Visual Forensics INVESTIGATION: How #ShireenAbuAkleh was killed! #MurderMostFOUL #ZioSniper!

Visual Forensics: How Shireen Abu Akleh was killed | Sarah CahlanMeg Kelly and Steve Hendrix | THE WASHINGTON POST | 12 June 2022

“We are now at the doors of the Jenin refugee camp,” Ali al-Samoudi, an Al Jazeera news channel producer, said as he began a live stream on Facebook early on May 11, during an Israeli military operation in the camp. Sounds of gunshots rang out in the distance. “Heavy clashes,” could be heard, Samoudi said in the video, which was recorded shortly after 6 a.m.

Less than 30 minutes later, the scene was quiet enough that Samoudi, along with three other journalists, felt safe inching toward a column of Israeli military vehicles that was involved in one of the early morning raids. Among the group was Palestinian American journalistShireen Abu Akleh, a veteran correspondent for Al Jazeera who had covered countless similar operations in a career spanning decades, colleagues said.

A memorial now sits at the location where veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed. (Osama Hasan/The Washington Post)

The journalists wore helmets and protective vests labeled “PRESS” in large white letters. They paused for about five minutes in a location where they thought the Israeli convoy could identify them clearly as members of the press, Samoudi later said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“We were very sure there were no armed Palestinians, and no exchange of fire or clashes with the Israelis,” said Samoudi. Then, the journalists headed up the street, toward the Israeli convoy. “It was totally calm, there was no gunfire at all.” Suddenly, there was a barrage of bullets. One struck Samoudi. Another hit and ultimately killed Abu Akleh, as their colleagues scrambled for cover.

The shots seemed to come from the military vehicles, Samoudi recalled.

The Washington Post examined more than five dozen videos, social media posts and photos of the event, conducted two physical inspections of the area and commissioned two independent acoustic analyses of the gunshots. That review suggests an Israeli soldier in the convoy likely shot and killed Abu Akleh. The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, has said it is possible one of its soldiers fired the fatal shot, but claimed any gunfire was directed toward a Palestinian gunman who was standing between the Israeli soldiers and the journalists, and that the reporters might have been shot unintentionally.

Israel’s military has not released any evidence showing the presence of a gunman. The available video and audio evidence disputes IDF claims there was an exchange of fire in the minutes before Abu Akleh was killed and supports the accounts of multiple eyewitnesses interviewed by The Post, who said there was no firefight at the time.

The audio analyses of the gunfire that likely killed Abu Akleh point to one person shooting from an estimated distance that nearly matches the span between the journalists and the IDF convoy. Based on video The Post filmed in Jenin, Abu Akleh and other journalists identified as press would likely have been visible from the IDF convoy’s position, which was roughly 182 meters (597 feet) away. At least one soldier in the convoy was using a telescopic scope, the IDF said later in a news release. A live stream on TikTok filmed seven minutes before the shooting shows a relatively calm scene with people milling about. Distant single gunshots are heard on occasion but there are no signs of a firefight.

Video filmed by The Post from the vantage point of where the Israeli convoy stood shows the IDF had a largely unobstructed view of Shireen Abu-Akleh on May 11. (Osama Hasan/The Washington Post)

The IDF, in written responses to questions and a summary of The Post’s findings,said it “will continue to responsibly investigate the incident, in order to get to the truth of this tragic event. The bullet is vital to reaching a conclusion as to the source of the fire that killed Ms. Abu Akleh, and it is an important source for reaching an evidence-based conclusion. The Palestinians continue to refuse the IDF’s offer to conduct a joint forensic examination of the bullet, with American representation.”

The statement, quoting Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the IDF chief of the general staff, repeated Israel’s previous contention that it was investigating whether the bullet was fired by the IDF or a Palestinian gunman. “There is one thing that can be determined with certainty: no IDF soldier deliberately fired at a journalist. We investigated this. That is the conclusion and there is no other,” he said.

