Recently, a distressing video went viral on the internet. The video showed 2 women and children being escorted off by a group of soldiers, blindfolded, and then shot at 22 times. This story was picked up by BBC News Africa, who pried their investigative eyes into the matter and unearthed a number of facts which helped find the perpetrators in the video.
Disclaimer: The video you are about to see is very distressing.
This is the video that went viral. We’ve cut out the ending, but - WARNING – it’s distressing. pic.twitter.com/6JJrdJqurW— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
A heated debate on social media ensued which pinned the responsibility of this merciless act of killing on Cameroon and Mali. The Cameroonian government was quick to dismiss the video as fake.
In July, the Cameroonian govt dismissed the allegations as “Fake News.” They claimed the guns were not those carried by the Cameroonian military.They said the camouflage pattern was not used in the Far North. They asked why the soldiers were not wearing full combat gear. pic.twitter.com/4peZmjISCY— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
BBC probed its own eyes into the situation to prove that it did indeed happen on Cameroonian soil and that the government was washing its hand away from responsibility.
They dug up various clues which not only found the perpetrators but also found the location and the time when the killings took place.
The ridgeline which appeared at the beginning of the video was cross-checked with that of Google Earth's and it was indeed on the Cameroonian soil- outside a town called Zelevet which is towards the north of Cameroon.
So we took a closer look at the video…and found clues that prove the government was wrong.We’ll start with the location. Where did this happen? The first 40 seconds of the video capture a mountain range with a distinctive profile pic.twitter.com/Eb70XuGL8I— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
After a tip off from a Cameroonian source, we found an exact match for that ridge line on Google Earth pic.twitter.com/niJoH9w3nX— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
This is also the place where the Cameroonian army is fighting Boko Haram, the jihadist group.
The investigation through Google Earth also found matches of terrain and vegetation from that of the video- pointing to an exact location where the killings allegedly took place.
Once we had the general location, we looked at other details in the film – tracks, buildings, trees – and matched them precisely to features visible on satellite imagery. pic.twitter.com/IzKuyKzao8— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
What about the time?
The video went viral in 2018, but the satellite imagery and putting two and two together approximated the month of the killings to be between March 20th and April 5th, 2015.
When did this happen?Again, the video contains clues. This building is visible in the video. But satellite imagery reveals that, back in November 2014, the walls around it had not yet been built. The killing happened after November 2014. pic.twitter.com/XODYqL5LRY— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
We know that the murders took place in the hot, dry season, because this footpath – just visible in the video – only appears on the satellite imagery between January and April.That makes it probable that we’re looking at early 2015 pic.twitter.com/Uotw9w25mY— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
Notice that the soldiers, like moving sundials, cast shadows on the track.A simple formula tells us the angle and direction of the sun. This corroborates our conclusion on the date, and narrows the timeframe further: the killings happened between March 20 and April 5th 2015 pic.twitter.com/KC8HEvKFuS— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
As for identifying the perpetrators, a huge clue lay bare in the viral video- the guns that they carried, which were used by some divisions of the Cameroonian army, and the names that were being called out.
The government’s July statement claimed that the guns seen in the video are not those used by Cameroonian troops.But this is a Serbian-made Zastava M21. It’s rare in sub-Saharan Africa, but it *is* used by some divisions of the Cameroonian army. pic.twitter.com/vZ6xdwpC5O— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
The govt also claimed that Cameroonian soldiers in the Far North wear pale, desert-style fatigues, not the darker, forest-style camouflage seen in the video.But we found these images on Facebook – tagged to Zelevet – of soldiers wearing the type of camouflage seen in the video pic.twitter.com/ROVP1q6tcZ— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
Their location also revealed that the outpost of those soldiers was just a few hundred metres away, leading to a surmounting evidence on the Cameroonian army.
The govt also asked why the soldiers in the video were not wearing full combat gear – heavy helmets, bulletproof vests, and rangers boots.The answer is that they were not out on patrol. They were just a few hundred metres away from this combat outpost pic.twitter.com/lBsnabqXyr— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
We know this is a combat outpost because we found a @Channel4News report that was filmed here in 2015 – and we matched the features visible in that report to the details we see on satellite imagery. pic.twitter.com/nmtD8cm0Ag— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
One of the names that were called out in the video was 'Tchotcho'. It was later confirmed that this man was a soldier under investigation.
We have identified three men who actually pulled the trigger.One of them is this man, introduced in the video as “Tchotcho” pic.twitter.com/lBtnhmlpNt— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
We found a Facebook profile that links the nickname 'Tchotcho' to a soldier called Cyriaque Bityala.The name Cyriaque Bityala also appears on the government’s list of men now under investigation. pic.twitter.com/gSN6HMlV0W— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
Another man, Barnabas, who was tying the women up, was also found to be a soldier under investigation.
We identified two other guns used in the killing.One of the was in the hands of this man. We see him here blindfolding the women with the baby just before the shooting starts. Our military source identified him as Barnabas ‘Gonorso'. pic.twitter.com/ofOdRpOwI7— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
The last man was identified to be Tsanga, as his colleague called him out, was also found out to be under investigation.
As the women and children are killed, “Cobra” is the last man still firing into the bodies.A colleague calls out “Tsanga, leave it, they’re dead.” When he keeps firing, they call again: “That’s enough, Tsanga.” pic.twitter.com/qy9tFhwhvS— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
The mounting evidence against the Cameroonian army-men coerced the government to initiate a probe, resulting in subsequent arrests and imprisonment of the perpetrators.
Although we were not able to confirm this identification, a very similar name – Barnabas Donossou – appeared 11 days later in the government’s list of men now under investigation. pic.twitter.com/KNvdDVib6o— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
We put these finding to the government of Cameroon, who said that 7 soldiers have been arrested, disarmed, and imprisoned while under investigation. pic.twitter.com/3zwlmMlaxe— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
These men now await to stand a fair trial, one which they clearly failed to give to those innocents that they so brutally murdered.
The two women killed outside Zelevet received no trial at all.No presumption of innocence was extended to the children who died with them. pic.twitter.com/WG7SFjQ9ml— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) September 24, 2018
People on Twitter came out and spoke against the murders, condemning the horrific event they saw. They also applauded the journalism of BBC who didn't give into rumours and did their part to investigate into the matter, eventually unearthing facts that helped bring the army clad men to justice.
Absolutely soul destroying but a powerful reminder of the true atrocities going on worldwide— Sarah Franklin (@magsophazjon) September 24, 2018
I wish I did not see this video but I'm super impressed with the level of journalism! Outstanding!Now can our journalists learn instead of being rumour mongers, panic setters and casters of aspersions— Woman👠, Fighter ♦️ (@UnmovedLee) September 24, 2018
Fantastic investigation. This makes me so furious. It’s absolutely disgusting. Thank you for making public.— Kim Brunicke (@brunicke1972) September 25, 2018
Had it not been for the investigation by BBC, this event would never have been laid bare to the eyes of the public and the scrutiny which followed.