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Fact-Checking Russia’s Claim that It Didn’t Bomb a Hospital in Syria

November 4, 2015

By Nathan Patin

Translations: Русский

On 20 October 2015, Russian airstrikes were reported by local groups to have hit the Syrian town of Sarmin in Idlib governorate, killing at least 12 people. According to reports, the building Russia is alleged to have bombed is a field hospital run by the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) and was the ninth such attack Russia has been accused of since their bombing campaign began on 30 September. Now the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has taken to Twitter and released a statement on its website maintaining that the hospital is “absolutely undamaged.” To buttress this claim, the Russian MoD released an aerial photograph of the area, purportedly taken more than a week after the attack, on 31 October 2015:

MoD 1

The magnified portion of the image, which identifies the hospital building along with other distinguishing features, is juxtaposed with a screengrab published by Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL) claiming to show the rubble of the field hospital after the bombing:

MoD 2

This claim – that RFERL’s screengrab does not show the field hospital – is correct. However, using open sources, it is possible to determine that Russia has once again presented falsely dated imagery in an attempt to conceal the destruction of the actual target of the 20 October attack, namely, a school located approximately 60 meters away.

To start, the Russian MoD correctly identifies the hospital in the enlarged portion of its photograph. The MoD’s analysis of this video, as depicted below alongside the magnified portion, is accurate:

MoD 3

But two airstrikes did hit the area on 20 October, with one striking a school, which, conveniently, is on the very edge of the enlarged area of the MoD’s photo. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify several features of the MoD’s image that do not correspond with the destruction on the ground that day.

This video report, said to have been recorded just 30 minutes after the attack, provides several shots of the aftermath:

3 interesting

Two of the buildings (outlined in red) have clearly been destroyed, and yet, they are still intact on the MoD’s photo. Moreover, only two of the four poles (green) remain standing after the attack, but four shadows are clearly visible in the MoD’s photo:


More obvious is the school’s wall that was destroyed. It appears perfectly unscathed in the Russian MoD imagery:


Here is the wall after the first strike, marked in yellow. Also note the building marked in green (source):


And here is the wall and nearby buildings after the second strike (staggering footage of which can be seen here):


Again, the Russian MoD’s imagery shows these objects to be completely intact, proving that the image was taken not on 31 October as claimed, but before the 20 October attack .

It is possible to narrow down the timeframe of when the image was taken by looking at Google Earth’s satellite imagery. The most recent image of the area was taken on 25 August 2014. Buildings west of the hospital have since been constructed as can be seen in the Russian MoD photo, indicating that it was taken between 25 August 2014 and before the afternoon of 20 October 2015.

GE comparison

Finally, while airstrikes may not have struck the SAMS field hospital directly, it was clearly damaged as images from the ground from locals attest:


In summary, the Russian MoD’s claim that it did not destroy a hospital in Sarmin is accurate, but, regrettably, that’s the extent of Moscow’s truthfulness. The Russian MoD provided falsely dated aerial imagery in an attempt to disguise the destruction of the airstrikes that occurred on 20 October, which were reported to have resulted in the deaths of at least a dozen people.

Written by Nathan Patin with contributions from the Bellingcat Investigation Team and the Conflict Intelligence Team.

Nathan Patin

Nathan Patin is a Washington, D.C.-based independent researcher and private investigator at the Mintz Group, an international corporate investigations firm. He focuses on open-source investigation tools and techniques, cybercrime, and the Middle East. He has been a member of the Bellingcat Investigation Team since 2015, and he was a guest presenter at Bellingcat's 2018 and 2019 Washington D.C. workshops.

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  1. Randy Dread

    “US bombed an hospital in afghanistan, even if not enough they asked sorry
    They didn’t show a fake picture pretending not to have dropped bombs there”

    The Russians demonstrated that claims they had bombed and destroyed a hospital were lies.

    QED. End of.

    • Andrea

      … Almost … they showed a picture of the hospital before the airstrike … obviously no damage …
      The whole city may still have been nuked if we rely on MoD proofs …

      Like if i want to prove i’m alive NOW showing you a picture of yesterday … nonsense

      If i put the wrong date on my exam i’m screwed, but it seems that for MoD is a great idea 😉

      The point of this article was not to demonstrate the statement “we hadn’t bombed an hospital” was wrong (even if they caused collateral damage to the hospital).
      But he MAIN POINT is: why do they give the world fake images ?

