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What OSINT Tells Us About the Bakery Bombing

December 1, 2015

By Christiaan Triebert

saraqib

Verifying the location using four different sources, that will be discussed below. Clockwise: photo of Eye on Homeland, still from ‘Syria Yahia’ video, Google Maps screenshot, still from Step News Agency video.

Videos of airstrikes targeting an alleged bakery in Syria’s Idlib Governorate sparked heavy debates on social media. The Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) said it manages the bakery with funding from the Qatar Charity. This article examines what we can and cannot know so far about the airstrikes, using open source intelligence (OSINT). It establishes several certainties, but also leaves us with several questions.

In short:

  • The building is called al-Wazīr bakery
  • It is located near al-Duwaīr, roughly six kilometres north-east of Sarāqib
  • The building has been hit before by airstrikes; this contradicts with İHH’s ‘first strike’ claim
  • The bakery was not operational from Oct. 15 to at least Oct. 20, 2015
  • No new buildings have been constructed at the compound for at least 11 years

What happened?

According to Hüseyin Oruç, the vice president of İHH, jets of the Russian Air Force first targeted positions near the building as a warning before bombing their ‘bread bakery’ on November 29, 2015. Due to the warning there were no casualties, he said in an interview with TRT World, but claims the coordinates of the bakery had been communicated to Russia through the United Nations (UN). Another İHH offical told Al Jazeera there were at least “20 missiles […] dropped by four Russian warplanes.”

That’s the account of İHH. Let’s have a look at the videos that appeared on social media to see what we can derive from them. The first video was uploaded the YouTube account ‘Syrian Yahia’ and shows two strikes on the building. Notice that you can see the first bomb or missile at 0:16.

The second video was uploaded to YouTube by Step News Agency and seems to show the direct aftermath of the strikes.

Judging from these videos, we can be sure at least two airstrikes hit the (compound of the) facility. However, we are not able to verify whether it was the Russian Air Force. The Russian government has not yet reacted on the allegations by İHH.

What is evident, is that the first strike hit close to the tall structure part of the building, while the second strike hit closer to the lower building. Both İHH and Qatar Charity tweeted photos of the alleged destruction within the building.

strikes

Where did it happen?

Using the videos and their descriptions, it is relatively easy to find the exact location of the building. The compound is located near a hamlet called al-Duwaīr (الدوير), according to Wikimapia, roughly six kilometres north-east of Sarāqib, a city in Syria’s Idlib Governorate.

Map showing the filming locations of the bombing of a bakery near Saraqib, Syria.

On satellite imagery from Google Maps as well as Bing, the building is recognisable. The first video (yellow) is filmed south of the building (red) looking north, while the second video (blue) is filmed from the west looking east.

There is no known presence of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the Idlib Governorate, but several opposition groups are active in the region and control most of its territory.

The building

It is not clear how much bread for how many people was produced per day. İHH has said it was ‘providing daily bread for nearly 45 thousand Syrian IDPs‘, but told Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency it served ‘65,000 loafs of bread per day’ for ‘about 40,000’ Syrians. British newspaper The Mirror quotes a number as high as 50,000, while it says the number of loafs per day is only 16,000.

It is also not clear when exactly İHH and Qatar Charity started operating a bakery in the building. İHH told the Anadolu Agency the bakery was established 16 months ago, while the Qatar Charity tweeted it was working for 18 months. What is clear is that the building – whether it was already used as a bakery or not – has been there for at least 11 years. And in those years, not much has changed in the outlook, as Google satellite imagery reveals.

Older satellite imagery from the building from Google show not much has changed on the outside for at least 14 years.

Satellite imagery from the building from Google reveal that not much has changed on the outside of the building for at least 11 years.

That the building had tools and machines to make bread can be established. Metallic stands in the background of two local videos (that will be discussed below) resemble a bread making stand shown in an Al Jazeera reportage on a Turkish bakery, also managed by İHH, in Reyhanlı, Turkey, around 50 kilometres away from al-Duwaīr. It is evident that there were necessary facilities to make bread present at the building.

Comparable stands in al-Duwaīr (left) and Reyhanlı (right). Both are managed by İHH.

But there is something more remarkable in the accompanying text of the Al Jazeera reportage. It reads that a İHH employee says ‘they previously shipped flour directly to bakers in Syria’ but ‘with their bakeries being regularly targeted, two years ago they decided that it would be more effective to produce the bread in Turkey and ship it to the needy.’ Al Jazeera‘s Hassan Ghani writes that the loaves of bread from Reyhanlı are sent to several parts of Syria, including Idlib.

