In this low-quality photo, a fighter for the Islamic State group (IS) bears a tattoo that says “United Sates Army”. The photo rapidly went viral; however, it isn’t real. This manipulated image is just one example of many online efforts to try to get people to believe that the United States is behind the rise of the IS group.

Many analysts believe that the jihadist group’s rapid growth is due to United States’ foreign policy in Iraq and Syria over recent decades. But on social networks, conspiracy theorists take it much further.
A manipulated Reuters photo

The image below, which recently spread online, is a good example of this. It’s difficult to know where it was first posted, but our team spotted it on the account of a Facebook user living in Ohio with the following comment: “Notice anything ‘interesting’ on this ISIS [the former name of IS] terrorist in Syria?” The tattoo on the man’s arm, which is zoomed in on, shows a skull wearing a beret with the words “United States Army”. In the comments, several Internet users say they believe the beret is proof that the man belongs to the Green Berets, a special forces division of the US army.

This photomontage was shared widely on social networks.
However, another Internet user pointed out that this photo exists elsewhere online – without the tattoo. The photo in question, which was taken by a Reuters agency photographer, was published in an article on the news site Business Insider. It appears the original photo was Photoshopped in order to insinuate that some of the IS’ fighters are American soldiers.

The original Reuters photo.

John McCain, an IS ally?!

Attempts to try to prove that the United States is directly implicated in creating a jihadist organisation in Iraq and Syria have spread like wildfire online. Here’s another example: this image was described on some sites as being a photograph of John McCain posing with members of the IS group, including its self-proclaimed leader, Abubakr Al-Baghdadi. This rumour dates back to 2013, but it continues to circulate online.

A photomontage that supposedly shows McCain meeting Al Baghdadi was published by the site Hands Off Syria.
Thierry Meyssan, a French activist and fervent defender of the theory that the United States orchestrated the September 11 attacks, recently said during an interview that this photo was proof that the United States “gives orders to the Islamist State”.

In reality, these photos were taken during the American senator’s last visit to Syria in May 2013, where had travelled to promote the idea of arming Syrian rebels. He had gone to the city of Azaz to meet with Free Syrian Fighters belonging to “Northern Storm”, a pro-Western, secular brigade. It’s difficult to image Al-Baghdadi in the ranks of this brigade, especially when you consider that its main enemies at the time were the jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which later became the Islamic State group.

In addition, the man circled in red, which conspiracy theorists believe is Al-Baghdadi, is in fact a member of the Northern Storm brigade. At the time, a Lebanese television station, who had reported on McCain’s visit, had identified him as a man named Abou Youssef.

Twisting Hillary Clinton’s words

Another recent example is the rumour that Hillary Clinton had admitted that the United States created the IS group in her book “Hard Choices”. This rumour, which circulated widely, notably in Lebanon, was in fact an extrapolation of her expressed belief that the United States’ failure to help the Syrian rebels had helped contribute to the IS group's expansion.

Iran fuels the rumours

At the source of this conspiracy rhetoric, you’ll regularly find media outlets that are close to Iranian hardliners or their ally, Lebanon’s Hezbollah. A Francophone Iranian radio station relayed Meyssan’s interview, and also launched the rumour that Edward Snowden said Al-Baghdadi was Jewish and had been trained by the Mossad. However, no proof of this was ever offered.

In Iran, such accusations sometimes come from very high up. On several occasions, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took to Twitter to insinuate that Western intelligence services were behind the actions of those he calls “takfiris”, by which he meant Salafists and notably the Islamic State group. He even goes so far as to add the hashtag #CIA.

Post written by FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.