Background

Questioninfo icon

Who killed Al Jazeera Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh?

Answerinfo icon

An IDF shooter shot Shireen, not due to crossfire.


(87% probability)

Backgroundinfo icon

Shireen Abu Akleh was a Palestinian-American journalist who worked as a reporter for the Arabic-language channel Al Jazeera. In the early hours of May 11, 2022, while wearing a blue vest with "PRESS" written on it, she was shot and killed while covering a raid by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The evidence available so far has failed to settle the question, conflicting accusations have been made by both sides, and therefore, a probabilistic inference analysis is required.

The analysis investigates the following hypotheses and scenarios:

Name of the hypothesesExamples
IDF aimed fire

An IDF soldier killed Shireen in scenarios such as:

•Targeting the journalists, thinking they were militants.

•Targeting a group of people walking towards the force, without knowing or caring who they were.

•Targeting the journalists, believing they were journalists, for no military reason.

•Targeting Palestinians at random out of anger or hate.

•Assassination of Shireen because of who she was (by order from above or local decision).

IDF crossfire

An IDF soldier accidentally hit the journalists while shooting at a military target.

Palestinian assassination

A Palestinian militant assassinated Shireen as a false flag operation, in scenarios such as:

•Shooting specifically at Shireen because of who she was, to implicate the IDF.

•Shooting at journalists, to implicate the IDF.

•Shooting at Shireen due to a Palestinian internal issue, assuming IDF will be implicated.

Palestinian mistaken identity

A Palestinian militant mistook the journalists for members of the Israel Defense Forces and shot them.

Palestinian crossfire 

A Palestinian militant accidentally hit the journalists while shooting at IDF soldiers.


Hypotheses Consideredinfo icon

Calculated Resultsinfo icon

Calculated Resultsinfo icon

1

87%
IDF Aimed Fire:

An IDF shooter shot Shireen, not due to crossfire.


87%

2

8%
Palestinian Assassination:

A Palestinian militant assassinated Shireen.


8%

3

3.1%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity:

A Palestinian militant mistook the journalists for IDF soldiers.

3.1%

4

1.7%
IDF Crossfire:

An IDF soldier accidentally hit the journalists while shooting at armed Palestinians.

1.7%

5

0.03%
Palestinian Crossfire:

A Palestinian militant accidentally hit the journalists while shooting at IDF soldiers.


0.03%

Starting Pointinfo icon

Initial Probabilities

Name
Initial Likelihoods
info icon
IDF Aimed Fire
38%
IDF Crossfire
38%
Palestinian Assassination
3.5%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
11%
Palestinian Crossfire
11%

In order to establish the prior likelihoods for the incident, Rootclaim has collected all known prior instances of journalists killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After filtering these based on similarity to Shireen's case, six incidents remained.

All previous cases of journalists killed in the conflict resulted from IDF fire. Because these cases are contested with regards to the motives of the forces, and as no trials took place, we divided these six cases equally among the two IDF shooter hypotheses.

As no prior instances of journalists killed by Palestinians were found, we

generously
used
additive smoothing
and increased each of the two sets of hypotheses (IDF shooter and Palestinian shooter) by 1, dividing them equally into the sub-hypotheses of each set.

Altogether, this

generously
increased the initial likelihood of the Palestinian hypotheses from 0% to almost 25%.

Name
Initial Likelihoods
info icon
IDF Aimed Fire
38%
IDF Crossfire
38%
Palestinian Assassination
3.5%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
11%
Palestinian Crossfire
11%

Evidenceinfo icon

Effectinfo icon

Shooter's sector and line of sight

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
×1
48%
IDF Crossfire
×1
48%
Palestinian Assassination
÷1.5
3.1%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
÷9
1.5%
Palestinian Crossfire
÷80
0.2%

Audio analyses, corrected by Rootclaim, position the shooter 157 to 243 meters away from Shireen’s position when she was shot, which matches the condition of the bullet recovered from Shireen’s body. Bullet markings left at the scene and the cover provided by a tree to the Palestinians hiding behind it, allowed us to establish likely angles from which the shots could have arrived.

By combining the distances and angles, we were able to map a “shooter’s sector”: the area from which the shots fired at Shireen and her colleagues could have arrived. Of the IDF and Palestinian forces documented that day, only the IDF force is within the shooter’s sector and is the only force with a proven line of sight to Shireen’s position. 

