Editor’s note: On May 8, the prominent German magazine Der Spiegel published an article arguing that Greek security forces shot dead a Pakistani illegal immigrant who was trying to enter the country from Turkey. The article was based on the findings of Nick Waters, a former British officer working for the investigative site Bellingcat.
Over 100 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are now requesting that there be an official investigation into the incident and that Greece be sanctioned if proved responsible.
But how accurate is the article? Not as accurate as some would hope. Buttressed with weak evidence and ambiguities, it tries to incriminate the Greek security forces.
Savvas Vlassis, a defense journalist, editor-in-chief of Doureios Ippos magazine, and a former Hellenic Army paratrooper, has written a rebuttal to Spiegel’s and Bellingcat’s investigation. The results are revealing.
Before we delve into the rebuttal, some context is necessary in order to better understand the situation and appreciate the geopolitical nuances.
For years now, Greece and several other of the European Union’s (EU) border-nations have been on the receiving end of an unprecedented wave migrants, partly the result of the Syrian civil war. Millions of them have illegally entered the borders of the EU. Throughout this struggle, the EU has been characteristically inconsistent and indecisive in its support of its own member-states — an attitude reminiscent of the economic crisis that rocked the Union a few years ago. Furthermore, several international and European left-leaning non-governmental organizations have been accusing the border-states of taking illegal measures to protect their own borders.
Turkey, meanwhile, has taken advantage of the situation and weaponized the refugees for its own international and regional benefits. In February, the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced that his country would no longer stop refugees from trying to illegally enter Greece and Europe, thus unilaterally negating signed agreements between Turkey and the EU. But he did more than that: In what amounts to a textbook asymmetrical warfare attack, Turkish military, paramilitary, and law enforcement personnel directly supported the attempts of thousands of refugees to cross the Greek border. The Turkish forces attacked and disrupted the Greek and European defenses. It’s worth noting that Turkey, like Greece, is a NATO member.
The following article was originally published in Greek on Doureios Ippos on May 9.
Τhe May 8 report of the German magazine Der Spiegel suggests that the Pakistani, Muhammad Gulzar, was mortally wounded on March 4, 2020, in Pazarkule, Turkey. The report, which is based on an investigation by former British Army officer Nick Waters, who is working for the investigative site Bellingcat, states that Gulzar was killed by a 5.56mm bullet.
According to the Der Spiegel article, video footage “demonstrate[s] that Greek security forces likely used live rounds on 4 March 2020 against refugees and migrants trying to break through the Turkish-Greek border fence. We identified seven people who were wounded over a period of about 40 minutes, one of whom later died. His name was Muhammed Gulzar.”
Using video footage, the investigative team argues that a man was allegedly wounded at about 1027 (Eastern European Time). Then, at approximately 1030, a second person, Gulzar, was also wounded. The investigative team presents pictures from Gulzar’s evacuation to buttress its claims.
However, in the presented video footage, no shots can be heard during Gulzar’s alleged wounding or subsequent evacuation.
In order to circumvent this weak point, the investigative team tries to determine if any live shots were fired on that day and from which side of the border. To prove the first point, they present an audio forensic analysis of video footage in which successive shots are heard, shots that, according to an expert who helped the investigators, are clearly from live ammunition and not blanks. Based on the expert’s opinion that the rounds were fired from a distance of 40-60 meters away from the point that the camera was standing, the investigators present a scene that seems to show a team of Greek soldiers 50 meters away. So they conclude that “it is highly probable that shots were fired from the Greek side.”
“Highly probable.” They are not sure.
But there is absolutely no picture or video of Greek security personnel firing directly against anybody on that particular day. It is probable that in fact live ammunition rounds were fired by the Greek troops but in the air as warning shots — this is a standard, non-violent operating procedure used to stop illegal entries.
All of the above, regardless of the veracity of the investigative team’s claims, cannot be considered concrete proof that Gulzar, and the first alleged victim, were shot from the Greek side of the border. The investigators claim that they received testimonies from illegal immigrants about Greek live fire. In the video, in which shots can be heard, the illegal immigrants are running away and as the investigators comment, “The migrants themselves appear to believe they were shot at from the Greek side of the border.”
“Appear to believe.”
At this point, it is worth highlighting that the video in which shots can be heard was recorded at 1057 — this is about 25 minutes after the alleged wounding of Gulzar, as the investigators point out. With a cursory viewing of the Bellingcat’s video, this clarification can easily be missed, and the viewer can form the erroneous impression that the video depicts the moment of Gulzar’s wounding. Nick Waters’s Twitter post is also misleading: In his post, he presents only the video with the shots that were recorded at about 1057.
