Woman in black dress

Update (December 2018): A short time before she was filmed by the BBC being carried out of an ambulance on a stretcher, this woman was filmed walking towards and then into the ambulance without any apparent difficulty. Some of the men who carried her out of the ambulance on the stretcher had accompanied her on her journey and so were aware that she could walk. See this analysis on the home page of this blog.

From 2:38 to 2:44 in Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s BBC Ten O’Clock News report of 29 August 2013 a group of four people, including a woman in a black dress with a distinctive gold pattern, rushes through Atareb Hospital gate, interrupting an interview with Dr Rola Hallam.

giphy (4)In an extended version of the same sequence at 36 minutes in Saving Syria’s Children a subtitle translates the male as saying “this is my daughter”.

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The woman’s demeanour appears to fluctuate between lamentation and anger concluding (in the full sequence) with her stamping her foot in the direction of the camera. [1]

A few moments later in Saving Syria’s Children – in chronologically earlier footage [2] – she is shown being transported by stretcher from an ambulance into the hospital: [3]

stretcherThe same woman is also glimpsed during her alleged treatment inside Atareb Hospital in this You Tube video, exhibiting a similarly strangely doleful demeanour. [4]  It is notable that while the application of white cream to her face, arms and hands would suggest she has been exposed to the contents of the alleged incendiary device, her clothing appears undamaged.

bdw1 bdw3 bdw4 bdw5The same woman also appears in this You Tube video shot inside Atareb Hospital later in the day (as is evident from the darkness outside). In this video she states “We are students in Orm Alkubra academy” and “we all kids haven’t turned 18 of age yet”. [5]

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In a Twitter exchange of 30th November 2013 (screengrabs here), Dr Saleyha Ahsan claims that the woman was outside in the courtyard with her father in order “to be evacuated” “to turkey or border hospital”. Notably, however, the medic speaking from 2:06 in the You Tube video explicitly states of the same woman that she did not need to be evacuated: [6]

“Sister here is among the lucky ones who are still alive. Her burns covered 20% of her body so with God’s wish she will recover unlike so many other victims who arrived here, and they all were students, and their burns covered 50-80% of their bodies. Most of them were transferred to other hospitals especially in Turkey due to absence of proper medical treatment and a specialized burns centre.”

The final images below show a second woman who appears at 02:30 in the same You Tube video as the woman in the black dress. This person appears unscathed:

new8 Alleged_napalm_thermite_victim_Atareb_Hospital_Aleppo_26_August_2013_http_bit_ly_16GapbZ


[1] In Saving Syria’s Children (36m) this sequence is overlaid with music. However at 2:38 in the BBC Ten O’Clock News report the cries and rants of the “family” are audible. The same cries and rants are also heard from 3:06  in this BBC World Service report of (presumably) August 2013, accompanied by Ian Pannell’s narration stating “Fathers and mothers, desperate for help, fought to be allowed into the hospital, cursing their president Bashar al-Assad”

On 23 April 2014 the BBC explained (pp 6 & 7) that at this point the woman in the black dress had already been treated inside the hospital with white burns cream. She then “went back outside” (“to be evacuated” to “turkey or border hospital” according to Dr Saleyha Ahsan) prior to rushing back through the hospital gate with her family to declaim Assad to the BBC camera.

To say that the family was at this point fighting “to be allowed into the hospital” is therefore false. Furthermore, none of the alleged victims in Saving Syria’s Children are seen fighting “to be allowed into the hospital” – they are carried or walk inside, entirely unimpeded.

In his BBC web article of 30 September 2013 Pannell repeats the claim that “Fathers and mothers” “fought to be allowed into the hospital” but here substitutes the phrase “desperate for help” with “desperate for news”.


