Al Jazeera rejects Russian claim it faked Syrian gas attack video

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Al Jazeera says it will pursue legal action against Sputnik news agency for claiming it had staged footage of attack in Idlib

Al Jazeera denies Sputnik's allegations that it staged operation (AFP)
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Sunday 7 May 2017 11:42 UTC
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Al Jazeera has strongly denied and threatened legal action over claims by a Russian state-owned news agency that it faked a video reporting on a gas attack in Syria.

The Russian agency, Sputnik, published a story on Thursday claiming Al Jazeera camera operators filmed a staged attack in the settlements of Seraqeb, Erich and Jisr Shughur in Idlib.

Sputnik claimed its information came from a "military and diplomatic source" and that it was "confirmed via several channels", but it did not identify them.

Sputnik cited anonymous sources as saying Al Jazeera had used "30 fire engines and ambulances, as well as 70 local residents with children transported from a refugee camp" to film scenes "across three locations in Idlib province". 

Al Jazeera responded on its website, saying: "Sputnik is just a propaganda tool that publishes fake news without any shame and this has been cited by several study centres and media outlets.

"It is known that Sputnik is always used as a propaganda tool to defend the Syrian regime on an ongoing basis," it added.

Al Jazeera stated Sputnick had published reports denying a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun in April, calling it "fake and staged", even though the attack was confirmed by other impartial agencies and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry.

Al Jazeera said it planned to take legal action against the Russian news network.

Spunik later revised its story, saying the reports were "unconfirmed".

France, Turkey, Britain and the US say the attack was carried out by forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, who denies involvement and claims "terrorist" rebel groups were storing the gas in the town.

His principal backer, Russia, has supported his claims.

A US report said that the chemical agent was delivered by a Syrian Su-22 fixed-wing aircraft that flew over Khan Sheikhun at the time of the attack, which killed at least 87 civilians, including 31 children, on 4 April.

"Additionally, our information indicates personnel historically associated with Syria's chemical weapons programme were at Shayrat airfield in late March making preparations for an upcoming attack in northern Syria, and they were present at the airfield on the day of the attack," the US government report said.

Washington’s conclusions relied on satellite imagery, laboratory analysis of physiological samples from victims and a "significant body of open source reporting" that the report says could not have been fabricated.