Bellingcat (also spelled bell¿ngcat) is an investigative research collective founded by the British researcher Eliot Higgins. It uses open source and social media investigation to investigate a variety of subjects ranging from Mexican drug lords to conflicts fought around the world. Bellingcat brings together contributors who specialise in open source and social media investigation, and it creates guides and case studies so others can learn to do the same.[1] Bellingcat began as an investigation of the use of weapons in the Syrian civil war. It first received international attention with its analysis of forged data on satellite images of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 during the still ongoing war in eastern Ukraine.


The name derives from the phrase "belling the cat," which goes back to a medieval fable about mice who discuss how to make a cat harmless. One suggests hooking a bell around his neck, and all the mice support the idea but none is willing to do it.[2]


Eliot Higgins began the Brown Moses blog in March 2012 with investigations of videos from the Syrian Civil War.[3] He looked at hundreds of these short clips on the Internet, localized them, and examined details of the weapons used. As a result, Higgins was able to demonstrate that the Syrian regime was using cluster munitions and chemical weapons. In 2013, Higgins linked the significant chemical attack in Ghouta to Bashar al-Assad.[4]

Once Bellingcat was successfully launched, major ground was covered over the course of its first campaign. It was discovered that the downing of MH17 was initiated by a group of separatists. Through the use of Google Earth, analysts discovered the coordinates of an ISIS Training camp, as well as the site where an American journalist was killed.[5]

Kristyan Benedict, an Amnesty International campaign manager, told The New Yorker in 2013 that many organisations had analysts but that Higgins was faster than many established investigation teams.[6]

On July 15, 2014, Higgins launched the Bellingcat platform with the help of private donations received through Kickstarter. The platform's team evaluates photos and videos that are publicly available on the Internet. According to Bellingcat, it is funded by means of crowdfunding.

War in eastern Ukraine

On 21 December 2016, a report by Bellingcat was published which analyzes the use of Russian artillery in the summer of 2014 against Ukrainian villages.[7]

Route of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.


On July 17, 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down while flying over eastern Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members died after the Boeing 777 was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects".[8]

In a press conference, Russian officials blamed the flight's destruction on Ukrainian forces and presented radar data, expert testimony and satellite image. The radar data that showed another aircraft in the vicinity of MH17 was debunked as falling debris from MH17 by experts. A Spanish air traffic controller in Kiev gave interviews that stated that two Ukrainian fighter jets followed the Malaysian plane but the Spanish Embassy later said that there was no Spanish air traffic controller at either of Kiev's airports. The satellite image that showed an aircraft firing on the airline but Bellingcat exposed the photo as a composite of Google images, with the Malaysian airline logo even being misplaced.[9]

Russia changed their position and declared that the MH17 was hit by a Buk missile but it was launched from Ukrainian territory and fired by troops loyal to Kiev. Satellite images they used to backup their claims were claimed to be manipulated as Bellingcat purchased their own satellite images that indicated the Russian ones may have been altered, however this accusation by Bellingcat has been criticized, including by a German image forensics expert who said that Bellingcat's report did not prove anything.[9][10]

On November 9, 2014, The Bellingcat MH17 Investigation team published a report titled "MH17: Source of the Separatists' Buk". Based on evidence from open sources, primarily social media, the report links a Buk missile launcher that was filmed and photographed in eastern Ukraine on July 17 to the downing of the MH17 flight. The 35 page report, including photographs and maps, details the movements of the Buk in eastern Ukraine on July 17, evidence that the Buk originated in Russia, along with a convoy headed towards the Ukrainian border, and the activity of the vehicles seen in the same convoy after July 17.[11]

On December 20th, 2017, Bellingcat published an article focusing on a section of the 2017 ISC report, which categorically stated that the British stance on the MH17 incident was that Russian forces were behind the orchestration and implementation of a plan to shoot down an aircraft. Whether the target was the MH17 passenger jet is not defined.[12][13]

Syrian Civil War

ISIS (Grey) Territory Change 2014-2016

Beginning in March 2011 after political protests turned violent,[14] the Syrian Civil has been an ongoing conflict between the Syrian Arab Republic, Syrian Opposition, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other combatants. Bellingcat reports primarily analyze the factions at war, and what weapons and armor they utilize, as well as news that that would normally go unreported by the mainstream media. Bellingcat utilizes a network of contributors who specialize in open source and social media investigation, and creates guides and case studies so others may learn to do the same.[15]

In July 2014, Bellingcat published extensive evidence of chemical weapons being used on Syrian civilians, including children.[16] Collecting video footage from local sources, Higgins analyzed the footage and was able to deduce that Chlorine gas was dropped from helicopters by the Syrian.

