11 Jul 2019

Exclusive: Rescue workers in Syria apparently targeted by multiple airstrikes, investigation finds

Footage obtained by Channel 4 News appears to show so-called ‘double-tap’ airstrike in Idlib province, with rescuers hit in follow-up attack.

 

An investigation by Channel 4 News has obtained evidence of possible war crimes in Syria, with airstrikes that appear to deliberately target rescuers.

Footage caught on multiple cameras allegedly shows a so-called ‘double-tap’ operation in Idlib province, which Syrian and Russian forces have long been accused of.

During the incident, members of the White Helmets rescue group are seen arriving at the scene of a recent bombing to search for survivors. But when they get to the scene, aircrafts return for a follow-up airstrike.

The ambulance driver, Mohammed Al-Shaw’wa died after being hit in the second strike.

The incident was filmed in May by the White Helmets themselves and a citizen journalist who was with them.

Evidence of this kind has rarely been seen before; a complete incident caught on multiple cameras.

But, if proven, the so-called “double-tap” tactic is a war crime.

‘Double-tap’

Channel 4 News has been able to map the locations where missiles struck during the attacks.

Following the initial hit on a house close to the town of Hish, the sky seems to be clear. But after the White Helmets arrive at the scene, there are four more strikes, all within a small radius.

There are very few other buildings in this area which could be targets – and the strikes appear to track the movements of White Helmets teams on the ground.

“This is a direct targeting of civilians with highly explosive bombs,” says Abu Yamen, the citizen journalist who was with them. “They repeatedly targeted a place where people are wounded, and the White Helmets teams.”

At the scene, the driver Mohammed tries to drive away but is caught up in the blast. But his friends have to wait for the skies to clear before they can move him to safety.

But when a make-shift ambulance takes him to the nearest hospital twenty miles away, his injuries prove too severe and he dies.

Meanwhile, the other rescuers at the scene are forced to delay their mission of searching for survivors in the initial attack.

Eventually – once the planes have gone – footage shows the White Helmets digging a woman out from underneath the rubble.

She had been in her kitchen when the original strike happened.

Response

Channel 4 News contacted both the Syrian and Russian governments for a response to the allegations made in that report. We did not receive a reply.

President Assad has always insisted his forces are only attacking terrorist groups in Idlib and he has made it clear in the past that he considers the White Helmets to be combatants affiliated with those terrorist groups.

This is part of the #InsideIdlib series by Channel 4 News.

Produced by: Nidal Abdulmonem and Michael French. Filmed by Fadi Al Halabi.