DEBUNKED

No, photos circulating on social media do not show the new head of Afghanistan’s central bank

This viral photo is not of the new head of the Afghan central bank, but of an unknown Taliban fighter.
This viral photo is not of the new head of the Afghan central bank, but of an unknown Taliban fighter. © FRANCE 24 Observers

An image that allegedly shows the new head of Afghanistan's central bank, Haji Mohammad Idris, sitting at a desk with a rifle has been circulating on social networks since August 17. However, the Observers team discovered that it is actually an old photo of an unidentified Taliban member.

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The picture was shared by several Indian media outlets, including the television channel India Today, with the caption "Haji Mohammad Idris, the new governor of the Afghan central bank".

In France, a tweet with the photo and false statement was published by a journalist from Le Point on September 9 and was ‘liked’ more than 5,100 times.

The photo is not of Mohammad Idris and was probably not taken in the Central Bank

When comparing the alleged photo of the director with official photos posted by Afghanistan’s central bank on Facebook on August 23, we can see that the faces of the two men do not match.

Furthermore, official photos taken at Afghanistan’s central bank show the meeting when the Taliban’s new leadership was announced. Mohammad Idris can be seen sitting at the head of the table. The photo is accompanied by the caption "Mr. Maulvi Abdul Qahir, known as Haji Mohammad Idris, as Governor of Afghanistan’s central bank, [addressed] the meeting".

Another photo of Mohammad Idris, wearing the same clothes – a white shirt and a black turban – was posted on Twitter on September 6 by the Afghan central bank's account.

Screenshot of a tweet by Afghanistan's central bank on 6 September. It shows Mohammad Idris (left) at a coordination meeting with commercial banks.
Screenshot of a tweet by Afghanistan's central bank on 6 September. It shows Mohammad Idris (left) at a coordination meeting with commercial banks. © Twitter @AFGCentralbank

Further research showed us that the photo of the armed Taliban was not taken at the central bank's headquarters in Kabul, but at an office in another Afghan province, potentially in the eastern province of Laghman.

Indeed, in the photo that went viral on social networks, a blue flag can be seen in the background with words written in Pashto, one of the country's two official languages, referring to the Afghanistan Revenue Department. 

We looked on the Revenue Department's Facebook account, where we recognised the place where the Taliban's photo was taken. In addition, photos published on October 10, 2020 show a video conference that took place between the Revenue Department and its offices outside the capital. In these images, we recognised the background in one of the participant’s videos, and noticed the same blue flag, as well as the star-shaped mural compartment.

Photo posted on the Afghan General Department of Revenue Facebook account on October, 10 2020 during a video conference with local offices.
Photo posted on the Afghan General Department of Revenue Facebook account on October, 10 2020 during a video conference with local offices. © Twitter @AFGCentralbank
Highlighting the background in a photo posted on the Afghan Revenue Department's Facebook account on October 10, 2020 during a video conference with local offices.
Highlighting the background in a photo posted on the Afghan Revenue Department's Facebook account on October 10, 2020 during a video conference with local offices. © Observers

In another photo released on November 9, 2020 by the Revenue Department showing another video conference, the same background can be seen on one of the participant's webcams, under the name ‘Laghman’.

Photo posted on the Afghan Revenue Department's Facebook account on November 9, 2020 during a video conference with local offices.
Photo posted on the Afghan Revenue Department's Facebook account on November 9, 2020 during a video conference with local offices. © Twitter @AFGCentralbank

Although these visual clues present specific similarities with the original photo, we cannot state with certainty that the photo was taken in a specific building. Nevertheless, the Pashto inscriptions suggest that the photo of the armed Taliban was taken in a building of the Afghan Revenue Department, not in the headquarters of the Afghan Central Bank in Kabul.

Who is the new head of the central bank?

Mohammad Idris was identified in a photo by an Afghan journalist interviewed by the Indian fact-checking organisation Boom, who wants to remain anonymous.

Verified photo of Mohammad Idris, the new head of the central bank in Afghanistan.
Verified photo of Mohammad Idris, the new head of the central bank in Afghanistan. © Aznews.tv/boomlive

The Taliban appointed Mohammad Idris as the new head of the Afghan central bank on August 23. According to Reuters, Mohammad Idris has no formal financial education, although he previously led the Taliban movement's finance division. He is succeeding Ajmal Ahmady, who left the country after the Taliban takeover in August.

On September 7, the Taliban announced an interim government in Afghanistan, declaring the country an ‘Islamic Emirate’. The new cabinet is made up of senior Taliban figures, some of whom are on a UN blacklist.