A group of citizen journalists was able to pinpoint the location of an Islamic State training camp using nothing but free internet tools. The investigative group is Bellingcat, and they’re led by blogger-turned-weapons expert Eliot Higgins. Higgins received widespread praise after using pictures and online tools to prove that chemical weapons were being used in Syria.
In a recent post, the Bellingcat team uses photos of an Islamic State training march from Twitter to pin down the location of one of the group’s training camps. It was already known that the camp was in the Ninawa Province of Iraq, so the group used landmarks from the photos to find out exactly where the camp is.
They start off with photos like the following ones, which show a large river, bridges, distinct buildings, and tree locations.
Using Google Earth and Flash Earth, the team was able to use the landmarks to identify the location of the exercises as here:
Next, they used Panoramio to match up signs and bridges seen in the background of the IS march with other photos showing the same landmarks:
With a bit more analysis, the Bellingcat team was able to pin down the location of the training camp and the distance and direction of the group’s training march:
All of this was done using free online tools available to anyone with an internet connection. Investigative work like this is the goal of Bellingcat.
“The practice of journalism is continuing to expand and broaden,” Higgins says on the group’s kickstarter site. “We don’t need to exclusively rely on traditional news media to do the digging and reporting for us. We—you—can do it on our own.”