The IDF did not say how it arrived at the conclusion that its soldiers did not know journalists were present, or that they were not deliberately targeted. An IDF spokesman directed Post reporters toward statements made by an Israeli military official, Col. Arik Moel, in a television interview, in which he says there was a “better chance” Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian fire than by “one of the five bullets” shot by an Israeli soldier who had been present that day. No evidence was provided for the assertion.

The IDF did not respond to a question about what, if anything, Israeli footage of the incident — from drones or body cameras — may show.

The shooting

Shortly after 6 a.m. Abu Akleh sent an email to the Al Jazeera assignment desk saying “occupation forces are breaking into Jenin’s camp and besieging a house in Jabriyat neighborhood,” referring to two operations being conducted by the IDF. She wrote that she would update the network on the situation once she reached the camp. By the time she arrived around 6:15 a.m., other journalists, including Shatha Hanaysheh and Samoudi, had gathered at a roundabout at the entrance of the camp.

“The main road was pseudo living a normal life, there were vehicles driving by with people going to work, there was normal foot traffic,” Hanaysheh recalled.

Saleem Awaad, a 27-year-old resident of Jenin, started a live stream on TikTok at roughly 6:24 a.m. In the video, which was obtained by The Post, someone tells Awaad that IDF forces are positionedjust to the southwest. At the same time, the journalists can be seen standing aroundwearing helmets and protective vests labeled “PRESS.”

Video location

Video 1
In a TikTok live stream a local man runs past a gaggle of journalists to film an Israeli Defense Forces convoy in the Jenin refugee camp on May 11. (Saleem Awaad)

“I’m going to film them [the Israeli soldiers],” Awaad is heard saying, as he rushes past the journalists.

As he approaches an intersection, three rounds of gunfire are heard in the distance. Roughly two minutes later, he points the camera south revealing Israeli military vehicles about 182 meters (597 feet) away, according to The Post’s analysis of the footage. “There’s the Israeli army,” he says. The vehicles are in the same location and formation as those seen in body-camera footage of the raid later released by the IDF.

Video 2
(Israeli Defense Forces)
Location of Shireen Abu Akleh shooting
Video 3
In a TikTok live stream, Israeli Defense Forces military vehicles are visible about 600 feet from where Shireen Abu Akleh was killed on May 11 in Jenin. (Saleem Awaad)

Over the next three minutes, the video records distant single gunshots from time to time, but the scene is relatively calm and the gaggle of people gathered at the corner seem relaxed, joking and milling about. At about 6:31 a.m., the journalists start to walk toward the military vehicles. “We decided to move through that street slowly to get closer toward the army to cover the news,” Samoudi later told The Post.

In the video, less than 30 seconds after the journalists walked toward the military, six gunshots erupt. People who were recording the scene scatter.

In a TikTok live stream recorded May 11, 2022, in Jenin, Shireen Abu Akleh and other journalists walk toward IDF military vehicles before gunfire erupts. (Saleem Awaad)

A different video obtained by The Post shows Samoudi moving hurriedly, but carefully, toward a silver car stopped at the intersection. Just as he reaches the road, a second burst of seven gunshots comes. The group again scrambles away from the corner. Someone calls out, “Who was hit?” Hanaysheh yells for an ambulance, because Abu Akleh had been shot, she told The Post.

Three more shots ring out. Then someone shouts,“Shireen! Medic, medic! Stay where you are, don’t move, don’t move.” The camera pans to show Hanaysheh crouched behind a tree near Abu Akleh, who is on the ground,facing down.

A group of men attempt to reach the two journalists by crossing the street for nearly a minute, as a fourth burst of at least nine gunshots erupts in rapid fire. One man, who is already across the street, climbs over a crushed wall to reach Abu Akleh and Hanaysheh. As the man grabs Abu Akleh’s arm, in what appears to be an attempt to move her, another shot goes off. He runs back against the wall and crouches down. He ushers Hanaysheh away from the scene, back over the crumbled wall before helping to carry Abu Akleh’s body from behind the tree into the back seat of a car.

The Post has decided to publish the 8-minute video recorded by Awaadit in its entirety below.

