More than 130 Fulani villagers were killed by armed attackers in Ogossagou, in central Mali, on March 23. Three days later, a video claiming to show foreign mercenaries killing members of the Fulani tribe began circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp in the region. Our team investigated the video and found that it likely was not filmed in Mali.
Update: The Nigerian army has confirmed that the video depicts several members of its troops stationed in Zamfara state "flogging" suspected bandits.
The two-minute video shows men in camouflage cargo pants using a baton to beat several others lying shirtless on the ground. We are only publishing screengrabs of the video due to its violent nature.
The video was first posted on Kati 24, a Mali-based Facebook page with about 130,000 followers, along with the caption, "France 24 would never broadcast this: foreign mercenaries killing Fulani people". As of April 5, the video had been viewed 170,000 times.
The original post on Kali 24.
There are several clues, however, that indicate that the video was not actually filmed in Mali. Though we were unable to identify the exact source of the video using our online verification tools, we did establish that the footage does not depict the massacre in Ogossagou.
What happened in Ogossagou?
The administrator of the Kati 24 Facebook page told The Observers that he posted the video online after receiving it over Whatsapp and was unaware of its origin.
The post refers indirectly to the massacre in Ogossagou on March 23. The perpetrators are believed to be huntsmen from the Dogon tribe. But many online users dismissed the official version of events, saying that various social media accounts and the video showed the attackers speaking in English, not Fula or Dogon, and theorising that the killings had been carried out by “foreign mercenaries”.
The Kati 24 page administrator page also told The Observers that the video “could not possibly show Malians killing Malians, because these men speak English.”
What are the clues in the video?
First of all, let's take a look at the text written on one of the trucks that appear in the video. It is marked with the proverb in Hausa, "Kada dama ruwa," which our Observers tell us translate to "the crocodile is an expert in the water." The expression is commonly used in Nigeria.
The phrase "Kada dama ruwa" on one of the trucks in the video.
Additionally, the men who are being beaten cry out the Hausa word “wayo”, an expression of shock and pain similar to "ouch." It's another indication that this video was filmed in Nigeria.
A reference to a Nigerian military operation
The Observers team reached out to Oluwatosin Adeshokan, a Nigerian man living in the region of Zamfara who has experience verifying content online. He identified a key moment in the video during which a man with a red bandana says in English (French is Mali's official language), "We are not Sharan Daji, we are Operation 77". The Observers team has isolated this below.
The phrase refers to two different operations initiated by the Nigerian military. Sharan Daji was launched in 2016 to fight organised crime, particularly cattle theft in the regions of Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Kebbi, in northwestern Nigeria. “Operation 77” likely refers to Operation 777, which in October 2018 aimed to consolidate several operations, including Sharan Daji, from various regions.
The Nigerian army confirmed that the video depicts several members of its troops stationed in Zamfara state "flogging" suspected armed bandits. The soldiers had intercepted the bandits and, in an attempt to obtain information about the location of their hideout, "employed unauthorized, crude corporal methods," the army said in a statement.
This story was written by Alexandre Capron.