Old clip showing execution, mass grave wrongly linked to Israeli forces
Video shows footage from 2013 Tadamon massacre in Syria
Claim: A video shows the IDF executing a large number of Palestinian prisoners of war, who are thrown into a pre-dug pit before being shot to death.
Fact: The clip does not show the IDF, but two Syrian military intelligence service officers killing civilians, in what later came to be known as the 2013 Tadamon massacre. The video led to a major investigation by researchers Annsar Shahhoud and Professor Uğur Ümit Üngör of the University of Amsterdam’s Holocaust and Genocide Center.
On 31 October 2023, Soch Fact Check received a video on WhatsApp showing the execution of a large number of people, who were thrown into a pre-dug pit before being shot to death.
The graphic clip — which is four minutes and 35 seconds long — is accompanied by the following text:
“This is what the zionists israelis are doing to their Palestinians prisoners of war. Please make viral and let the world know”
What’s going on in Gaza?
On 7 October 2023, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades — the military wing of Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza — launched (archive) a “surprise attack” on Israel via sea, land, and air. In response, the Israeli government formally declared (archive) war on Hamas on 8 October 2023.
According to a 10 November 2023 update by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed and over 27,400 injured since the 7 October attack. Similarly, at least 1,200 Israelis have been killed and upwards of 5,400 injured.
Ever since the October 7 attack, a flood of misleading, old, and out-of-context pictures, videos, and claims have surfaced in the media.
Fact or Fiction?
A simple reverse image search led us to this investigative report by The Guardian, published 27 April 2022 and titled, “Massacre in Tadamon: how two academics hunted down a Syrian war criminal.”
According to the report, “When the killing was done, at least 41 men lay dead in the mass grave in the Damascus suburb of Tadamon, a battlefront at the time in the conflict between the Syrian leader and insurrectionists lined up against him. Alongside piled heaps of dirt that would soon be used to finish the job, the killers poured fuel on the remains and ignited them, laughing as they literally covered up a war crime just several miles from Syria’s seat of power. The video was date-stamped 16 April 2013.”
The publication — which includes a video report as well — states that the soldier who first came across the video “leaked” it “to an opposition activist in France” and later to Annsar Shahhoud and Professor Uğur Ümit Üngör, both of whom are researchers from the University of Amsterdam’s Holocaust and Genocide Center.
When the researchers came across the video, Shahhoud was a student of the NIOD Holocaust and Genocide Studies master’s programme and Üngör a researcher at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
The NIOD’s website states, “Today (April 26, 2022), international news media publish the results of their [Shahhoud and Üngör’s] two-year-long investigation that included tracking down and interviewing one of the killers.”
The investigation detailed in the news outlets’ reports identified the primary perpetrators as Amjad Youssef — part of the “Syrian regime’s most notorious enforcers, branch 227 of the country’s military intelligence service” — and Najib al-Halabi, “who held no official rank as he was serving in the armed militia known as the National Defense Forces (NDF)”.
Branch 227 — which is also known as Department 227 or the Almantiqa (district) Security Department — allegedly committed multiple “horrors”, including “thousands of cases of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, in addition to the mass murder of dozens of detainees under torture since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution”.
The NIOD summarises the videos as follows:
“A total of 27 video clips show two Syrian intelligence agents in military fatigues taking out blindfolded and handcuffed civilians from a white van standing in a bombed-out residential neighborhood, marching them to a large, pre-dug pit, lined with car tires at the bottom, and executing them one by one by shooting them with AK-47 automatic rifles.
“The victims are defenseless civilians, zip-tied by their wrists, blindfolded with duct tape, and clueless about what is about to happen to them. They look well-fed and seem to have been dragged out of their houses or picked up at checkpoints. The victims include women and children.”
New Lines Magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief, Hassan I. Hassan, also tweeted a screenshot from the video call between Youssef and Shahhoud in which the perpetrator is seen talking about his crimes while smoking a cigarette. Youssef was eventually arrested.
Soch Fact Check recognised that the keyframes from the viral video we received were identical to the images in the reports by NRC, The Guardian, and New Lines Magazine.
Therefore, we conclude that the video does not depict a massacre by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Interestingly, the video previously circulated with the claim that it shows Turkish soldiers shooting contractors over the negligence of construction standards, which led to multiple buildings crashing in the 2023 earthquake in Turkey and Syria. At that time, the video was investigated and debunked by the Syrian fact-checking outlet Verify-sy.
It was also wrongly linked to Iran here.
Conclusion: The clip does not show Israeli soldiers. The footage depicts two Syrian military intelligence officers killing civilians in what later came to be known as the 2013 Tadamon massacre.
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