The article was published on May 20, 2015, meaning İHH said it stopped shipping flour to Syria in May 2013. İHH and Qatar Charity claimed the operations near Sarāqib started 16-18 months ago, roughly a year after the flour shipments to Syria stopped. Based on this information, several questions arise: Did flour shipments to Sarāqib start again? Was the alleged bakery in Sarāqib obtaining their flour from somewhere else?

A few have argued hitting a bakery might be a strategy to ‘starve‘ out Syria. Another claim has been made that the bakery was or is a weapons depot in disguise (hinting towards alleged links with al-Qā’idah). An argument put forward to support this is the second explosion in the first video. It is remarkably bigger and more explosive than the first explosion. A crackling noise can be heard, alongside the sound of the jet.

Two still from the video of the Step News Agency, showing the explosion after the second strike.

Two stills from the Step News Agency video show the explosion after the second strike.

Others, including Hassan al-Mukhtar, a local reporter for Eye on Homeland, told Bellingcat that the second strike hit a diesel fuel stockpile, necessary to keep the bakery running in times of power outages. An argument to support this claim can be the following photo, tweeted by İHH, allegedly showing post-strike photos. The photo shows a machine that seems to be a diesel power generator, with (from left to right) a generator, an engine, a muffler, and radiator. This might indicate that the machine could run on (diesel) fuel that might be stored on the compound as well.

muffler

A muffler can be seen on what is allegedly a photo taken on the premises of the building after the Nov. 29 airstrikes.

However, at the moment it is not possible at this time to either verify or reject the claim that arms were stored in the building. Neither it is possible to say that (diesel) fuel was stored on the compound.

Was it the first time the building was hit by airstrikes? No.

Mustafa Özbek, an İHH official, told Al Jazeera that Sunday’s attack “was the first time any of our facilities was targeted”. This claim contradicts earlier reports from local media that suggest the bakery has been hit by airstrikes before. Let’s have a look at those reports.

Firstly, there is a reportage by Orient News, a pro-opposition Syrian media group owned by billionaire Ghassan Aboud, uploaded to YouTube on October 15, 2015. It claims that four Russian airstrikes hit a grain mill (مطحنةَ الحبوب) and the bakery (المخبزَ) on October 14, 2015, which led to the shut down of the facilities.

A comparison of stills of the building from video 3 (left) and video 1 (right) shows it is the same building.

A comparison of stills from the Orient News reportage (Oct. 15, left) and Syrian Yahia’s video (Nov. 29 right). The damage of earlier strikes is clearly visible in the Nov. 29 video.

Secondly, a reportage for Eye on Homeland, published on November 22, 2015, shows the same building again and gives it a name as well: bakery al-Wazīr (مطحنة الوزير). The video starts with a shot of a sign that refers to both İHH and Qatar. The date on which the strikes occurred is not mentioned. The shots at 0:47-0:53 and 0:57-1:19 clearly show that it is the same building as in the previous videos (seven windows horizontally, six windows vertically).

Small change

Open door on Oct. 15 video, barricaded on Nov. 22 video.

Lastly, Eye on Homeland also published several pictures on Facebook on October 20, 2015. They show again the same building and claimed the bakery stopped working after it was hit by Russian planes (الطيران الروسي).

idlib eye on homeland

Screenshot of the accompanying text with 6 photos , claiming the bakery was hit by airstrikes and stopped operating.

A comparison between the footage published on November 22 and the photos published by İHH after the November 29 strikes, shows that the lower building has been damaged severely in the latest strikes.

bakery 2 intact now destroyed

The upper photo shows a still from the Nov. 22 footage, the two lower photos were published on Nov. 30 by İHH.

Using open source information, this is what I have found so far and can contribute to the discussion. Any reader is more than welcome to contribute to this case in the comments.

