Shireen Abu Akleh: The Extrajudicial Killing

On 11 May 2022, Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh and a group of five other journalists arrived at Balat Al Shuhada’ street in Jenin to report on a raid on the nearby refugee camp by Israeli occupying forces (IOF). The journalists wore prominent ‘PRESS’ vests that identified them as such from both the front and back, and followed standard protocols for self-identification as they slowly approached the IOF along an unnamed street intersecting Balat Al Shuhada’. The IOF were in position approximately 200 metres south of the approaching journalists, in a convoy of five armoured vehicles parked along the same street.

At 6:31AM, an IOF marksman fired the first burst of six bullets directly at the group of journalists from a sniper hole in the military vehicle at the front of the IOF convoy. One of the shots hit journalist Ali Al-Samoudi in the shoulder. Eight seconds later, as the journalists attempted to take cover, the IOF marksman fired a second burst consisting of a further seven distinct gunshots, once again targeting the journalists. One of those bullets hit Shireen Abu Akleh in the head, fatally wounding her. Two minutes later, an unarmed civilian, Sharif al-Azab, attempted to deliver first aid to Shireen, and he, too, was fired at with three distinct gunshots when he approached her.  

We analysed and synchronised all available footage of the incident, some previously unseen, in order to construct a precise timeline of the incident and definitively demonstrate the origin of the shots fired and the clear intent behind them.

Timeline

At 6:31:06, a video taken by a witness to the incident shows the journalists, including Shireen, slowly walking down the road towards the IOF’s position, following standard press protocols for self-identification.

At 6:31:06, a video shows the journalists, including Shireen, slowly walking towards the IOF’s position, following standard press protocols for self-identification. Image: Salim Awwad, 11 May 2022, analysis and annotation: Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq , 2022

At 6:31:07, less than a second after the photograph above was taken, the first round of shooting begins, with six single shots fired at the journalists in rapid succession from the IOF’s position.

Seconds later, at 06:31:10, the Al Jazeera camera starts rolling. After the first round of shooting, this footage shows Ali running and shouting that he has been wounded, while Shireen hides by the wall.

At 06:31:17, eight seconds after the first round of shooting ends, a second round begins with 7 shots, again fired in rapid succession. We identified the last moment Shireen is seen still alive, crouching near the wall, after the first shot in this second round.

The last moment Shireen is seen on camera still alive, crouching near the wall, after the first shot in the second round. Image: Salim Awwad, 11 May 2022, analysis and annotation: Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022

It is in this round of fire that Shireen Abu Akleh is killed. Al Jazeera footage captures her on the ground, while journalist Shatha Hanaysha hides behind a tree, unable to reach her.

Digital reconstruction of the first moment Shireen is seen lying on the ground, not far from where journalist Shatha Hanaysha is seen hiding behind a tree. (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

A minute after Shireen is shot, a civilian initially tries to provide aid to Shireen, but holds back from crossing the street for fear of being targeted; when he does manage to cross about a minute later, he is shot at within seconds of entering the shooter’s field of vision, and forced to retreat. After helping journalist Shatha Hanaysha escape, he returns twenty seconds later to try to administer aid to Shireen and is again shot at twice by the IOF.

A civilian was shot at a total of three times as he tried to provide aid to Shireen. Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022 (original image: Al Jazeera, 2022)

Evidence and Methodology

Following several journalistic findings about the circumstances of Shireen’s killing, our work offers detailed forensic evidence with the explicit aim of seeking legal accountability for what we can now demonstrate to be the deliberate and repeated targeting of Shireen and her colleagues by the IOF.

Our investigation is the first to employ a precise digital reconstruction of the incident. Using advanced spatial and audio analysis, we tracked the location and movements of the various key actors throughout the unfolding incident—journalists, civilians, and military vehicles.

We analysed a previously unseen video recorded by an Al Jazeera cameraperson at the scene, directly obtained other videos taken by witnesses to the incident, and gathered other available open-source videos of the events. Altogether we examined, synchronised and geolocated dozens of videos and photographs.

