The Beirut Explosion - Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? Is It A Faked Video Of A Missile?
In the days after every catastrophe, it is inevitable that rumours and misinformation will be passed around on social networks and by word of mouth. This appears to be a universal human behaviour. The disaster in Beirut is no different. In the three days since the blast we have seen multiple examples of misleading or fake information and videos which seek to mislead people into believing false narratives. In these post we will examine some of them.
We will also examine a more interesting piece of information which was reported by multiple people on the ground, namely that a sound similar to a jet was heard for a few seconds during this catastrophe.
“It was a nuclear explosion”
One of the earliest claims about this explosion is that it was a nuclear detonation. This was spread by a variety of sources, including an organisation called “Veterans Today“, which despite appearing legitimate at first glance, is a known conspiracy network.
However, these claims are easily identifiable as false. Multiple nuclear experts pointed out that explosion had none of the distinctive features of a nuclear explosion, such as a blinding flash of light and a thermal pulse. In short, nothing about the explosion in Beirut indicates it was a nuclear explosion.
That’s not a missile: it’s a cartoon
Several videos have appeared online which claim to show that the warehouse was hit by a missile. None of them actually show this: all of them are either deliberate fakes or simply birds flying across the camera.
In the most blatant example of this below, someone has edited a cartoon missile into a genuine video of the explosion.
If viewed as it is, especially on a mobile phone screen, it is possible to give this video credence. However, if the video is watched frame by frame the reality becomes clear. The “missile” is a superimposed cartoon projectile which is present for two frames before inexplicably disappearing.
A comparison shows us that this is the same “missile” as shown on the introductory image of the video. As you might have guessed by this point, this is not a real munition.
A second, very similar, example can be seen below. This video uses two pieces of genuine footage, but once again fake missiles have been added. Both segments of footage have had a filter applied to make them appear as if they are “thermal” cameras, which also makes it slightly more difficult to identify the fake missiles.
In the videos below, both pieces of footage are compared to their originals. Note that in both originals there are clearly no missiles.
Second segment of footage.
Once again, frames from both of these segments reveal fake missiles have been crudely superimposed over genuine videos.
That’s not a missile: it’s a bird
We have also observed videos being spread that claim to show a missile which, rather than being faked, have simply been misinterpreted. In the two cases of this we’ve identified, both objects claimed to be “missiles” are actually, on closer inspection, birds.
The video below is the most popular example of this theme. It has been passed around various groups, sometimes with a hand-drawn circle around the object, claiming that it shows a missile strike. By lining up the minarets of the Mohammad AlAmin Mosque and other landmarks with the blast cloud, we can establish it was filmed from the vicinity of 33.890420, 35.498061, a little of over two kilometers away from the blast.
Once the video is slowed, it becomes clear that the object some have interpreted as a missile appears to be flapping, and is in fact shaped like a bird. Additionally there are multiple other videos filmed from similar angles which show that no missile impacted at this time from this direction.
This video is very similar. As with the video above, once it has been slowed and examined it becomes clear the “missile” is in fact a bird.
The sound of jets
Some people reported hearing a noise similar to a low flying jet a few seconds before one of the smaller, interim explosions. The video below has been cited as evidence of this, with a roar starting at 01:14 which does sound similar to a jet engine. One of the people filming comments on this, asking “what is that sound!?”.
However, no jets have been visible in any footage related to this event, which is available from a wide variety of different angles and distances. Additionally, none of them show any kind of projectile hitting the warehouse. So, what might have caused this noise?
The Twitter account AuroraIntel identified that the fire in the warehouse increased in intensity for a few seconds before this interim explosion took place. They took a video which we previously identified was filmed about 40 meters away from the warehouse and synced it with the video above.
As we can see, the intensity of the fire changes dramatically in the few seconds before this interim explosion, including an increase in what seems to be small explosions. At the time of this event some commented that this sounded like fireworks or ammunition cooking off. This crackling sound and the small explosions increase in intensity to become a roar for a few seconds before the interim explosion. Others have also noted a phenomenon in which intense fires are frequently reported to sound like jet engines as they draw in air from their surroundings.
Whether it was these smaller explosions, the roar of air, or a combination of both, it seems a strong possibility that this phenomenon was the source of the reported sounds of a jet over the city.
Although we often believe “a lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on”, in this case the truth had a head start. In major incidents like this, the very earliest videos are much less likely to have been edited, because editing takes a little bit of time and a little bit of planning. Within a few minutes after the explosion, we had scores of videos showing the explosion from a multitude of angles, none of which showed any munition impacting the warehouse. Therefore, any video which appears later that claims to show a missile should be scrutinised with caution. In this case it is clear that a person or persons has created several fake videos of this incident in an attempt to manipulate and deceive those who view them.
The question of the reported sounds of jets is more interesting. In this case multiple people reported hearing a similar sound, yet there doesn’t appear to be any other verified open source information which supports the presence of low flying jet aircraft. The nature and evolution of the fire at the warehouse appears to provide a likely explanation for this, increasing in intensity to create a roaring noise shortly before an interim explosion.
Questions do remain about this disaster: what started the initial fire? Was there some other material stored in Warehouse 12 that was ignited before spreading to the ammonium nitrate? Who is responsible for the ammonium nitrate remaining at the port for so long? However, when answering these questions, care must be taken, because it is clear that some actors are already attempting to inject false information into the public discourse.