As all documented Palestinian forces are eliminated by the evidence above, we account for the possibility of an undocumented Palestinian shooter, by

generously
estimating a 50% likelihood of such an occurrence.


Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
×1
48%
IDF Crossfire
×1
48%
Palestinian Assassination
÷1.5
3.1%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
÷9
1.5%
Palestinian Crossfire
÷80
0.2%

Characteristics of the shooting

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
×1
90%
IDF Crossfire
÷20
4.5%
Palestinian Assassination
÷1.3
4.3%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
÷1.8
1.6%
Palestinian Crossfire
÷20
0.02%

The accuracy, timing, and synchronization of the shots with the movement of the journalists, significantly reduce the likelihood of the crossfire hypotheses, as we would not expect such syncing with those who are not the target of the shots. 

These elements and the fact that the shots continued when the journalists were running away from the shooter and even at the people who tried to recover Shireen’s body, indicate intentional targeting of the group. 

The precision exemplified in the shooting, increases the likelihood of an IDF shooter, as the force involved was trained to this level of accuracy and was armed with equipment making such shots easier.


Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
×1
90%
IDF Crossfire
÷20
4.5%
Palestinian Assassination
÷1.3
4.3%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
÷1.8
1.6%
Palestinian Crossfire
÷20
0.02%

Palestinian eyewitness testimonies

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
÷4
85%
IDF Crossfire
÷4
4.2%
Palestinian Assassination
÷2
8%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
÷2
3%
Palestinian Crossfire
÷2
0.03%

Two of the journalists standing with Shireen, Ali al-Samoudi and Shatha Hanaysha, gave eye-witness accounts of the shooting. Their first accounts claim that the shots originated from a rooftop, while later accounts claim the source of the fire was the IDF vehicles. Given that they were aware of the IDF force some 10 minutes before the shooting began, and that it was naturally the likely candidate, we give more weight to their initial account which points to a shooter on the rooftops.

This increases the likelihood of a shooter other than a member of the IDF200m force. However, due to the stressful state of being in the middle of a shooting, we consider this evidence to have limited impact.


Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
÷4
85%
IDF Crossfire
÷4
4.2%
Palestinian Assassination
÷2
8%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
÷2
3%
Palestinian Crossfire
÷2
0.03%

Refusal to cooperate

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
×1
85%
IDF Crossfire
×1
4.2%
Palestinian Assassination
×1
8%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
×1
3%
Palestinian Crossfire
×1
0.03%

Both sides have refused in some way to cooperate or initiate an investigation:


Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
×1
85%
IDF Crossfire
×1
4.2%
Palestinian Assassination
×1
8%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
×1
3%
Palestinian Crossfire
×1
0.03%

Missing alternative target

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
×1
87%
IDF Crossfire
÷2.5
1.7%
Palestinian Assassination
×1
8%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
×1
3.1%
Palestinian Crossfire
×1
0.03%

Shireen and the group of journalists were not near any documented IDF forces or Palestinian militants (at least 160m away from the closest documented group), neither were they between two documented opposing groups. This is corroborated by video evidence in the seconds before the shooting showing no armed men in the surrounding vicinity, the audio which documents no shots fired before the ones fired at the journalists, as well as by testimonies given by Palestinian eyewitnesses.

This significantly reduces the likelihood of the crossfire hypotheses. 

Name

Effectinfo icon

Updated Likelihoods

IDF Aimed Fire
×1
87%
IDF Crossfire
÷2.5
1.7%
Palestinian Assassination
×1
8%
Palestinian Mistaken Identity
×1
3.1%
Palestinian Crossfire
×1
0.03%

Ignored Evidence

Discussioninfo icon

userIcon
user icon
Wesley Toland
Sep 7, 2022 at 3:51 PM
New evidence supporting either IDF aimed fire or IDF crossfire: IDF made an announcement stating there was a high probability an IDF soldier mistakenly killed Abu Akleh. https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-israel-journalists-veterans-al-jazeera-0e33ab0025cf06ee498ab83445e39733 https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-says-al-jazeera-reporter-likely-killed-unintentionally-by-its-forces-2022-09-05/
logo icon
Rootclaim
Nov 27, 2022 at 4:54 PM
Firstly, we are sorry, Wesley for not replying to you sooner. Secondly, Thank you, for providing us with recent news reports about the IDFs investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh's death. While this is an interesting development that we commented on here, Rootclaim only analyzes evidence. We ignore any additional analysis of that same information as that would give double weighting to that evidence, and we view our method as superior to any human analysis.