#PutinAtWar: Incendiary Weapons in Ltamenah?

Incendiary weapons allegedly used in Ltamenah, Syria

(Source: YouTube / وكالة خطوة الإخبارية)

On February 13, a Syrian Step news video appeared on YouTube, claiming to have captured yet another use of incendiary weapons in Syria. The weapons were allegedly used on the town of Ltamenah in territory held by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, a coalition of rebel groups led by the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. This is not the first time Russia was accused of bombing rebel territory or using incendiary munitions in Syria.

@DFRLab previously reported a separate incident of possible use of incendiary bombs in Ltamenah on January 3, 2018. As incendiary weapons can be confused with illuminants or pyrotechnics, it is difficult to confirm the use of incendiary weapons using only video evidence.

The video that showed the latest alleged use of incendiary bombs appeared on YouTube, and title of the video claimed that the Russian Air Force used white phosphorus bombs on the town of Ltamenah.

The video captured small balls of fire falling over an urban area. Reverse image search suggested that the video was not recycled or posted in any prior claim of incendiary and was most likely genuine.

(Source: YouTube / وكالة خطوة الإخبارية)

After analyzing the geolocation data in the video, we confirmed the location to be in the town of Ltamenah. One of the three water towers in the town coincide with the water tower captured in the video.

The water tower in the heights of Ltamenah match the water tower noted in the video. Top Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Bottom Left: (Source: YouTube / محمود الحموي); Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

After falling to the the ground, the fireballs continued to burn, as white smoke rose from the area.

(Source: YouTube / وكالة خطوة الإخبارية)

The video evidence was then compared with previous reported uses of incendiary weapons. Images of the fire on the ground and falling from the sky appeared to be consistent with previously recorded incendiary weapon attacks. This comparison suggests that the weapons in the video could be white phosphorus munitions, allegedly used by Russia in Syria in the past.

Comparing evidence: on the left — February 13 video footage, on the right — previously recorded attacks. Top Left: (Source: YouTube / وكالة خطوة الإخبارية); Bottom Left: (Source: YouTube / وكالة خطوة الإخبارية); Top Right: (Source: YouTube / giuli eegiu); Bottom Right: (Source: YouTube / وكالة خطوة الإخبارية).

The video did not capture Russian military planes flying over the town of Ltamenah. Nonetheless, another bombing video appeared on February 15 and accused the Russian Air Force of bombing the town of Ltamenah.

The geolocation data revealed the bombing to have taken place at the northern part of Ltamenah, near a different water tower. The video again appeared to not be recycled or posted before, judging by a reverse image search.

Top Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Bottom Left: (Source: Twitter / @MahmodHamway); Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

A few strikes hit the urban area in the video. The video did not capture Russian aircraft carrying out the strikes; nevertheless, the Russian Air Force remains the most likely culprit based on the type of attack and munitions used. The area of Ltamenah was attacked by Russian forces before and remains within Russia’s military’s area of operations. In fact, documentation of Russia’s use of incendiary weapons in Syria, were previously recorded.

Left: (Source: Twitter / @MahmodHamway); Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

The Russian military intervention in Syria is nowhere close to a halt. Especially worrisome are the raids using incendiary weapons in urban areas. Incendiary weapons cause extremely painful and cruel injuries to both civilians and combatants alike, which are difficult to treat. The weapon is indiscriminate with no capability of distinguishing between combatants and civilians, especially in airstrikes.

Attacks using air-delivered incendiary weapons in civilian areas are prohibited under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which Syria has not ratified, but Russia is a party to the protocol. The use of such weapons in Syria continues to fail media coverage and attention from the international community. Consequently, Russia continues to use the banned weapons without interruption.

@DFRLab will continue to monitor Russian military operations and developments in Syria.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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