In order to prove that live fire was used, from which Gulzar was mortally wounded, Nick Waters is using footage from a later video — which was also recorded from a different spot. He doesn’t use earlier recorded videos with shots fired. But, as the investigation states, shots were fired for a period of about 40 minutes, during which period seven men were wounded, including Gulzar.
But that in no way indicates that the shots were fired from one side and continued to be fired from the same side only. So it cannot be deduced that Gulzar, who was allegedly wounded at about 1030, was shot from the Greek side of the border. Nick Waters does not prove that the shots were fired from the Greek side, he only suggests it.
Moreover, the investigators take as a fact that no Turkish security personnel was operating undercover among the illegal immigrants — something that Turkish forces have done repeatedly in the past. The investigation also does not consider that armed felons might be among the illegal immigrants and the possibility that these persons used small arms to stir trouble.
There are numerous published videos in which refugees, among the mob, openly admit that they were released from prison by the Turkish authorities in order to illegally cross into Europe. In addition, the investigation does not examine the possibility that the allegedly wounded persons were trying at that moment some kind of dangerous acts against the Greek security forces guarding the border. Indeed, the investigation assumes that the illegal immigrants are harmless.
Some observations on the report’s findings that should be highlighted:
- The first allegedly wounded person was evacuated at 1027, and, as the investigation points out, he suffered face “injuries,” emphasis on the plural. In the footage, however, his face is covered, so it is not possible to estimate what kind of “injuries” he sustained. If he had indeed been shot by a 5.56mm cartridge, which is fired from a rifled barrel, the projectile would not have caused numerous points of entry. Indeed, the report’s description aligns more with a shotgun shot that fires numerous small projectiles. Shotguns, however, have an effective range of a few tens of meters. Yet, the spot that the investigators recorded this man at being wounded is about 500 meters away from the border fence and completely outside the effective range of a shotgun.
- The investigators point out that several of the allegedly wounded were shot near the border fence, which had been damaged and had three openings. They indicate, thus, that the illegal immigrants were shot through these openings. However, in the report’s graphic, five out of the seven allegedly wounded were a few hundred meters away and to the side of these openings. For example, the position that Gulzar had been spotted is 250-300 meters away and at the right side from a fence opening. Only the seventh, and the last allegedly wounded, person had been spotted in a position near to and directly in front of an opening on the fence. Of course, it also was not in the interest of the investigators to examine who gave the special cutting tools to the illegal immigrants in order to open the fence or if someone among them was carrying a small arm.
- From the shown footage of the alleged victims, the wounds on a few of them, as well as on Gulzar, appear to be in the back of their body meaning that they were shot from behind.
- In the video material presented by the investigative team, we can see two men in black clothing, who are trying to cover their faces. They appear to be carrying military-type webbing. Their attire is completely different from that of the illegal immigrants. It is obvious that they are undercover Turkish security personnel, who are usually kept in a distance from the border fence. Did the investigation team bother to examine the presence of undercover Turkish operatives and their role in the area? Why, despite clear evidence, does the investigation team claim that there was no presence of Turkish policemen or soldiers in the scenes they examined?
- The standard-issued personal rifle of the 1st Turkish Army units in Thrace — the border region between Greece and Tukey — and of the Turkish Jandarma is the 5.56mm caliber HK33E rifle. The Turkish Police is also using 5.56 mm carbines.
a) The investigation takes the Turkish medical report, which states that Gulzar’s death was caused by a 5.56mm bullet, as a fact, despite the clear vested interest of Turkey to frame Greece for the death of Gulzar. The investigation’s main goal is to prove that live ammunition rounds were fired from the Greek side. Yet, the investigation provides no proof but only speculations and suggestions regarding the time that Gulzar was allegedly wounded.
b) The investigation does not directly prove that Gulzar was shot by Greek security forces. Instead, it leads the reader to that conclusion indirectly and by the use of weak evidence.
c) No one is obliged to accept a private investigation that demonstrates significant gaps in its logic. But the investigators ask from the Greek authorities to make a formal inquiry into the matter, and they use mainstream media as a pressure point.
Finally, we should note that Gulzar owned documents from his previous stay in Greece, and, as the investigators report, he was returning from Pakistan where he had traveled for his marriage. Who is responsible for involving him — and his wife — in organized actions of illegal immigration, which the Turkish authorities are officially sanctioning? The same Turkish authorities are misinforming immigrants by claiming that Greek borders are open and there is absolutely no screening done by Greek authorities.
Although, after two months of research, the investigative team can make facile speculations on the origin of the fatal bullet, can they also answer as to who forced Gulzar to his death spot in Turkish soil?