May I noted that while the “first two” ambulances are seen been loaded and departing for Bab al-Hawa at nightfall in Panorama, the Demotix images, which supposedly represent Victim X & Y’s arrival at Bab al-Hawa, are in daylight. The BBC Editorial Complaints Unit responded as follows:
The rushes filmed by the BBC show an interview with Dr Hallam while it is still daylight in which she says “We have diverted the very serious cases to Turkey after stabilisation at the hospital here”. There is footage of hospital staff discussing the transfer of patients to hospitals in Turkey also in daylight and shots of an ambulance waiting outside the hospital at the same time. That would appear to indicate that some of the victims were transported from the hospital before it got dark. There is later footage once it got dark of Dr Hallam talking to Dr Ahsan in which she said “so first two ambulances are going”. That might appear to contradict her previous comment that some ambulances had already left but I don’t believe this single comment (even though it appears to be at odds with her previous statement) can be regarded as proof that none of the injured were transported earlier in the day. I therefore cannot agree that the daytime photographs of victims at Bab al-Hawa are inconsistent with the material filmed by the BBC or can be regarded as evidence that the BBC material was faked.
A number of videos which appear on the Free Halab website feature Victims X & Y:
Videos 1 & 2 correlate with the Demotix images and were presumably filmed at Bab al-Hawa hospital. Note that in video 1 and in the Demotix images Victim X is depicted as being administered treatment and hence implicitly is alive.
Videos 3 & 4 show Victim X inside the ambulance,excerpts from which were used in the “Great Orme video. In video 4 in particular Victim X appears to be deceased.
Videos 3 & 4 are presumably filmed at Atareb hospital; video 4 features the medic who is also seen is in this film of the younger of the “black dress women” which is shot in a room clearly recognisable as Atareb.
A question therefore arises over Victim X’s movements. If he is indeed deceased in the ambulance videos, and these were shot at Atareb prior to his transportation to Bab al-Hawa, why then is he depicted as alive (i.e. being administered treatment) in the Demotix photographs and in video 1 above?
One possibility is that videos 3 & 4 feature Victim X’s corpse after having being returned from Bab al-Hawa, where he died.
“We lost a gentlemen on transfer to Bab-Al-Hawa, he had extensive third degree burns. I’ve never seen a burn that bad. I think his face is going to stay with me for quite a long time”.
If so, then this fits neither with the presentation of Victim X as deceased in an ambulance at Atareb hospital in videos 3 & 4 (unless, as noted, these videos depict the return of Victim X’s corpse from Bab al-Hawa) nor (certainly) with the presentation of him as alive upon arrival at Bab al-Hawa in the Demotix images and video 1 .
Below is the full set of 18 images taken by Amer Alfaj which were originally posted on the website Demotix dated 25 August 2013, later amended to 26 August 2013.