References for above graphic:

https://audioboom.com/boos/1573472-the-aftermath-of-an-incendiary-bomb-dropped-onto-a-school-playground-in-northern-syria (4:46)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-23892594 (2:37)
https://vimeo.com/140567469 (36:00 – 36:43)

[2] Ian Pannell has written:

The woman in a black dress with flowers was filmed arriving at the hospital and then she was filmed a second time after she had treatment (the application of burn cream) standing outside the hospital with her family. These are not two “arrival shots”. One is arriving the other is stood outside after treatment. The use of these shots in the opposite order makes no journalistic or editorial difference to the telling of this story, it was edited this way to show how distraught the victim and her father were and then to flash back so people could remember her as she was rushed into the hospital.

She, like all the victims would have been administered morphine and fentanyl to treat the pain, which might explain why she does not appear in “physical pain”. There was a constant stream of people arriving, some received initial treatment and then wandered outside and back in again. Some were doused in water outside the hospital because of the fear of chemical weapons. It was a scene of chaos with patients arriving, wandering in and out searching for treatment or family and friends or anyone to help, being taken back inside, some then being rushed off and in come cases brought back in again.

BBC response to second letter of complaint  18 February 2014 (See section 11 in Word download at the link).

[3] A man rushes towards the ambulance as it is pulls up inside the hospital gates. He appears to be in a highly emotional state and seemingly has to be restrained by two members of staff. This man is not among the supposed family group filmed with the woman at Atareb Hospital gate. Update: the man appears to be the same who is walking behind alleged victim Lutfi Arsi holding a drip at 37:52 in Saving Syria’s Children.

[4]  As noted here, the woman who appears in the immediately preceding sequence (from 01:04 to 01:07), also in the role of an apparent victim, bears a strong  resemblance to a Dutch woman who contacted me on Facebook and who was anxious not to be identified in images from Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013.

[5] From this translation/summary of the woman’s words in the You Tube video:

We are students in Orm Alkubra academy .. we were at Ikra’ school in a mathematical lesson .. suddenly a war-plane bombed a nearby building .. as we panicked we rushed out and saw the building in flames .. teachers encouraged us to escape .. while escaping they called us to return to the school as the war-plane has not finished bombing yet .. they were sure that it will bomb again .. and then the war-plane bombed us .. I did not hear any sound but all what I saw is people burning .. I got burnt and so my friends .. we did not know what happened and why .. a war-plane bombed us and bodies in flames all over the place .. I felt like it is the judgement day .. everybody is trying to put out themselves .. corpses all over the place .. people scrubbing their bodies to the ground .. why this happened ? .. we got up and ran .. we hid at the neighbourhood, they soaked us in cold water .. once we came it is an indescribable scene .. all bodies on the floors .. all students are burnt .. we are education seekers .. what is our guilt? .. are we carrying weapons? .. we are carrying pens and notebooks writing in maths lessons .. what is our guilt? .. teachers are not guilty .. watching teachers burning in front of us and cannot do anything .. we were in flames and no one there to put us out .. suddenly people gathered and begun aiding us .. we came here to find people all over the place .. students are innocent .. many of the corpses cannot be identified … we all kids haven’t turned 18 of age yet” ……….. (the rest of what she said is wailing and also blaming and threatening Bashar Alasad and appealing to god to curse him and burn his children).

As discussed here the woman’s words – especially the sections italicised above – are strikingly similar to those allegedly told to NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel by a female witness, as reported in this article* (note in particular the reference to “Judgement Day”):

A girl who witnessed the attack told NBC News’ Richard Engel that the plane attacked the school twice.

“As we were going inside the classroom, it hit again. I didn’t hear anything. We just saw people burning,” said the student, who was not identified. “My classmates were burning. It felt like Judgment Day.”

Note also the statement in the NBC article that the plane attacked the school twice; the BBC and Human Rights Watch claim there was one strike on a residential building followed by a second on the school (as indeed does the woman in the translation/summary above).

* This is an archived copy of the article, the original was removed from the NBC website on or after the 17 January 2015.

[5] The woman’s words are also partially translated in this Al Jazeera report (from 00:19) as follows  “…all I saw was people on fire, I was on fire, my friends were on fire”.

[6] That the woman was not evacuated earlier in the day, at the same time the older woman allegedly was, is also plain from the fact that it is dark outside when the video of her is shot.

About Robert Stuart

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

7 responses to “Woman in black dress

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