Video has emerged showing uniformed pilots dropping barrel bombs from a Syrian helicopter over the country's Hama province, and the UK's Foreign Office has said the footage contradicts President Bashar al Assad's claims that his forces are not using the illegal weapons.
The video that emerged online this week was reportedly shot during a March 2015 mission, and was uncovered from a cell phone found at the crash site of a Syrian government helicopter, and ultimately passed to Al Jazeera, according to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
"This video footage exposes Assad's lies on barrel bombs. It shows the casual and indiscriminate way in which Syrian regime forces are dropping these horrific weapons out of helicopters onto civilians below," Hammond said in a statement on Wednesday. "We will bring those involved in these criminal acts to justice and will continue to help those caught in attacks by continuing our support of rescue teams working on the ground."
Syrian media activist group SMO Syria posted the video online, showing the crew filming themselves on board the aircraft carrying two barrel bombs. Coordinates visible on a GPS navigator in the helicopter match up with the country's al-Thawra dam lake, near the coastal city of Latakia.
The aircraft releases two barrel bombs about two minutes into the video, between Latakia and the city of Idlib — also in Hama — over what appears to be a mountainous road. This is the same area where activists have previously reported hundreds of barrel bomb attacks.
Assad has continued to deny the use of the weapons, which are inexpensive improvised explosive devices (IED) often fashioned out of containers filled with explosive material like gasoline or nails. Meanwhile, reports from human rights groups like Amnesty International reported approximately 3,000 people killed by barrel bombs in Aleppo province in 2014.
As this new footage of barrel bombs appears to disprove Assad's claims, the embattled leader's alleged chemical weapons cache has also come into question. Inspectors from the international watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, reportedly discovered traces of deadly nerve agents at a military research site in the country earlier this month. In 2013, Assad agreed to destroy his chemical weapons program, but has been accused of continuing to use them — and this recent discovery seems to prove he has not eliminated his entire stockpile.
Four years into Syria's chaotic civil war, which began in March 2011 in the wake of protests calling for Assad to step down, over 200,000 people have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Rebel forces have snatched up large amounts of territory in Syria's Idlib province from government forces, turning the tide in what has long been a regime stronghold.