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MSF Supported Hospital


Attack on MSF supported hospital in al-Hamidiah, Idlib, Syria

15 February 2016

On the morning of the 15th of February 2016, an MSF supported hospital in al-Hamidiah, a small village located south of Ma’arat al-Numan, Idlib Province, was hit by in two separate attacks. Each attack consisted of a number of strikes within a few minutes of one another.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the MSF supported hospital, MSF publicly claimed that the strike on the hospital was ‘very likely’ carried out by Russian or Syrian forces. Their claim was met with denial from both Russian and Syrian governments, with the Syrian UN envoy talking about the “so called MSF hospital operating without permission” and Russia denying any responsibility. The controversy caused by MSF’s claims and the denial of the perpetrators highlighted the urgency to conduct a private investigations into these events. It is in this context that FA was commissioned by MSF to determine the perpetrators of the attack, which killed 25 people.

This work is part of a new collaboration between MSF and Forensic Architecture that aims to develop the independent capacity to investigate and report on hospital strikes worldwide.

Although multiple videos and photos claimed to capture the attack, FA was faced with a bipartite challenge. On one hand, both Russian and Syrian regime planes were carrying out air raids in the area of Ma’arat Al Numan on multiple medical facilities throughout the day; on the other hand, the media attention given to the attack on the MSF supported hospital meant most footage uploaded via news agencies and social media fell under the blanket term of ‘attack on MSF hospital’, even though the footage in question had not captured the attack on the MSF supported facility.

In order to determine which material captured which attack, FA cross-referenced testimony provided by MSF from people on the ground who witnessed the attack first hand, as well as publicly available testimony from the Free Syrian Army Observatory against spatial and temporal details found in the videos. These methods included image triangulation to locate the scene, shadow analysis to corroborate the time of recording, and observing clues as to the characteristics of the fighter planes involved. In doing so, it was possible to produce a clear timeline and map of the different attacks that occurred that day. The balance of probability resulting from this analysis tilted towards the attack on the MSF supported hospital being carried out by the Russian air force, while the attack on the other hospital later that day was more likely to have been carried out by the Syrian regime.

Furthermore, the report illustrates a coordinated strategy involving the systematic targeting of medical facilities, leaving Ma’arat al-Numan and its surroundings critically deprived of much needed medical infrastructure.

Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman
  • Christina Varvia

Collaborating Organizations



Inside a Syrian Torture Prison



Inside a Syrian Torture Prison

Since 2011 thousands have died in Syria’s prisons and detention facilities. With anyone perceived to be opposed to the Syrian government at risk, tens of thousands of people have been tortured and ill-treated in violation of international law.

In April 2016, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture travelled to Istanbul to meet five survivors from Saydnaya Prison, near Damascus. In recent years, no journalists or monitoring groups which report publicly have been able to visit the prison or speak with prisoners.

As there are no images of Saydnaya the researchers were dependent on the memories of survivors to recreate what is happening inside.

Using architectural and acoustic modelling, the researchers helped witnesses reconstruct the architecture of the prison and their experiences of detention.  The former detainees described the cells and other areas of the prison, including stairwells, corridors, moving doors and windows, to an architect working with 3D modelling software. The witnesses added objects they remembered, from torture tools to blankets and furniture, to areas where they recalled them being used. The recollections sparked more memories as the model developed.

With next to no daylight, in particular in the solitary cells underground, the prisoners in Saydnaya develop an acute experience of sound. Detainees were made to cover their eyes with their hands whenever a guard entered the room and speaking was prohibited, so prisoners became attuned to the smallest noises.

To capture these auditory memories, researchers developed techniques to solicit “ear-witness testimony” and reconstruct the prison’s architecture through sound.

Witnesses listened to tones of different decibel levels, and were then asked to match them to the levels of specific incidents inside the prison. “Echo profiling” helped to determine the size of spaces such as cells, stairwells and corridors (this involved playing different reverberations and asking witnesses to match them with sounds they remembered hearing in the prison) while “sound artefacts” simulated the noise of doors, locks and footsteps, helping generate further acoustic memories.

Detainees at Saydnaya are generally transferred to the facility after spending months or even years in detention elsewhere. Such transfers often take place following unfair trials at secret military courts. Others arrive at the prison without having seen a judge and do not know the alleged charges against them or how long they will be detained.

The Saydnaya project is part of a wider campaign led by Amnesty International calling on the Syrian government to allow independent monitors into its brutal detention centres. Amnesty is urging Russia and the US “to use their global influence to ensure that independent monitors are allowed in to investigate conditions in Syria’s torture prisons”.

Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Christina Varvia (Project Coordination)
  • Ana Naomi de Sousa (Video Filming, Co-directing, Co-production)
  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan (Interviews, Acoustic Investigation, Sound design)
  • Hania Jamal (Interviews, 3D Modelling)
  • Nestor Rubio (Website Design)
  • Stefan Laxness (3D Modelling, Animation)
  • Pierre-Francois Gerard (3D Modelling, 3D Panoramas)
  • Simone Rowat (Video Editing)
  • George Clipp (Video Editing)
  • Gochan Yildirim (Camera)
  • Mihai Meirosu (Sound Mixing)
  • Yamen Albadin (Translation, Assistant Video Editing)
  • Hala Makhlouf (Translation, Assistant Video Editing)
  • Ghias Aljundi (Translation)
  • Samaneh Moafi (3D Texturing)
  • Hana Rizvanolli (Project Assistance)
  • Susan Schuppli (advisor)
  • Francesco Sebregondi (advisor)

Collaborating Organizations & Individuals

  • Amnesty International
  • 1635film-istanbul
  • Vasif Kortun/SALT Galata
  • Fiona Gabbert/Goldsmiths’ University Forensic Psychology Unit
  • Goldsmiths’ University Computing Department

Introduction Video  
The Road to Saydnaya
Jamal Abdou describes the arrival into Saydnaya prison. © Forensic Architecture
The Architecture of Sound
Four former detainees describe their experiences of living in Saydnaya prison through the sounds that they had heard. 
© Forensic Architecture