Syrian opposition groups have bombarded social media with images claiming to show the aftermath of the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Douma, Syria. But a cursory glance shows the images are heavily manipulated.
Warning: The following images are extremely graphic and may disturb some readers. As they are key to the story, RT has not censored or pixelated the photographs.
The Syrian government has vehemently denied carrying out a chemical weapons attack, while the international community debates the allegations and weighs the prospect of possible military strikes against pro-Assad forces.
Many within the journalistic community have expressed a high degree of skepticism about the authenticity of both the attack and the alleged video and photographic evidence that emerged in the aftermath.
Questions have been raised over the timing of the attack, given that President Bashar Assad's forces had encircled the town and were ostensibly on the cusp of winning the conflict.
In the intervening five days, images purporting to show the horrific consequences of the attack have flooded social media. However, commentators online have been quick to highlight inconsistencies within the videos themselves as well as the possibility that they were heavily manipulated. Here are just some of the examples that RT.com has uncovered.
Video posted on the YouTube channel Fadi Abdullah, published on April 7, purports to show the deceased victims of the alleged chemical attack. The YouTube account has been posting content from the war for years, including other apparent attacks, lots of dead bodies and various rebel content.
At 22 seconds into the video, a woman's cadaver can be seen with her forearm raised up. Rigor mortis can take place as early as four hours after death but the muscle fibers contract wherever they come to rest - i.e. her forearm would have fallen across her chest as opposed to sticking up in the air. This suggests the cadaver was moved and/or manipulated postmortem.
The body of a woman wearing a hijab is seen resting against a wooden door frame set in a white-tiled wall alongside a child wearing a red and white striped sweater. It is this child’s remains that have become the focus of much debate online.
A video released by the SMART news agency, published on April 8, claims to show the same grisly scene, however, the boy with the red and white sweater now has a baby's remains draped over him. The infant's body is not visible in the Fadi Abdullah video. There is also a second infant’s remains positioned face up and mouth agape that was not present in the Abdullah video.
The SMART group claims to be a “Syrian news agency” which provides “news, wires, photography, and videos.” SMART also claims to provide “verified news only.”
Later in the SMART media footage, dead bodies are hosed down outside, however, the corpses are carried by people with no protective equipment, raising questions about the need to decontaminate the corpses in the first place.
The Qasioun News Agency, another rebel media outlet, published video on April 8 showing two children not featured elsewhere in the previous images, including a girl with long plaits and grey and white-striped clothing draped atop a boy’s remains.
The baby cadaver atop the boy in red and grey striped sweater is not visible in images shared by the White Helmets group allegedly showing the same scene.
In addition, the corpse of the young girl featured in the Qasioun News Agency video above appears on the staircase in footage shared by the White Helmets.
While it has yet to be determined exactly what happened in Douma on Saturday, April 7, the coverage of the incident highlights how contaminated the scene of the alleged attack has already become and how corpses of the victims have been manipulated for the cameras.
"I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence," US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Thursday. "As each day goes by -- as you know, it is a non-persistent gas -- so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it." A team of fact-finders from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is scheduled to begin its investigation in Syria on Saturday.
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