Updates:

  • Dec. 1: Mustafa Özbek, an İHH official, has told Bellingcat that the building was indeed hit on October 14, 2015. However, he claims the building did ‘not get big damage’ and the ‘attack didnt [sic] stop our work.’ The November 29 attacks did destroy all of the bakery, he said. He says no specific name is used for the bakery, but simply call it Sarāqib bakery.
  • Dec. 1: Following a comment of Sean Lamb, I have added information coming from the Al Jazeera reportage on the Reyhanlı bakery. An İHH official claimed that the NGO stopped shipping flour to Syria in May 2013. İHH and Qatar Charity claimed the operations near Sarāqib started 16-18 months ago, roughly a year after the flour shipments to Syria stopped. Based on this information, several questions arise: Did flour shipments to Sarāqib start again? Was the alleged bakery in Sarāqib obtaining their flour from somewhere else? I have asked İHH for a reaction.
  • Dec. 1: Leif has suggested in the comments that the “so-far unidentified machine which has a muffler” is a diesel power generator. Besides the muffler, a generator, engine, and radiator (from left to right) can be identified, he says. ‘Exhaust duct could have become disconnected from muffler from explosion. Looks to be about 300-350kW output of electricity. Of course no indication of what the power was used for or when it was last functioning.’
  • Dec. 4: The Russian Ministry of Defence has released a video on its YouTube-channel, claiming it is ‘a large ISIS depot”. As written above, there is no known presence of IS in this region.
Christiaan Triebert

Christiaan Triebert has investigated for Bellingcat since 2015 and runs several of Bellingcat's workshops for journalists and researchers across the world. Contact via email (christiaantriebert@bellingcat.com) or Twitter (@trbrtc).

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73 Comments

  1. Impartiality please

    Can we have a post and some energy devoted to the geolocation of Isis oil conveys heading into Turkey, or is that to sensitive?

    Reply
    • Martin

      IHH work in field last 24 years. They ere not terrorist organisation. All this claim are false and manipulations. How can you use that this organization work 140 countries around the world. Also partnership with United Nations and ITT. Tkey work around world whenever there is problem. They are one of powerful NGS in the world and work with thousund of NGS in the world in partnership. we knows very well who smuggling weapons into Syria. They are Russia, İran ve their partnership Esad. Esad buys petrol from ISIL. If you look USA report you can see this issue very well.

      Reply
    • Randy Dread

      just search google, there are numerous hits implicating IHH as a terrorist organisation.

      It’s accused of arms smuggling, jihadist activities and of planning a terrorist attack on Los Angeles airport.

      Weapons were discovered in IHH illegal convoys travelling into Syria.

      Reply
  2. Sean Lamb

    I finding it hard to follow the proof that it was a functioning bakery. As often is the case with Bellingcat – again, I assume the logical deficiencies are all mine.

    I do note that the Al Jazeera link provided has IHH claiming they stopped supplying Syrian bakeries with flour two years ago:
    ” The project is managed by Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), one of Turkey’s biggest relief foundations, with funding from Gulf based organisation “Qatar Charity”.

    One IHH staffer that I met at the bakery, Burak Karacaolu, told me how they previously shipped flour directly to bakers in Syria.

    But with their bakeries being regularly targeted, two years ago they decided that it would be more effective to produce the bread in Turkey and ship it to the needy.

    The 120 million loaves of bread baked to date are sent to Aleppo, Homs, Idlib, and other locations. The machinery of this mammoth operation takes up the entire floor-space of a large warehouse on the edge of Reyhanli. ”

    It is a pity they didn’t say something along the lines “we stopped shipping flour to Syrian bakeries except the one at Saraqib.”

    Saraqib, incidentally, is at a strategic crossroads between Aleppo and Idlib, and that building would hold a commanding position. So if the upper stories were being used as sniper or shelling post, then it probably is a matter of military necessity to destroy it. Especially as IHH has such a modern and streamlined bakery operation going at Reyhanli a mere 40 kms away.

    Reply
    • Christiaan Triebert

      Hi Sean,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You have a fair point considering the Al Jazeera reportage, thank you. I have updated the section and have asked İHH to comment on this newly added information.

      Furthermore, I have not said that I can verify that the bakery was functioning, as I have not seen any proof that it was, so far. For that reason, I speak of an ‘alleged bakery’. Nevertheless, I have sometimes used the word ‘bakery’ without adding ‘alleged’. This might be misleading. Therefore, I have changed ‘bakery’ into ‘building’, as I simply want to present the information that can be found from open sources.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Christiaan

      Reply
      • Randy Dread

        But you write a whole paragraph speculating on how much bread the bakery was producing, when it was never established in the first place it was producing any bread at all.

        So the wording is a bit confusing since you’re not adding the necessary qualifications.

        Reply
      • Sean Lamb

        Thanks for the response.

        IMHO even if it was a bakery, it is still a legitimate target – and it looks like it was a deliberate strike – if it is being used to as a firing position.