We were given special access to unpublished autopsy documents and examined images of the bullet extracted from Shireen’s head. We identified the bullet, with its distinctive green tip, as an M855 SS109 5.56 x 45mm armour-piercing bullet, the type of munition common to IOF marksmen.

Spatial reconstruction

We commissioned a surveying company to conduct an extensive, professional drone survey of the site and sourced ground photography of the entire length of the road, which allowed us to create a highly accurate 3D photogrammetry model of the scene.

Photogrammetry model with location of armoured vehicle at time of shooting. (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

By geolocating individual frames from the videos we sourced, we could establish and reconstruct within our digital model the exact positions of Shireen and the other journalists throughout the incident, as well as the position of the military vehicles in relation to them. In particular, we were able to identify the vehicle within the convoy from which she was shot and the precise location of the marksman and the sniper hole within it. From this, we were also able to determine that there were no other persons, armed or otherwise, positioned between the journalists and the marksman in the armoured vehicle.

The shots were fired from a hole in the side of an MDT David Toyota armoured vehicle (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

The account of the entry point of the bullet in the autopsy report, together with our calculation of its trajectory from the armoured vehicle, allowed us, critically, to identify and reconstruct Shireen’s position at the precise moment she was shot.

Identifying the distance between the last frame in which Shireen is seen alive and the first frame in which she is seen lying on the ground allowed us to establish her distance from the shooter at the exact moment she was hit. This study reveals that she was facing away from the marksman, with her ‘PRESS’ vest fully legible at the moment the fatal gunshot was fired.

Trajectory and dispersion

By reconstructing Ali and Shireen’s exact positions when each of them was shot and the bullets’ precise points of impact, and modelling the location of four other impact points on a tree at the site of the incident, we were able to trace the trajectory of six of the sixteen shots fired during the incident.

Location of the journalists and the Israeli military convoy and trajectories of six of thirteen shots fired at the journalists. (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

By bringing the shots onto a single plane, we can see their dispersion. At the established distance between the shooter and the journalists, and using the same rifle of the IOF marksman, a standard deviation for a bullet shot at a single point of aim is 23 centimetres. The radius of each shot indicates the range of aim and the overlap between those areas indicates possible places of common aim.

In studying the position of these six shots, we can also establish that all shots were aimed above the shoulders with the intent to kill their targets.

By projecting the gunshots onto a single plane, set against the locations of Ali and Shireen when they were shot, we were able to demonstrate the precision and proximity of the shots and their consistent positioning at above-shoulder height, indicating intent to kill. (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

Optics and visibility

We conducted a visual reconstruction of the IOF marksman’s view both digitally and optically. Using our digital model, we simulated how Shireen and the other journalists would appear from the marksman’s position 190 metres away when the first shots were fired, as well Ali’s position when he was shot and wounded in the first round of gunfire and the Shireen’s position when she was shot and killed in the second round. The scope view was modelled after the field of vision as seen through the Trijicon ACOG 4x32mm battle scope (12.27m @ 100m), according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Digital reconstruction of the visibility of the journalists’ vests as seen from the location of the marksman, replicating the effect of the optical scope they most likely used (Trijicon COG x4), in the moment just before the first round of shots began. (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

We tested the visibility of Shireen and her colleagues further by placing a camera with a telephoto lens at the precise position of the marksman and taking a photograph at four times magnification, replicating what the marksman would have seen through the rifle scope. To mimic the 4 times magnification of the rifle scope, we used a 200 mm focal length lens. The distance of the shooter from the journalists (approximately 190 metres), would make the journalists appear to be less than 50 metres away.

Optical reconstruction of the visibility of Ali’s vest in the moment he was shot, as seen from the location of the marksman. Telephoto magnification mimics the effect of the optical scope the marksman most likely used (Trijicon COG x4).(Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

Optical reconstruction of the visibility of Shireen’s vest at the moment she was shot, as seen from the location of the marksman. Telephoto magnification mimics the effect of the optical scope they most likely used (Trijicon COG x4). (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

According to both the digital and optical reconstructions of the shooter’s vision, the journalists’ press vests would have been clearly visible throughout the incident.

