Fake reports of church attacks and Islam conversions spread after Christchurch massacre

Above, a screengrab of a video of a 2013 church attack in Egypt. Below, an old video showing a conversion ceremony.
Above, a screengrab of a video of a 2013 church attack in Egypt. Below, an old video showing a conversion ceremony.

After 50 people were murdered in a deadly attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, it didn’t take long for fake news to start popping up online. Some social media users shared misleading videos allegedly showing attacks on churches and mass conversions to Islam. We debunked some of the videos below – and show you where they really came from.

Attack on a church

A video posted on a Pakistani Facebook page on March 16 shows a church engulfed in flames, accompanied by a caption in – Urdu, one of Pakistan's official languages – that reads, “Breaking news: a Christian church in New Zealand has been attacked. Every Muslim should share this.” The post has been viewed over 450,000 times.

The video shows two men climbing up a wall as black smoke billows behind them. Encouraged by the crowd below, one of the men knocks down the cross sitting atop an arched gateway.

The video was shared several thousand times on Facebook and Twitter, often with captions claiming that the church was located in Pakistan.

The post, in Armenian, reads: “On March 16, 2019, Muslims attacked Christians and destroyed a church. 93 victims.”


Our team used InVid to search where the original video came from and found that it was in fact filmed in August 2013 in Egypt. A news report from the MCN (Middle East Christian News) states that it was filmed in the town of Sohag.

>> Read on The Observers: How do I verify an online video ?

The video states that the attack on the church in Sohag, Egypt took place on August 14, 2013.

A report from Human Rights Watch also details the destruction of the Saint George Coptic Christian church in Sohag on August 14, 2013.

Mass conversions to Islam

Another fake news story that was circulated claimed that large numbers of people were converting to Islam in the wake of the attacks in Christchurch. In one video, posted on the Senegalese Facebook page Kebetu on March 19, people in various locations are seen publicly converting to Islam. The caption reads, “After the killings [in] New Zealand, many people accepted Islam”, and the video has already garnered over 230,000 views.

A search using InVid shows that the misleading video is a montage of several different videos, including one from 2007 and another from 2014, taken years before the Christchurch massacre, of people who have converted to Islam. The French news agency AFP identified the man assisting with the conversions in the videos as German preacher Pierre Vogel.

This story was written by Pierre Hamdi.