      • Randy Dread

        But have they given the world a fake image?

        Again we come back to whose word do we have for that?

        I need someone more credible than Bellingcat and Islamist terrorists to confirm that for me.

        • Andrea

          If you put a wrong date on a picture it’s a fake one.
          You can’t draw a conclusion from a fake picture.
          NONE, not in favor of RUS neither anyone else !

          The hospital is still up and hopefully operating but we can say that not basing on MoD pictures but thanks to sources on the ground that are not paid like those monkeys in MoD.
          And how can you have trust in those (MoD) that give you such images and make deductions from those fake images?

          Who will you judge credible enough?
          We have ONE source (MoD) that obviously won’t say the date is wrong.
          MULTIPLE open sources describing an airstrike that magically disappears on MoD picture…

          It disappears. And we have videos uploaded on youtube (you can check by yourself the dates) before the 31 Oct. showing destruction on that location!
          We have also pictures uploaded before the 31st….

          What do you need more RANDY ?

          • Randy Dread

            you have no open sources, just terrorists taking videos on the ground and making claims.

          • Andrea

            Don’t keep saying the same thing like a troll, u have a brain…

            What kind of sources you’ll define reliable ?
            Any syrian is a terrorist? Do you know who shot the video or the pictures we have? A picture/video is a picture/video even if Hitler takes it !

            DId you see this clip ?
            You can see some volunteers risking their life trying to help civilians (i don’t see any weapon).
            Do you think those are paid actors that let a bomb detonate 20m from them?ù
            Yeah, it seems very likely …. MAAAAN !!

            And where are the traces of that airstrike in MoD picture ????????????
            There are not cause superheroes cleaned up all that mess and rebuilt the buildings…LOL

      • Arcstreams

        ohh so this was a russian air strike yet we do not hear a jet above ,looks more like a mortar shell from in fighting between these clowns,second they claim the hospital was destroyed yet we see it still standing specially after he walks right into it to get treated lmao

    • Mad Dog

      No Randy, perhaps you misread the article, especially this point: Now the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has taken to Twitter and released a statement on its website maintaining that the hospital is “absolutely undamaged.”

      Yet, there was collateral damage from the bombing of the school, perhaps something they wanted to hide. If they had no problem with their actions, why submit fake photos?

  2. boggled

    Did you click the little ‘video report about it being only half an hour after the strike?
    In it the reporter claims that there was a firm agreement with Iranian government and the various rebel factions in the area that that village would remain as a safe haven and remain untouched.
    I guess the Kremlin did not get that memo from the Iranian leadership 🙁

    Still, it is very weird that the Russian MoD continues to persist with this false dating of images after they have gotten exposed doing that over and over again.
    Why do they keep handing a baseball bat to the world and asking to world to hit them over the head with it?
    You would think they would have gotten a lot better on dating the images they release to the world.

    I guess habitual liars just cannot help themselves.

    Fare thee well

    • Randy Dread

      a firm agreement with the Iranian government?

      yeah sounds really plausible, given that the video was filmed in Syria.

    • H C

      Im an American first of all.second point is the US state department never tells the truth about anything.Our government invades other countries and mass kills millions of people and lies about it and the press which are owned by giant corporations never tell the truthabout anything.the war in Iraq was fought and lost by our inept leaders,and its the same of the war in affganistan.all wars are fought for the elites and oil companies and that’s fact sir.

      • boggled

        HC, this article is about Russia and the bombing of a hospital, correct?
        So why do you pretend to be an American and make a bunch of false claims and use poor English grammar and the sole purpose of your comment to attack American foreign policy, Western Press, and oil corporations?

        Misdirection is a common tactic among Kremlin sponsored comment makers, so are you one?
        It sure appears like that to me.
        And if your an American, you appear to be an uneducated one.

        Fare thee well

  3. Random

    What a terrible post…
    Not only is this part of the cover to deflect attention from the Americans bombing the hospital in Afghanistan.

    But this post fails to mention the fact that the original claim is that Russia has bombed 6 hospitals 5 of which have been proven NOT TO EXIST!

    Do you honestly think the people reading this would not have heard about that?
    And do you live in a world where people do not believe that ‘once a liar, always a liar?’.

    You people are a joke!

    • Andrea

      Do they need to deflect attention?
      US already blamed themselves for what happened in Afghanistan. MSF said they’ll go on international courts….