In June 2016, Bellingcat published an article showing the use of Cluster munitions were being used against the New Syrian Army, in clear violation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Bellingcat provided photographic evidence from firsthand sources that the munitions used were identical to those used by the Russian Military .[17]

In February 2017, Bellingcat published an article detailing how rudimentary drones were being used by ISIS to drop explosives onto opposition targets. Analyzing footage from Twitter and other social media platforms, it was discovered that the drones were dropping modified 40mm grenades.[18]

Bellingcat also does extensive reporting into attacks that are not openly claimed by combatants.

In September 2016, Bellingcat released a fact-checking article in response to Russia denying the bombing of hospitals in Syria. The article analyzed footage from Youtube and images from Facebook, cross referencing them with areas that were confirmed to be attacked by Russian forces. The article revealed that the hospital in question was within the area under Russian attack, although Russia denies these claims.[19]

In March 2017 Bellingcat published an investigative report on the bombing of a mosque in Aleppo that claimed the lives of over 50 civilians. The article included photographs of the remnants of the bomb used, and showed that the piece was identical to that of similar bombs used by the US military.[20]


In June 2015, Bellingcat accused Russia of manipulating satellite images from the MH17 disaster using Photoshop. However, this allegation was criticized by German image forensics expert Jens Kriese, who said that Bellingcat's report did not prove anything, and used invalid methods to reach its conclusion.[10] In a follow-up report, Bellingcat published crowdfunded satellite imagery and an analysis which reaffirmed their original claim.[21]


In 2015 Eliot Higgins and Bellingcat received the special prize[22] of the Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs-Award.


  1. ^ Bellingcat website
  2. ^ "To bell the cat - definition of To bell the cat by The Free Dictionary". Retrieved . 
  3. ^ "Brown Moses Blog: March 2012". Retrieved . 
  4. ^ "Watch out for Bellingcat". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved . 
  5. ^ "Bellingcat: the home of online investigations". Kickstarter. Retrieved . 
  6. ^ Batuman, Elif (23 November 2013). "Rocket Man". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2016. 
  7. ^ Sean Case; Klement Anders. "Putin's Undeclared War : Summer 2014 : Russian Artillery Strikes Against Ukraine" (PDF). Retrieved . 
  8. ^ CNN, By Jethro Mullen. "Report: MH17 hit by burst of 'high-energy objects' -". CNN. Retrieved . 
  9. ^ a b AM, Maxim Tucker On 6/22/15 at 9:14 (2015-06-22). "Meet Eliot Higgins, Putin's MH17 Nemesis". Newsweek. Retrieved . 
  10. ^ a b Jens Kriese (June 4, 2015). "Expert Criticizes Allegations of Russian MH17 Manipulation". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2017. 
  11. ^ Bellingcat (November 9, 2014). "Origin of the Seperatists' Buk" (PDF). Bellingcat. 
  12. ^ Toler, Aric. "British Intelligence Report Confirms Russian Military Origin of MH17 Murder Weapon". Bellingcat. Retrieved 2017. 
  13. ^ "ISCP Annual Report 2016-2017" (PDF). 
  14. ^ BBC, By BBC NEWS. "Middle East unrest: Three killed at protest in Syria -". BBC. Retrieved . 
  15. ^ Higgins, Elliot. "About". Bellingcat. Retrieved . 
  16. ^ Moses, By Brown. "Evidence From 2 Weeks Of Chlorine Barrel Bomb Attacks". brown-moses. Retrieved . 
  17. ^ Komar, Rao. "The al-Tanf Bombing: How Russia Assisted ISIS by Attacking an American Backed FSA Group with Cluster Bombs". Bellingcat. Retrieved . 
  18. ^ Waters, Nick. "Death From Above: The Drone Bombs of the Caliphate". Bellingcat. Retrieved . 
  19. ^ Al-Khatib, Hady. "Fact-Checking Russia's Claim that It Didn't Bomb a 5-Year-Old in Syria". Bellingcat. Retrieved . 
  20. ^ Triebert, Christiaan. "CONFIRMED: US Responsible for 'Aleppo Mosque Bombing'". Bellingcat. Retrieved . 
  21. ^ "Bellingcat kontert Kritik mit neuen Satellitenbildern". Zeit Online (in German). 12 June 2015. Retrieved 2017. 
  22. ^ "Pressemitteilung 2015 - Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs-Preis". Retrieved . 

External links

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