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Finding and Recording Metadata

Assessing the videos

Video 1: Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar speaks to camera

  • Source: Islamic State via Najeeb Abu Fakher (Activist) (Confirmed)
  • Location: Unknown location near Sweida. (Unconfirmed)
  • Date: July 28 (Corroborated)
  • Archived here.

A video (archive) and photos (archive) of the hostages emerged on local Facebook news and community pages.

To source originals, we searched on Facebook using Arabic terms such as:

  • Swedia abductors : مختطفات السويداء
  • ISIS abductors : مختطفات داعش
  • ISIS organization abductors : المختطفات تنظيم داعش

This returned the earliest known version of the video, which was posted by Najeeb Abu Fakher.

Fakher is an anti-Assad opposition figure from Sweida, who is based in Turkey. He said in the caption that the video was sent via WhatsApp from a committee negotiating with IS for the captives’ release.

IS used the first video of the hostages to start negotiations and sent it directly to a family member, according to activists who shared the video.

One of the women to speak was identified as Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar. She speaks in a local accent and appeals for help from the Syrian government.

“We are with the Islamic State,” she says in the video. “We ask [Syrian President] Bashar Assad and Kinana Huwija to follow the Islamic State demand to release their prisoners and stop the military operation on Yarmouk Basin in order to set us free. If you don’t answer these demands, they are going to kill us. I am Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar, July 28, 2018.”

The reference to Kinana Huwija here relates to a TV presenter who works for Syrian State television ( see an archived broadcast here). Huwija was reported by activists (report archived here) to have been involved in negotiating with IS fighters in Yarmouk Camp, Damascus. (See report here.)

Location:

The location of the first video was not verified, due to the limited nature of the footage. The video shows a woman speaking in a dark space with rough walls, apparently a cave. In the background, a light, possibly daylight, can be seen. A review of reporting on the area indicates that Sweida province is famous for caves. (See these reports from 2009 and 2010 archived here and here.)

Local media in Sweida published a list of 30 names (archived here) of the hostages, saying they were kidnapped from the village of al-Shobki during the Sweida attacks. The name Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar was on that list.

Photos posted by other media activists show the same woman standing in front of an IS flag.

Date:

Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar, in the video, gives the date as July 28. The first photo showing her was shared on July 27. The kidnappings were reported on July 25. The exact date of recording was not independently confirmed.

Video 2: Fadya Abu Ammar speaks to camera

  • Source: Islamic State via Najeeb Abu Fakher (Activist) (Confirmed)
  • Location: Unknown location near Sweida (Unconfirmed)
  • Date: July 31 (Corroborated)
  • Archived here.

A second woman, Fadya Abu Ammar, appeared in a video circulated on social media on Tuesday, July 31, saying she and other hostages from a Druze village, were in good condition.

Abu Ammar speaks in the video in a local accent, and gives the date as July 31. Again, her name was among those on a list of hostages shared by local accounts (archived here).

The earliest version of the video (archived here) was again found on Najeeb Abu Fakher’s Facebook account. He said in the description and the comments that the video was sent to him from the committee negotiating with IS. He said that, for security reasons, he could not provide details on the source.

Location:

This video had very limited geographic information. The video appeared to have been shot in a tent daylight can be seen and the video was shot against a cloth background.

Storyful looked at the comments posted under several versions of the video on several Facebook pages. This approach allowed us to identify a woman with the same family name, Abu Ammar, who commented on a video (archived here) saying the woman was her aunt, providing corroborating information.

Date:

The video was posted on July 31. The woman in the video says the date is July 31.

Local officials and Syrian government representatives were reportedly negotiating (archived here) with IS for release of hostages in exchange for the safe passage of 400 members of the Khalid Ben Walid Army from the Yarmouk basin area to southern Syria.

Video 3: Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar tells stillbirth story

  • Source: Islamic State via Sweida Hostages Page (activist page) (Confirmed)
  • Location: Unknown location near Safa. (Corroborated)
  • Date: August 12 (Checking)
  • Archived here.

A third video emerged on local Facebook pages on August 12. The video (archived here) shows two women, Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar, who appeared in Video 1, above, and Abeer Shilgeen, a   woman who Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar says had a stillbirth pregnancy while being held captive.

“I am Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar and this is our sister Abeer Shilgeen,” she says. “She was pregnant and gave birth prematurely due to the bad situation. The fetus was born dead. We still live in this bad situation […] We appeal to the brothers in charge to get us out of this situation as soon as possible.” She gives the date as August 12.

The names, Abeer Shilgeen and Suad Adeeb Abu Ammar, appeared on a list of IS captives posted by a local Facebook page (archived here).

Previous reports (archived here) had said that Shilgeen was 33 years old and six months pregnant.

All of the versions of the video were watermarked with the name of a Facebook page.

Using that name in Arabic (صفحة مختطفات السويداء)  and we found the page on Facebook (archived here).

The first post on the page appeared on July 27, which indicated the page was only created after the abductions. It is described as a community page and the page shared multiple photos, videos and updates about the captives.

The page shared screenshots of their conversation with Najeeb Abu Fakher, who again acted as a source. He sent them the video directly via WhatsApp (archived here). 

Location:

This video had very limited geographic information. The footage appeared to have been shot in a tent and is similar to the previous video.

One of the two women seen in the video appeared in a previous video, indicating that the women were being held together and came from Sweida.

Local sources from Sweida (archived here) reported on August 12 that the hostages were being held in the volcanic hills of Safa, between Damascus and Sweida provinces. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that IS transferred the hostages from Sweida province to east Damascus province after the Syrian government advances in the area.

Hostage Releases

On October 20, Abeer Shilgeen and her two children, along with another mother and her two children, were released as part of exchange deal with the Syrian government, Sweida 24 (archived here) reported.

IS released the hostages in exchange for 17 women, the wives of IS fighters, and nine children, who were detained in a Syrian government prison, the report said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (archived here) reported this was the first stage of a comprehensive deal between the Syrian government and IS in which more hostages would be released.

Local Facebook pages gave the names (archived here) of the newly released hostages.

Using specific terms and keywords, as well as the names of the released hostages, Storyful sourced video of the hostages.

  • تحرير المختطفات السويداء : Liberating Sweida hostages
  • إطلاق سراح مختطفين السويداء : Release Sweida hostages
  • تحرير السويداء داعش Liberating Sweida ISIS
  • عبير شلغين Abeer Shilgeen
  • غيداء الجباعي Ghaidaa al-Jibaai
  • يعرب الجباعي Yarub al-Jibaai

The earliest video showed one of the newly released hostages, Ghaidaa al-Jibaai.

That video was shared by a pro-government journalist, Jomana Hamdan. She describes herself on Facebook as from Sweida, and posted several videos and photos from the release, including a live video. The live video was consistent with the other videos and photos, which indicated they were all original. Hamdan shared many photos (archived here) showing her with members of Abeer Shilgeen’s family after Shilgeen’s release.

One of Hamdan’s videos (archived here) shows Abeer Shilgeen with four children after Shilgeen’s release.

A second video (archived here) shows a daughter of Shilgeen, who was taken with her mother. The girl gives her name as Ghaidaa al-Jibaai.

This information was used to verify the identity of al-Jibaai, Shilgeen and Abu Ammar, and by extension the other hostages.



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