Hostage-taking during a conflict is a war crime. IS used the hostages captured in Sweida to negotiate for the release of prisoners held by the Syrian government.

During the negotiation process, IS fighters produced, or allowed the release of, a series of photos and videos showing some of the captives.

In the videos, women are seen asking that the government acquiesce to the IS demands for a prisoner swap.

Three videos showed woman:

These three videos posed a single challenge: could it be proven that they showed women taken during the Sweida assault?

Storyful was able to affirm that they did, despite the limited corroborating information available in the footage itself. This was done by tracking the story over time, identifying reliable sources and family members of the hostages.

The names the women gave in the videos were on lists of hostages released by local activists. The women seen in the videos matched photos circulating locally, and one of the women appeared in two of the videos.

This series of videos posed unique ethical issues. The videos were released with the intent of furthering the aims of militants, even though they were also shared by activists working for the captives’ release.

Storyful also considered the risk to the hostages and to their families; however, the names of the women, and photos of them, were already widely shared on local media and social media. Nonetheless, Storyful did not publish the women’s names immediately, and our role became to verify the validity of the videos in order to support accurate reporting  by our news partners.

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