Observers

It's a standard make-up tutorial before and after picture. Before: a man looking serious, with a full, dark beard. After: a man, slathered with make-up including bright blue eyeshadow and red lips — all of which, unsurprisingly, does little to mask his thick eyebrows or moustache. Put side by side, these photos are meant to show a member of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group (poorly) disguised as a woman in order to flee Mosul. International media have shared the photo, delighting in the ridiculous picture of a made-up jihadist who forgot to shave his beard. But actually, the photo doesn't show that at all...

A little bit of technique…

You just have to go on Google Images to find out the original source of this photo. By copying and pasting the image into into the search bar, we can see that it has been circulating on the internet since at least 2015. For example, on this Iranian blog

British tabloids like the Daily Mail and The Sun picked up the story, keen to impress on their readers that the man on the left is the same, heavily made-up, man on the right, and that it's an IS fighter who tried to flee Mosul when it was recaptured by the Iraqi army on July 9.

…and a lot of common sense

And even without using Google Images, there's one good reason why the image is clearly fake. As the journalist Sofia Amara, a specialist on Syria, reminded people: members of the IS group don't let women make themselves up like this. A soldier made up like this is clearly even more likely to rouse the suspicions of the Iraqi army: it would be better to be less made up than wearing clownish make-up if you don't want to be spotted.

So the photo can't be of an IS fighter who was stupid enough to forget to shave off his facial hair.




Other photos supposedly showing other soldiers dressed as women and apparently caught when trying to leave Mosul have been doing the rounds on soical media. But a Google Images search reveals that the majority of these photos have been online since well before 2017, and so don't have anything to do with jihadists fleeing the city.

That's not to say, of course, that IS fighters haven't been using female dress, like the niqab, to hide themselves when they flee. IS soldiers already used the technique with sucess, during the battle of Fallujah in 2016.

Article written with
Dorothée Myriam kellou

Dorothée Myriam kellou , journaliste rédacteur arabophone