A TikTok live stream shows the minutes before Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera news channel correspondent, was killed in Jenin on May 11, 2022. (Saleem Awaad)

At The Post’s request, Steven Beck,an audio forensic expert who consulted for the FBI for more than a decade, conducted an analysis on the gunfire heard in the two separate videos. Beck found the first two bursts of gunfire, 13 shots in total, were shot from between 175-195 meters (574-640 feet) away from the cameras that recorded the scene — almost exactly the distance between the journalists and the Israeli military vehicles.

The sound wave produced by the gunshots for both bursts of gunfire was remarkably consistent, suggesting a single person “pulling the trigger of a rifle that fires supersonic bullets almost as fast as they can,” Beck said, referring to bullets moving faster than the speed of sound.There are two slight deviations from the pattern of fire, Beck explained, but the deviations — involving two rounds — are likely causedby someone re-aiming. Everything else about the audio signature of the shots is consistent, he added.

It is likely Abu Akleh was killed by one of these first two bursts of gunfire. Hanaysheh, who was next to Abu Akleh, can be heard calling for an ambulance immediately after the second burst of gunfire. She told The Post her call was for Abu Akleh. The audio analysis of the first two bursts also indicates that the bullets were fired in the direction of — and very close to — the journalists. The analysis could not, however, determine the exact point of origin of the shots.

Palestinian authorities, who are in possession of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, said it was a 5.56x45mm round. Beck said he used a number of different weapons that fire that caliber of round in his analysis, but there is little significant difference between them in determining the distance between Abu Akleh and the shooters.

There are two subsequent bursts of gunfire after the one believed to have killed Abu Akleh, but their origin was harder to determine, experts said.

The bursts, of at least 12 shots in total, point to a shooter in a different location from the first two bursts, Beck said, estimating they may have been fired from roughly 10-30 meters (32-99 feet) away from the journalists. The shooter was firing in the general direction of the journalists, but could have been shooting at something else because the bullets pass further away from the group than the first two bursts.

“The gunshot signatures, the echo signatures, and the timing of these bursts were very different from the burst that likely killed the journalist, indicating a firing location that was different and much closer,” Beck told The Post in an email. “Without knowledge of the type of round, a more accurate estimate of the shooter distance is not possible.”

A second analysis, conducted by aphysics-based computer model built by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, similarly found the first two bursts of gunfire were fired 233 meters +/- 46 meters (765 feet +/- 150 feet)from the camera — roughly aligning with Beck’s analysis and the position of the Israeli military vehicles. The model did not determine if the first two bursts were fired by one or two shooters — only that the distance between the gunman and the camera stayed consistent.Similar to Beck, researchers also used a number of different weapons in their analysis that could have fired a 5.56x45mm or similar round.

The Carnegie Mellon researchers said the third and fourth bursts indicate a second shooter, but they could not determine this person’s distance from the journalists because of the videos’ poor audio quality.

The investigation

An investigationby the Palestinian Authority concluded that Abu Akleh was hit by a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. The Palestinian attorney general, Akram Al-Khateeb, said at a press briefing last month that she was shot “directly and deliberately,” a conclusion he said was based in part on the fact that Abu Akleh and Samoudi were shot in the upper part of their bodies, and gunfire, he said, continued after they were shot.

Khateeb said a decision had been made not to hand over the bullet to the Israelis — or even to disseminate an image of the round — “to deprive them of a new lie, a new narrative,” he said, adding that the Palestinians were capable of conducting a thorough investigation on their own.

The IDF says its investigation is ongoing, but said it had already concluded that there was no criminal conduct in Abu Akleh’s killing.

Shifting explanations from the IDF about the source of gunfire that killed Abu Akleh emerged from the beginning. IDF spokesperson Ran Kochav first acknowledged the incident in a tweet at 7:45 a.m., “The possibility that journalists were injured, possibly by Palestinian gunfire, is being investigated.” Later in the morning, he told Army Radio that it was “likely” that a Palestinian gunman was responsible. The Israeli Foreign Ministry tweeted an edited version of a video filmed hours earlier with the caption, “Palestinian terrorists, firing indiscriminately, are likely to have hit Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqla.”