      “post fails to mention the fact that the original claim is” … dude, it is YOUR original claim XD … this article is about a single localized airstrike…and how MoD didn’t manage to prove they are right (as they pretend to do it with fake images )

      • Andrea

        Can’t understand this sentence….who’s the liar?

        “And do you live in a world where people do not believe that ‘once a liar, always a liar?”

        Is it MoD? … Well they already showed lots and lots of fake pictures and funny stories …
        Or is it Bellingcat? … If so why are they liars ?

        • Randy Dread

          Radio Free Europe, the rebels themselves and anyone who repeated their lies are liars.

          • Andrea

            wasn’t asking u -.-

            But as the current situation we all MUST take with suspicion any kind of news that comes just after an event …
            Those are news told by a friend of my friend that knows the wife of a guy married with a local resident … if u can understand what i mean…

            “Radio Free Europe, the rebels themselves and anyone who repeated their lies are liars”
            And you should add russian MoD … at least as long as they keep manipulating their evidences discharging blame…

      • Random

        How is this my claim?
        The claim is all over western media. In fact since I wrote that the number has now jumped to 12! This is pure cognitive dissonance aimed to try and confuse the profane about America’s recent war crime.

        This post has neglected to mention that the claim against Russia is not that it has bombed the hospital in question, but 11 others…

        It is more than an accident that this was left out of this story. And generally when I catch someone out in a lie it taints everything else they have to say..

        Rather like the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Or more so “Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me!”

        • boggled

          Random’s claim – But this post fails to mention the fact that the original claim is that Russia has bombed 6 hospitals 5 of which have been proven NOT TO EXIST!

          me – Did any of you see that claim in the above article or in the SAMs article or the RFERL article?

          I have claimed 22 medical centers myself have been damaged or destroyed by Russian airstrikes.
          That is not specifically hospitals.
          And I do believe this is a fact.

          Some were hospitals, but not all.

          But 5 hospitals proven not to exist?
          I would love to see a link were you have got that information so that you can repeat it.

          Random, this article was specifically about the targeting in one village the Russian MoD responded about.
          They responded with a falsely dated photograph, AGAIN!

          Bellingcat did not lie about anything, they proved what was hit and what was not and that the Russian MoD satellite image was falsely dated AGAIN!

          Your thinking processes need some work with the comments you make.
          You sound like your from some parallel reality that is just slightly off camber with what is happening in the real world.

          I think you should read through the article a couple more times.

          Fare thee well

        • Andrea

          Therfore distrust any further MoD picture…

          Just following your logic RANDOM….

          “Rather like the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Or more so “Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me!””

    • George Knight

      I don’t get it. Let’s stick tot the subject. If the Russian Federation has not bombed the alleged hospital in Sarmin, Syria, why does it give wrong facts about the hospital? For instance by antedating a photo. What is the need for it?

  4. Tritro29

    1. This claim – that RFERL’s screengrab does not show the field hospital – is correct.

    So RFERL lied?

    2. The “School” was totalled. This isn’t a blind strike. It’s a deliberate hit. So what was the purpose of the School?

    No explanation about that either.

    3. “Nobody said the hospital was totally destroyed, just you Randy.
    buildings destroyed, but not the hospital.
    The hospital received heavy damage”

    See point 1.

    Propaganda and counter propaganda are in overdrive.

    • Randy Dread

      a school with no pupils or teachers.

      and Islamic looking slogans written on the wall as can be seen in the video.

      • boggled

        Randy Candy,
        I can look at graffiti on London’s school walls of a public school and they are all gang related or Islamic in nature, so does that make it a Gang School or an Islamic teaching center?

        IF you and Russian MoD want to claim the school was a valid target on that Friday afternoon, present the evidence.
        Since you have NOT, that means it was probably not a valid target.
        Which also means you cannot state something that is a guess as fact Randy.
        You have NO (none, zilch, zippo) evidence to back up that claim other then the fact there are some terrorists inside Syria fighting.

        2) Shouldn’t you be calling on the Russian MoD to explain their justification in bombing it?
        They did the deed, so they should explain why.
        They have not offered anything that I have read.
        3) Did you watch this video from the article above?

