How BBC Africa Found the Truth Behind a Viral Execution Video

BBC Africa fact-checked the viral video, took clues from it and finally held the Cameroon government accountable.

3 min read
BBC Africa fact-checked the viral video, took clues from it and finally held the Cameroon government accountable.
Don’t fall for fake news, <a href="">click here</a> to check out <b>The Quint’s</b> WebQoof stories.
Don’t fall for fake news, click here to check out The Quint’s WebQoof stories.

In July 2018, a terrifying video of two women and two young children being shot dead by a group of soldiers went viral on social media. The video showed the women and children being blindfolded, forced to kneel on to the ground and then the soldiers, at least three of them, open fire at them and gun them 22 times.

Soon after the video went viral, some people on social media claimed that the incident occurred in Mali, while others claimed that the incident occurred in Cameroon.

According to BBC Africa, both the countries were quick to dismiss their involvement. But that did not stop #BBCAfricaEye from investigating the story and holding Cameroon accountable.

Cameroon Govt Dismisses Video As ‘Fake News’

The Cameroonian government in July 2018, dismissed the allegations that the incident happened in their country by calling it “fake news.” According to BBC Africa, they had three claims. They were:

  • Guns used in the video were not carried by Cameroonian military
  • Camouflage pattern in the uniform of the video not used by their soldiers.
  • Why they weren’t in full combat gear

Soon after the Cameroonian government dismissed the video, the team from the news organisation began working on clues provided in the video itself – at the end of which they proved the government wrong.

How They Pinned the Incident to Cameroon

The viral video showed a “distinctive” profile of a mountain range in the first 40 second.

They found the perfect match for the mountain range in Cameroon, by using Google Earth.

The team found that the incident occurred in this place called Zelevet, located in the far north of Cameroon. Following this, they traced the track in the video, along with building and trees and matched it with the Satellite images to confirm the location.

It is also one of the predominant areas where the Cameroonian soldiers are fighting the jihadist group Boko Haram, reported BBC Africa.

When Did the Incident Happen?

Again, BBC Africa turned to the video to establish the timeline.

There is a prominent building that is seen in the video, when the soldiers are taking the women hostage and walking them to the site where they are being shot at. Satellite images showed that by February 2016, the building had been demolished.

Using these clues, plus the weather condition, the organisation narrowed down that the killings happened between March - April 2015.

Are They Really Cameroonian Soldiers?

Finally, BBC Africa tackled the most pertinent question of who were the perpetrators in the video. They focussed on the three men who opened fire. Their investigation showed the following:

  1. The government claim that the guns were not used by the Cameroonian military was false. The Serbian-made Zastava M21 was rare in sub-Saharan Africa but was used by sections of the military.
  2. Images on Facebook, specifically tagged to Zelevet showed soldiers wearing the type of camouflage seen in the video. The government had claimed otherwise.
  3. BBC Africa also confirmed that they were not wearing full gear because they were few meters away from the combat outpost.

Change in Govt’s Position

In August 2018, there was a change in the government’s position on the issue.

After two months of denying that these killings took place in Cameroon, the Minister of Communication relased a press note saying that 7 members of the military were arrested and were under investigation.

BBC Africa also went on to identify the three men who opened fire as – ‘Tchotcho’ Cyrique Bityala, Barnabas ‘Gonorso' and ‘Cobra’.

While the government’s statement makes clear that all these soldiers have the “presumption of innocence, and that they will be given a fair trial,” neither the children or the women who were shot 22 times receive either the presumption or the fair trial, reported BBC Africa.

You can watch the full video here:

The Quint has used similar techniques to bust fake news. Here are some of those stories.

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