Location of Shireen Abu Akleh shooting
A video posted to Telegram early May 11 shows a gunman firing down a stairwell a couple of blocks southeast of where journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed. (Telegram)

The original video shared by the Israeli Foreign Ministry was recorded sometime before 6:41 a.m., the earliest instance The Post found the video shared on social media. A Palestinian fighter fires two shots down a stairwell, before turning to move down the street. Open-source investigators, including B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, were quick to identify the location where this video was recorded, noting the geography alone — including high walls and no sightline to Abu Akleh’s position — makes it impossible that these shots are the same as those that struck the journalist.

The Israeli government walked back its initial statement on the incident that Abu Akleh was “likely” killed by a Palestinian gunman. An Israeli government news release said they are investigating two possibilities. In one scenario, Abu Akleh was struck by a stray bullet while Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli military vehicles from a number of different directions.

Available visuals The Post reviewed of armed Palestinian men in Jenin show they were not between Abu Akleh and the IDF, nor did they have a line of sight to the journalistsat the time of the shooting.The timestamp on one photo, labeled No. 6, shows it was taken 14 minutes beforeAbu Akleh was shot and was recorded far away. Two videos showing Palestinian gunman,in the same area asNo. 7,were captured more than 10 minutes after Abu Akleh was shot. The Post could not confirm the exact time of the video labeled No. 7.Gunshots heard in one video to the south of the convoy, labeled No. 5, do not match those heard when Abu Akleh is shot, indicating the video was most likely recorded at a different time, however, The Post could also not confirm the exact time.

Video 5
A video posted to social media on May 11 shows a group of men, some armed, standing south of an IDF convoy in Jenin. (Twitter)
From Video 6
A Palestinian gunman sits atop an alleyway in the Jenin neighborhood of the West Bank on May 11, 2022.
Video 7
Video posted to social media on May 11 shows some armed men in Jenin. (TikTok)

Another possibility presented by Israeli authorities suggests Abu Akleh was hit with a bullet from a soldier firing at a Palestinian gunman who was positioned somewhere in the approximately 200 meters (656 feet) between the journalist and the military vehicles. According to The Post’s analysis of available footage, the IDF convoy stretched roughly 182 meters to 243 meters (597 feet to 797 feet) away from the group of journalists including Abu Akleh. The IDF declined to comment on whether the convoy The Post identified was the same one under investigation.

The IDF said in a statement that the gunman fired “multiple barrages” toward the convoy, before the IDF soldier returned fire. The Post’s analysis, however, found no evidence of a firefight in the moments before Abu Akleh was killed.

Additional videos of the convoy were filmed from about halfway between the location of Abu Akleh and themilitary vehicles. The Post was not able to identify who recorded these videos or determine precisely when they were recorded.

Video 8
In a video posted to Telegram, an IDF convoy is stationed on the same street and south of where journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed on May 11 in Jenin. (Telegram)

“I went to cover the news,” Samoudi said. “The news and the story, whatever it is, is not more precious than my life. So when I take precautions, I take them for the sake of my life.”

Those precautions, he said, included ensuring that there was no one around him that could have left the journalists caught in a gunfight — either militants, or even youth throwing stones at the Israelis. Samoudi, who was released from the hospital but is still recovering from a bullet wound to his shoulder,called on the IDF to release any footage it had filmed during the raid.

“We went to cover news,” he said. “Not to die.”

About this story

Editing by Elyse Samuels, Kareem Fahim and Reem Akkad. Video editing by Sarah Cahlan. Graphics editing by Atthar Mirza. Copy editing by Jamie Zega. Design editing by Junne Alcantara. Design and development by Irfan Uraizee.

Osama Hasan in Jenin, Shira Rubin in Tel Aviv, Ellen Francis in London, Sarah Dadouch and Nader Durghamin Beirut, and Sufian Taha in the West Bank contributed to this report.

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