By marking the impact points of the six spatially located shots from the perspective of the IOF marksman, we can see their close proximity to one another, confirming that they were fired in a targeted effort to hit the journalists.

Digital reconstruction of the six shots with known trajectories, revealing the tight proximity of their dispersal and positioning all at above-shoulder height (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

Using the modelled position of the shooter, we also calculated their precise field of vision . In so doing we were able to study the relation of their field of view to the movement of the journalists and the timing of the shots. Our analysis demonstrates that all shots registered were fired when the journalists, and later a civilian attempting to provide aid to Shireen, were directly in the field of view of the shooter. This is particularly obvious when examining the civilian’s movements, as each time he enters the shooter’s field of vision, they shoot almost immediately.

Shots were only fired when journalists, and later a civilian, were within the shooter’s field of vision (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

Audio analysis

Audio analysis of the videos capturing the incident allowed us to compare the sound signatures of all shots fired during and preceding the incident and trace them back to the IOF marksman’s position. In the two minutes before the shooting begins, no shots are fired at all. No other shots in any of the footage analysed came from the vicinity of the journalists.

Audio analysis of the videos capturing the incident allowed us to compare the sound signatures of all shots fired during and preceding the incident and trace them back to the IOF marksman’s position. In the two minutes before the shooting begins, no shots are fired at all. No other shots in any of the footage analysed came from the vicinity of the journalists. (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

A sonic comparison of the shots from a standard automatic rifle (top line in below figure) with the seven shots audible in the second round of shooting (bottom line in below figure) during which Shireen was killed, (below) demonstrates that the shooter pulled and released the trigger on seven distinct occasions over two seconds—indicating clear intentionality with each shot.

Sonic comparison of the shots from a standard automatic rifle (above) with the seven shots audible in the second round of shooting, during which Shireen was killed (below). This demonstrates that the shooter pulled and released the trigger on seven distinct occasions over two seconds, indicating clear intentionality behind this round of shooting. (Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq, 2022)

Testimony

With members of Al-Haq on the ground in Jenin, we conducted a ‘situated testimony’—an on-site physical re-enactment and witness account-taking—with journalist Shatha Hanaysha, who was standing near Shireen when she was shot and killed. Her testimony reaffirms that there were no armed individuals in between the journalists and the military convoy, nor was there any crossfire. She also frames the circumstances of the shooting as consistent with intentional targeting.

Findings

Shireen and her colleagues were clearly identifiable as journalists when they were shot at. Reconstruction based on digital modelling, physical reconstruction and optical analysis confirms that the journalists followed standard protocols for self-identification and that their large ‘PRESS’ insignia were clearly visible from the position of the IOF shooter in the moments surrounding the shooting. Furthermore, the autopsy report demonstrated that Shireen was positioned away from the shooter in such a way that her PRESS vest should have been easily legible.

Shireen and her fellow journalists were deliberately and repeatedly targeted, with an aim to kill. We identified the bullet retrieved from Shireen’s skull as common to IOF military ‘marksmen’, whose guns are commonly equipped with an optical scope (Trijicon) that magnifies their vision 4x, and would have made their targets clearly visible. The reconstruction of the timeline of events confirms that the marksman had at least twenty seconds in which to visually assess the journalists before shooting the first round, and eight seconds in which to look at them in between the first and second rounds. Trajectory analysis of shots fired reveals a clear line of fire from the IOF’s position toward the group of journalists; close proximity between the gunshots’ impact points, suggesting precise aim; and the consistent positioning of those impact points at above-shoulder height, indicating intent to kill.

A field of vision analysis simulating the view from the soldier’s rifle scope reveals that shots were only fired when journalists, and later a civilian, were within the line of sight of the IOF shooter. Video synchronisation reveals three distinct rounds of fire, which continued as the journalists sought shelter and attempted to run and seek cover. During the second round of fire, shooting likely continued until Shireen was hit, supporting the assessment that she was the target of this round.

