Written by Alex Cosh
A new forensic investigation released this week reveals the Israeli shooter who killed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May could clearly see the Al Jazeera correspondent’s press vest, and that the shooter deliberately targeted Abu Akleh and another journalist with the intention to kill despite a lack of any hostile fire in the area.
The investigation, titled “Shireen Abu Akleh: The Extrajudicial Killing of a Journalist,” was conducted by the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and the University of London’s Forensic Architecture research group. It compiled previously unseen video footage of the killing and used “advanced spatial and audio analysis” to reveal “conclusive evidence” about how the veteran journalist died.
Omar Ferwati, a researcher with Forensic Architecture who co-led the investigation, told The Maple that the findings differ from journalistic accounts of what happened in that they are based on a meticulous, forensic methodology, and are admissible as evidence in national and international courts.
“We've done the first spatial reconstruction and analysis of this incident,” he explained. “That ability gives you a chance to position and analyze exactly where people and things were during that incident.”
The investigation concluded that Abu Akleh was deliberately shot from approximately 200 metres away by a shooter, who fired through a shooting hole in an Israeli armoured vehicle, along with Abu Akleh's colleague Ali Al Samoudi, who was injured by the Israeli gunfire. Both journalists were wearing clearly marked press vests, which were in full view of the shooter.
Footage documented by the investigation shows Abu Akleh crouching – still alive – following an initial burst of Israeli gunfire. Following a second round of shots, calls for help can be heard, and footage shows Abu Akleh lying on the ground.
Using multiple pieces of footage, the investigation reconstructed the positions of the journalists at the time of the killing, as well as the position of the nearby Israeli shooter, who was located in a military vehicle parked sideways further up the street.
According to the investigation, Israeli marksmen typically use mounted scopes on M4 assault rifles that magnify their vision four times. The investigation reconstructed how Abu Akleh and the other journalists would have appeared through the scope from 190 meters away, revealing that she and the other journalists’ press vests were clearly visible to the shooter.
Ferwati explained that the evidence shows the journalists would have been visible to the shooter for at least 20 seconds as they walked up the street towards the armoured vehicle before the marksman opened fire. The journalists had been standing at the end of the street for three to four minutes, and may have also been visible to the shooter during that time.
“[The shooter] decides to fire six shots, and in that time in which they're watching [the journalists], there's nothing happening; it's actually pretty much silence,” said Ferwati, who noted that M4 rifles are semi-automatic weapons which require a trigger pull for each shot.
After the first burst of six shots, the shooter waited eight seconds, during which the journalists took cover in full view of the shooter. No other shots were fired in the area during that brief interlude.
“They see [the journalists] run away; they see them hide, take cover,” explained Ferwati. “And as they were doing that, [the shooter] decided at that point to fire seven more shots, and one of those shots, Shireen was hit and killed.”
“That's not a reflex; that's not crossfire. That's a very clear intention.”
The reconstruction was verified by placing a camera with a telephoto lens at the marksman’s precise location. “The journalists were clearly identifiable as such,” the investigation concluded.
The investigation also tracked the impact locations of the bullets that were fired from the Israeli position.
“The proximity of the shots confirms a professional marksman repeatedly and explicitly targeted the journalists,” the investigation concluded. “The distance between the shots reflects careful and precise aim by the shooter.”
Even more disturbingly, the investigation continued, “all shots were aimed above the shoulders and intended to kill.”
Footage also showed that there were no individuals between the journalists and the marksman, nor any armed fighters near the journalists.
“Sound analysis of the video capturing the incident confirms that the only shot fired in the three minutes preceding the shooting of Shireen came from the [Israeli Occupation Force’s] position,” the investigation concluded. No shots fired came from the vicinity of the journalists, and there was no evidence of crossfire in the area.
“The shots that we hear are all consistent, meaning they all came from the same position,” explained Ferwati.
Israel’s Account Debunked
The findings fly in the face of the Israeli military’s own investigation into the killing published earlier this month which suggested that there was a “high possibility” that Israeli army fire “accidentally hit” Abu Akleh. The Israeli military said it would not launch a criminal investigation into the killing, drawing condemnation from human rights groups and Abu Akleh’s family.
Ferwati said that while the Israelis might admit that it was probably one of their own troops who shot Abu Akleh, the new investigation shows it was a targeted killing rather than an accident. As for Israel’s own investigation, Ferwati said, “we don't see any evidence of an actual investigation.”
“How can you not identify a journalist, when there's no other shots around, and you're sitting there in a protected vehicle? We don't see any other conceivable account,” he explained.
The new findings come days after Canada co-signed a Media Freedom Coalition (MFC) statement that condemned the killing of Abu Akleh but did not name Israel as the culprit, despite independent investigations by human rights organizations, news outlets, the United States government and the United Nations over the past four months pointing to Israel’s responsibility.
The MFC statement reads:
“Following the death of veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the undersigned members of the Media Freedom Coalition continue to strongly condemn her killing in the West Bank and to call for accountability.”
As previously reported by The Maple, Canadian government officials were informed by Canadian diplomats the day after Abu Akleh was killed that Israel’s initial version of events about how she died had been “largely debunked,” and received warnings about Israel’s poor track record of properly investigating when its forces harm journalists.
Canada has not condemned Israel for the killing, and has not supported calls to bring the case before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported:
“A coalition of lawyers and advocacy groups said Tuesday it has referred the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court on behalf of her family, calling on prosecutors to investigate what it described as Israel’s deliberate targeting of the veteran reporter.”
“We are here to support in our work in this case the Palestinian organizations at the ICC, and Shireen’s family as they seek and demand accountability, and justice,” said Ferwati.