        Staying with Idlib – the day before it was claimed that the Russians had hit a market “killing dozens”. This is the video accompanying that claim
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1q8AhdoiTE
        It certainly doesn’t show dozens of dead – although they are under no obligation to show everything.

        What it does show, is one possibly dead or possibly wounded man being removed and one possibly wounded man in a wheelchair in an ambulance. There is a bit of rubble in the street, but hard to say if it is from an air strike or has been there for ages.

        Freeze the video at 37 seconds – when they are removing the maybe dead or wounded man – in the background on the right you can see a totally undisturbed vegetable stand, with what looks like onions in styrofoam boxes on display (behind the man in the grey hoodie). In the middle and at the back you can see two other shopkeepers looking on placidly in front of their undisturbed merchandise display.

        I find it difficult to believe that if a Russian airstrike had taken place, that the shop-keepers would have raced to set up their goods so quickly. Who knows what this shows, but it certainly isn’t “dozens killed in Russian airstrike.”

        Much of what comes out of Syria as news is junk, in my opinion.

        Reply
  3. Martin

    This are all just claim. If its true can you imagine this organization can work 140 countries around world and work with united nations. There are lots of lia news on Google. To see true look different sources pls.

    Reply
  4. Randy Dread

    “Others, including Hassan al-Mukhtar, a local reporter for Eye on Homeland, told Bellingcat that the second strike hit a diesel fuel stockpile, necessary to keep the bakery running in times of power outages. An argument to support this claim can be the following photo, tweeted by İHH, allegedly showing the bakery’s interior. The photo shows a damaged machine which has a muffler, which might mean the machine would run on (diesel) fuel.”

    Is bellingcat seriously suggesting a machine with a diesel engine would be spewing out diesel exhaust in the interior of a bakery?

    Reply
  5. Martin

    This organization made a big aid for Palastenian people in 2010. Therefore Israeli goverment didnt like for this help. You should understand why they accuse of İHH. It is very simple…

    Reply
    • Randy Dread

      Numerous other organisations make large donations to Gaza and the Israeli government does not accuse them of being terrorists. Just IHH.

      Reply
  6. Leif

    Regarding the “so-far unidentified machine which has a muffler”: I am a mechanical engineer who has engineered Diesel gensets. I can say without a doubt that this photo is of a Diesel powered generator, with (from left to right) generator, engine, and radiator clearly visible, as well as muffler as noted. Exhaust duct could have become disconnected from muffler from explosion. Looks to be about 300-350kW output of electricity. Of course no indication of what the power was used for or when it was last functioning.

    Reply
    • Randy Dread

      You’d agree that you could not have a machine venting diesel exhaust in the interior of a bakery where bread was being made though, right?

      Reply
      • Leif

        Absolutely correct. Also because of noise and heat, you would want a genset installed in an equipment room, away from personnel. Photo doesn’t indicate installation location (as far as I can tell). It could be isolated away as such.

        Reply
        • Christiaan Triebert

          Hi Leif,

          Thank you for identifying the machine; much appreciated. Indeed no indication of what the power was used for or when it was last functioning, but good to know what it is.

          As you already say, the photo does not indicate the location of the machine. İHH simply speaks of ‘bakery’. It is clear that the building on which the alleged bakery is located is quite large, and the building was divided in two or more sections (the higher and the lower part). It could be that this machine was standing in or outside the lower building, close the where the second strike hit. Nevertheless, this is an assumption because I have not been able to geolocate the photo within the compound.

          Thanks again.

          Christiaan

          Reply
  7. Martin

    İsrail killed 10 innocent people on international water. This people didnt have any weapons. they just try to help people and awake world pressure to Palestine people. They were lots of people in ship from different countries around world. There were famous people from different countries. Now Israil trial UCC , Spain, South Africa, USA and Turkey. You cant stop humanitarian help. they killed 10 innocent people on live broadcasting. Did you see Israel soldier’s video ob youtube. He says he killed 40 innocent people on camps. This sholuder didnt sleep at night because of nightmare. This is siyonism. watch and see real world. http://mondoweiss.net/2015/11/killed-israeli-veteran

    Reply
    • Randy Dread

      Look I’m not really defending Israel, Israel’s actions in Gaza and else where have been appalling. I don’t disagree with you on that.

      I’m just saying there are serious indications that IHH is a terrorist organisation.

      Reply

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