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Daily Mirror runs baseless claim of IS group massacre of children

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British tabloid the Daily Mirror recently ran an article saying that the Islamic State (IS) group had butchered 200 Syrian children, based on claims by “campaigners”. However, the article’s author did not investigate these claims, which FRANCE 24's Observers believe to be false. Here’s why:

On Monday, the Mirror published an article that included a heavily-blurred video, explaining that the footage was too horrifying to be shown in full. The article’s author wrote that the footage was at least a year old, and described those executed in the video – who are blurred – as juveniles. He explained that the unverified video had been widely shared on social networks this week.

Screen grab from an article on the website Mirror.co.uk.

Contacted by FRANCE 24, the author of the Daily Mirror article explained that his description of the victims as juveniles was based on the claims of a single Internet user, who shared the video on Facebook on November 4. The journalist said that this anti-IS activist, who is listed as living in Aden, Yemen, was his only source and that he didn’t know her. He said he tried to contact her, but she did not reply. Although he had no other sources to corroborate the Internet user’s claim, he said his editors decided to publish the article anyway. “It’s the news desk that takes the decision to publish, not me," he said. “You surely know how difficult it is to verify these things.”

The Daily Mirror's source is an Internet user who posted the video on Facebook on November 4. In the caption, which is in Arabic, she writes that the video shows "the execution of 200 children by the Islamic State group." Her claims were relayed in the Daily Mirror's article, without verification. 

Following the publication of the Daily Mirror article, similar stories ran in several other news outlets, including the Daily Mail (which has since corrected their article) and the Daily Star in the United Kingdom, and Dainik Bahskar in India, without any further attempts at verification.

Where did this video come from? 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team, with help from FRANCE 24’s jihadist movement expert Wassim Nasr, decided to look into the video. First, we found the original, non-blurred video where you can see the victims, who are men in their underwear. As they are filmed from a distance and lying face down, it is difficult to ascertain their age. The video was published on August 29, 2014, a few days after the battle of Taqba, which the Syrian army lost to the IS jihadists. It was posted on a Syrian YouTube channel that described it as the execution of Syrian army soldiers. In August; the Observers had also published an article showing videos of soldiers in their underwear being paraded by IS jihadists, just like the victims in the Daily Mirror’s video.

The video published by the Daily Mirror was first published on August 29, 2014 on a YouTube channel that publishes combat videos from Syria. It is described as showing the execution of 250 Syrian soldiers. 

We also found another video from 2014 showing the same execution from a different angle. It was originally published on the farsi website of the Saudi TV channel Al Arabiya. In this video, which is filmed closer up, it is clear that the victims are not children. Filmed from the side, you can see that some of them have full beards. The Saudi channel also described them as Syrian soldiers. This is also the version that was given by the Islamic State group, which generally makes a show of claiming responsibility for its crimes.

Screen grab of the video published on Al-Arabiya in farsi on September 28, 2014, described as the execution of Syrian soldiers. We have circled a man who has a full beard, and is clearly not a child. 

So where did this story of a “children’s massacre” come from? Our research shows that the first occurrence of this unfounded claim appeared two months ago on the Iranian TV channel Al-alam, which is broadcast in Arabic. From there, it seems to have been picked up by Internet users, until it made its way to the Daily Mirror.

If you want to learn more about how to verify images circulating on social networks, check out our guide.