Photos purporting to show the seizure of a large cache of weapons have been making the rounds in WhatsApp groups run by Malians and Nigerians. While the posts aren’t in agreement over where the seizure took place, most all of them agree that the containers packed with weapons were shipped from France and were bound for Kidal, in northern Mali, which is home to several armed groups. Turns out, however, that is not even close to the real story behind these photos.

Journalists working for RFI’s Malinke-language newsroom first reached out to the Observers about these photos that had been circulating on WhatsApp. Some of the photos show open containers with weapons spread across the ground. Often, these posts were shared alongside by audio messages in Zerma, a language spoken in Niger and widely understood in Mali.

These are examples of some of the posts that have been widely shared on WhatsApp that claim that France shipped arms into Mali using a diplomatic container.

The audio messages claim that these containers were shipped from France and were intercepted en route to Kidal. Some claim that the weapons were seized in the Ivory Coast, while others say it was in Burkina Faso. Overall, these messages claim that the photos are "proof of the delivery of weapons to terrorist groups in Kidal by France".

Armed seperatist groups control both the town of Kidal and the main roads in this region.

Similar posts also circulated on Facebook, though they don’t seem to have been shared as many times as the posts on WhatsApp. Below is one example of a Facebook post.

This is a screengrab of one of the Facebook posts that was archived by our team.

What’s the real story?

If you run these photos through a simple reverse image search (click here to find out how to run one on your mobile phone), then you’ll quickly see that these photos were included in several articles published in Nigeria on May 23, 2017 (like this one, for example).

Check out the original article on Legit.ng.

At the time, Nigerien customs officials seized 440 rifles hidden in bags of cement during a raid on the island of Tin Can in Lagos. According to statements given to local media by Nigerian customs officials, the container was from Turkey. This article, posted on an English-language Turkish news site, also said that the merchandise came from Turkey.

The same photos were also posted on the official Facebook page of Nigerien Customs on the same day, along with a post referring to the same seizure of 440 rifles.

A few months later, in October 2017, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari travelled to Turkey to discuss the seizure of more than 2,600 assault rifles, which were illegally imported from Turkey into Nigeria.

So, in conclusion, none of these photos show a shipment of weapons from France, nor do they show a container intercepted in Burkina Faso or Ivory Coast. And these weapons were certainly not bound for Kidal.

In the past few weeks, several other posts falsely claiming to show shipments of motorcycles or weapons from France to northern Mali have circulated online.

Article by Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).