CNN has obtained new footage of Ethiopian soldiers cheering and laughing as they execute unarmed men near the town of Mahibere Dego in the country’s war-torn Tigray region.
This new report comes just two months after a previous CNN investigation from Senior International Correspondent Nima Elbagir, in collaboration with Amnesty International, examined video clips of the January massacre and used geolocation techniques to verify the video was filmed on a ridge near Mahibere Dego in January 2021. The investigation revealed at the time that at least 11 unarmed men were executed, and 39 others were unaccounted for.
CNN was sent the gruesome footage in March this year by a pro-Tigray media organization, the Tigrai Media House (TMH). TMH told CNN at the time that the video was filmed on a mobile phone by an Ethiopian army soldier turned whistleblower involved in the mass killing.
An additional longer video clip of the massacre has now been shared with CNN by TMH, revealing new details about the atrocity and the soldiers behind it.
CNN used geolocation techniques to determine the extended footage was also filmed at the ridge near Mahibere Dego. A voice at the end of the new clip identifies the Ethiopian soldier filming the video as “Fafi.” He also reveals his military brigade and division.
In the extended video seen by CNN, Fafi swaps the phone with another soldier, takes the gun and shoots. The phone is then swapped back as others clamor to be filmed executing the captives, brazenly documenting their crimes.
This extended footage has all the hallmarks of a trophy video and yet — despite the evidence — the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s Office dismissed the findings of CNN’s original investigation saying, “social media posts and claims cannot be taken as evidence.”
Six months after the attack, two people in Mahibere Dego told CNN they had collected the national identification cards of 36 people who were killed, but another 37 people remain missing, indicating the toll of the massacre could have been more than double what was initially reported.
CNN reached out to the Ethiopian government but it did not respond.
Since January, families of the victims in Mahibere Dego say they have been unable to access the ridge due to the continued presence of Ethiopian troops in the area — leaving them without a way to bury their loved ones.
But last Friday, the soldiers departed for nearby Axum, giving locals a long-awaited opportunity to search for any remains, according to nine people CNN interviewed who had visited the massacre site.
Over a period of days, family members of the victims filmed the church burials, documented evidence of bullet casings at the massacre site and took photographs of skeletal remains which they sent to CNN. We are not naming the family members who fear for their safety.
In images too graphic to publish, it’s clear the remains were too decomposed to allow for identification of the victims — for some there were only metal belt buckles. Families said they instead relied on items of clothing and ID cards to identify their relatives.
CNN also obtained images taken on June 21 that show bones, charred remains, clothes and ID cards at site of the attack. Some of the clothes were also seen in the original video clips investigated by CNN.
CNN has previously compiled extensive eyewitness testimony that Ethiopian soldiers and soldiers from neighboring Eritrea were perpetrating massacres, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and other abuses in the region.