        That is clearly a hospital examination/surgery room that has a wall knocked out.
        It was damaged as the RFERL article stated.
        The claims of destroyed can have different meanings as I am sure you know.
        An Insurance company would say your car is totaled or destroyed if it cost more to repair it then its BluEBook value.
        A person that walks by a house that had a large kitchen fire, would say the house is destroyed, but an insurance agent may say different.
        Regardless, I would not label it destroyed, and I did not see many of the claims that the hospital was destroyed.
        RFERL’s article has two images provided by the SAMS org.
        If it was not a good picture or was not valid, SAMS has the blame.
        Although I believe their were auxiliary medical clinics around the main hospital, some of which were destroyed.
        The video link above explains more if the damage.
        If you have proof of what the buildings were, provide it.
        The SAMS org made their statements, and it looks like they have some validity.

        More so then the Russian MoD.

        Fare thee well

        • Andrea

          “That is a video made by terrorists” – “Those are paid actors” – “Those sources are rubbish, go take a pic uself”
          Which answer will Randy chose?

          PS: they speak arab (or similars) … so probably they write in arab too (or similars) … i guess all the slogans, even “I love school” can seem an islamic slogan to you 😉

          • Randy Dread

            I dont know which one is appropriate as I usually dont read boggled comments,. they are overlong, rambling and inane.

            You pick one for me.

          • boggled

            I know you have ADHT or some other similar disorder, that is why I put my answer at the top for you and made it short and sweet.

            It is so time consuming to read my comments.
            Sorry, what can I do?
            No skin off my back if chose not to read.
            Maybe if you prefer short and sweet, you should stick to Twitter?

            I don’t know, Randy surprises me from time to time.
            He kind of reminds me of this USA legislator.
            Dana Tyrone Rohrabacher
            Sometimes he is on his game, but for the most part he has 10 screws loose.
            Should watch some of his statements, it is hard to believe he actually has held office since 1989, but he keeps changing district when his term is up.
            Washington Politicians, who would have thought there is someone that sounds almost exactly like Robert Parry (or his main comment maker Abe) serving in Congress.

            Fare thee well

          • Maksym Ponomarenko

            I don’t read Boggled’s comments either. I’d rather put my head in a vice

  5. John Zenwirt


    Your super-human abilities to put up with nonsense, and more, reply with a comprehensive and accurate re-telling of BC’s findings….is just…great.

    • boggled

      I guess it is I am attempting to stay honest, fight the crackpots, and keep the comment section a little entertaining the best I can.
      It is the least I can do for the great articles the Bellingcat crew come up with and their thorough analysis.
      I hope the moderators get a chuckle from time to time.
      I have learned a few things here, and in appreciation, I try to share a few complimentary links to the articles above.

      ➡ Plus it is always fun to pop Kremlin defenders’ balloons.

      Fare thee well

    • Mad Dog

      I met Dana R. A real case. But he helped shut down some overbearing lawyers I was with….great move!

      When boggled stays focused, I find his posts anything but rambling or inane. However, I think Randy is tiring of the game since he is just resorting to one liners in response.

      BTW, just read a large article on Russian Kin In Dark about Syria Deployment put out by AFP. Seems those volunteers are under a bit of pressure to keep their whereabouts secret (among other things).

      • boggled

        Yeah, like the one Kremlin claimed suicide that the parents of the kid, with multiple injuries he could not have likely done to himself, and many others challenge the claim of suicide.
        The legislator does have his good points, but foreign policy is one he should avoid.
        Although on the other hand, there is a term called useful idiot.
        He acts as a devil’s advocate, and to be honest, I am not against that.
        It does help to keep certain Cold Warhawks in check.

        And as I always have said, I am not opposed to relations with Russians, it is just the decision makers in Moscow I have a hard time with.

        So a voice for Russians in the Congress is fine and dandy.
        There are a lot of grey areas which need to be gone through and the Administration needs to be challenged.

        But when he begins to sound off his rocker with current events, I think it is time for him to hang up his hat and go into private practice.

        Fare thee well

  6. John Zenwirt

    MOSCOW (Reuters) – “Three serving or former Russian soldiers have been geolocated by photographs in Syria, including locations near Hama, Aleppo and Homs, Russian bloggers said on Sunday, suggesting the Kremlin’s operation stretches well beyond its air campaign.”

  7. John Zenwirt

    “Sunday’s report by Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of Russian investigative bloggers, said that photos on social media had been used to geolocate three Russian serving or former soldiers in Syria.”

    link above.

  8. Mad Dog

    Well, no problem now. As the Russian Sports Federation is going to be banned for massive doping charges, the forces in Syria and the Ukraine will have an ample supply of new, physically fit, ‘volunteers’!!


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