Our findings directly contradict the contents of the IOF’s report on the incident, which claimed that there were ‘widespread and indiscriminate shots’ from ‘armed Palestinian gunmen’ present ‘at the time and in the area in which [Shireen] was killed’. Our video analysis and witness testimony confirm that there were no other persons present between the journalists and the convoy of military vehicles at the time of the incident. Sound analysis of the videos capturing the event confirms that the only shots fired in the three minutes preceding the shooting of Shireen came from the IOF’s position and that no other shots in any of the footage analysed came from the vicinity of the journalists. Analysis of the journalists’ movements suggests they initially felt safe enough to walk slowly towards the military vehicles, which is further verified by testimony from journalist Shatha Hanaysha. Our identification of the precise placement and likely background of the shooter also indicated that the marksman shot from within the protection of an armoured vehicle, meaning his life was not in danger at the time of the shooting, nor in the moments preceding it.

After being shot, Shireen was actively and deliberately denied medical aid. Video, audio and spatial analysis confirms that while attempting to provide aid to Shireen, a civilian on the scene was shot at each time he attempted to reach her and entered the line of sight/fire of the shooter.

This investigation, accompanied by a legal brief from Al-Haq, will be an addendum to a complaint to the ICC submitted by Shireen’s family and colleagues this morning (20 September 2022) at The Hague,

,

Forensic Architecture Team

Researchers-in-Charge

Nour Abuzaid

Omar Ferwati

Research

Jumanah Bawazir

Elliot Bourne

Photogrammetry and technology support

Nicholas Masterton

Editorial

Elizabeth Breiner

Project support

Eyal Weizman

Shourideh C. Molavi

Lola Conte

Kishan San

Sound Analysis

Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Video Editing

Fionn McSherry

In collaboration with

Al Jazeera

Special thanks to

Bellingcat for sharing their full sound analysis report by Robert C. Maher

Yuhan (Jack) Liu

Mhamad Safa

Collaborators

Al Jazeera

Press

22.09.2022

Haaretz
Shireen Abu Akleh’s Family Turns to International Criminal Court to Demand Investigation

22.09.2022

Mediapart Youtube Channel
Mort de Shireen Abu Akleh : comment l’armée israélienne a sciemment exécuté une journaliste

21.09.2022

RTP Notícias
Investigação. Sniper israelita atirou deliberadamente para matar jornalista palestiniana

21.09.2022

Villamedia
Nieuwe analyse beschieting Shireen Abu Akleh wijst richting opzet Israëlische leger

21.09.2022

Press TV
Israeli forces killed Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh ‘intentionally’: Probe

21.09.2022

The Business Standard
Israeli forces ‘deliberately’ killed AJ journalist Abu Akleh, probe finds

21.09.2022

The Times of Israel
Palestinian rights group claim evidence shows Abu Akleh intentionally killed by IDF

21.09.2022

Common Dreams
Probe Shows Israeli Killing of Journalist ‘Deliberate’ as Family Turns to ICC

21.09.2022

Middle East Eye
Shireen Abu Akleh: New probe finds Israeli forces deliberately killed journalist

21.09.2022

The Guardian
Shireen Abu Akleh’s family submits complaint to ICC

21.09.2022

SVT Nyheter
Forskarens kritik mot Israel: ”De sköt med avsikt att döda journalisterna”

20.09.2022

Al Jazeera
Joint investigation finds Abu Akleh’s killing ‘deliberate’

20.09.2022

The Art Newspaper
Investigative artists Forensic Architecture claim to uncover new evidence in shooting of Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh

20.09.2022

Middle East Monitor
Lawyers submit complaint to ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh by Israel sniper

20.09.2022

Wafa: Palestine News and Info Agency
Speakers at a press conference in The Hague urge the ICC to open an investigation into the murder of Abu Akleh

20.09.2022

AP News
Al Jazeera journalist’s killing referred to ICC in complaint

20.09.2022

Andalou Agency
British-Palestinian investigation concludes Abu Akleh’s killing ‘deliberate’

20.09.2022

Mondoweiss
New evidence emerges showing Israel deliberately targeted Shireen Abu Akleh as family files ICC complaint

20.09.2022

The Intercept
Israeli Forces Deliberately Killed Palestinian American Journalist, Report Shows

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