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How the BBC found the perpetrators of the execution of women and children in Africa using Google Earth, sunny hours and photos in Facebook

The journalists found out what happened, one by one on a viral video from Cameroon.

In July , a video was broadcast in the world media and social networks , in which armed Cameroonian soldiers shoot two women and two children from rifles.

In the video, a group of men in camouflage leads the prisoners along the path. One woman holds the girl by the hand and goes ahead, while one of the soldiers periodically hits her in the face. To the back of the second woman walking behind, a small child is attached. At some point, women are blindfolded. Prisoners are taken away from the trail and forced to sit on the ground. “Yes, come here, little girl,” says a soldier to a girl walking with a woman by the hand, taking off her jersey and wrapping it around her head. Then the military opens fire and kills all four.

“BH, you will die,” – says the author of the video before the execution. The abbreviation means the radical Islamist organization Boko Haram, whose militants are attacking , including Cameroon. Thus it becomes clear that the military suspected women of involvement in the organization.

Carefully, the video contains hard content. In the end there is a shot, but the ending with the execution itself is carved .

The original video of the execution after the BBC editorial

Human rights defenders from Amnesty International had no doubt that the execution took place in Cameroon, but there were practically no details of the murder.

On September 24, the BBC African Service published the results of a lengthy investigation, from which it was clarified when and where exactly, and who exactly killed two women and two children. To do this, journalists carefully studied the viral video, used improvised tools and confirmed information from sources. At the same time the BBC has denied all the arguments of the Cameroonian authorities.

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After the appearance of the video in social networks, controversies arose: someone said that it happened in Cameroon, someone – that in Mali. The situation was complicated by the fact that the Government of Cameroon in every possible way denied the involvement of its military.

In July, the authorities called the charges “fake news”. The government said that the Cameroonian military does not have a video on it, and camouflage does not use such coloring in the north of the country. Officials also wondered: if they are their soldiers, then why they were not in full combat uniform.

However, the BBC journalists saw in the video a lot of important details, imperceptible at first glance. For example, the mountain range behind people’s backs and the search for the Google Earth service helped them to establish the exact place of the tragedy.

“We looked at the video and found clues that prove that the government is not right. Let’s start with the location. Where did it happen? On the first 40 seconds of the video can be seen a mountain range with distinctive features ”

“After the tip from the Cameroonian source, we found a place on Google Earth with the exact coincidence of the crest of the ridge”

“[Next to the mountains] is a dirt road – this is near the town of Zelevet in the north of Cameroon, near the border with Nigeria. This is the region where Cameroonian soldiers are fighting the Jokhadist group “Boko Haram” »

“As soon as we generally understood the location, we looked at other details in the video – tracks, buildings, trees – and compared them to satellite images”

The investigators “confidently” stated that they had established the exact place of the tragedy and shared its coordinates on Google maps. Then the journalists found out the time of the incident. To narrow the possible dates to a short period, they were able to by the buildings flashing on the roller – one was built only by November 2014, and the other was demolished until February 2016.

“When did it happen? And again: the video has clues. In the video there is a building. But satellite images show that until November 2014, its walls have not yet been erected. So, the murders took place after November 2014 ”

“There is another building in the video. The satellite shows us that by February 2016 they demolished it. So, the murders took place before February 2016 ”
But the period in which the execution took place, still remained uncertain. Then the BBC noticed that one small and barely noticeable on the video path formed only in a hot dry season.

“We know that the killers went on a hot dry season, because this path – visible in the video – appears on satellite images only from January to April. Probably, what we are looking for happened in early 2015 “

Perhaps the most impressive part of the investigation is how the BBC reduced the possible period of the tragedy to two weeks, thanks to the shadows of the military men who they throw on the road like a sun watch. “With the help of a simple formula,” journalists learned the angle and direction of the sun, after which it became clear that the execution took place between March 20 and April 5, 2015.

The BBC had to find out who exactly killed the women and children in Cameroon. Journalists began with the assumption that those men still serve in the local army.

Although the government claimed that their military did not use the weapons seen on video, the investigators recognized the Serbian rifle Zastava M21. It is rare in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is still used in some units of the Cameroonian army.

The Cameroonian authorities also claimed that the Cameroonian military in the north was in the form of a pale desert color, and not a dark forest camouflage, as in the video. However, journalists found photos on Facebook with soldiers dressed in camouflage from the video and tag “Sleeding”.

In addition, officials offered to explain why soldiers on video are not in full combat uniform: heavy helmets, body armor and ranger’s boots. The BBC on the map explained that the military group did not patrol the terrain, but was several hundred meters from the combat outpost.

In August, the Cameroonian government sharply changed its position. After weeks of denying that executions took place in this country, the Minister of Communications announced that seven servicemen were arrested and are already under investigation. The BBC has identified the identity of the three alleged killers, which are included in the list published by the government.

“We identified the identities of the three men who pressed the trigger. One of them is this man, presented in the video as “Chocho” ”

“We found his profile on Facebook, which connects the nickname” Chocho “with a soldier named Siriak Bityala. This name also appears on the government list of the military under investigation “

The BBC spoke with a former Cameroonian soldier who asked to be left anonymous. The source of the publication confirmed that the video is exactly Siriak “Chocho” Bityala.

“At the end of the video, we see him again – covering the face of a little girl, whom he was going to kill. A few seconds later, he will get a weapon and open fire ”

We identified two other weapons used in the murder. One of them was in the hands of this man. We saw him, blindfolding a woman with a child right before the shooting. Our source close to the army identified him as Barnabas “Honorso” “

Although the journalists did not finally confirm the identity of this Cameroonian serviceman, 11 days later a very similar name appeared on the government’s list of people under investigation – Barnabas Donossu.

Another weapon used in the murder was already familiar to the investigation of the Zastava M21. From her shot a man identified on video as “Cobra”. The video is addressed to him by the name of Tsang, which is also included in the list of servicemen under investigation. Presumably, “Cobra” is the nickname of Lance Coral Tsang.


“While women and children are being killed,” Cobra “is the last one who still shoots at bodies. His colleagues say to him: “Tsang, leave, they are already dead.” When he still continues to shoot, they repeat: “Enough, Tsanga” “

Then the BBC shared the results of the investigation with a representative of the Government of Cameroon. He did not reply directly to the publication, reiterating only that seven soldiers were arrested and demoted for at least the time of the investigation.

According to the government, all these people enjoy the presumption of innocence in anticipation of the promised fair trial.

Both women killed by Zeleevet had no trial. And the children, killed with them, the presumption of innocence did not apply.


The BBC also told about the investigation in the format of a 10-minute video.

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