fake news

Richard Wagner debunks the fake news about Trump bombing a mosque in Iraq that has been popular on various right wing  news sources.  

Perhaps you’ve seen this headline on several right-wing news sources. “Breaking Obama’s rules, Trump bombs Mosque killing ISIS’ Entire Iraqi Leadership”.  On the very surface that is clearly false.

For one thing, ISIS would never put their entire Iraqi leadership in one place – too easy of a target.  Aside from that, such a momentous victory would be all over Trump’s twitter, and the mainstream media would not be able to ignore it.  The air raid in question supposedly took place last Friday, May 3rd, yet we’ve still heard nothing.  You may or may not trust the mainstream media, but you can trust that Trump wouldn’t hesitate to boast of such a victory.

Fake news or the partisan news?

Arabic news source called “Al Masdar News” originally reported this.  Their version of the story looked more plausible.  They didn’t claim that Trump was breaking some Obama-era rule against bombing mosques under any circumstances, nor did they claim that the entire Iraqi leadership of ISIS was killed in one single air raid.  They did, however, list the same seven names of these supposed ISIS commanders and claim that an air raid on the Al Najjar Mosque killed these seven.  As Al Masdar does have a good reputation, albeit a young one, I decided to investigate.

The US Department of Defense

I called the press office for the US Department of Defense in search of answers.  The gentleman with whom I spoke was skeptical of the claim that US Air Force or coalition forces would attack a mosque. He referred me to a public affairs representative with CJTF (Combined Joint Task Force) who  issued the following response for The Pavlovic Today:

Coalition takes all allegation of possible civilian casualties seriously and will fully assess this allegation to assess its validity. The Collation releases a monthly report on all civilian casualty allegations and assessments to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible. Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.

Clearly, coalition forces are very concerned about their reputation for jus in bello.

Finally, Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve did confirm for The Pavlovic Today that the Coalition did not conduct the airstrikes targeting al-Najjar mosque on March 3, 2017

We can confirm the Coalition did not conduct airstrikes targeting al-Najjar mosque on March 3, 2017.  We have no further information at this time, however the Government of Iraq may be able to provide additional information.

Who were these seven “ISIS Commanders”?

Whilst communicating via email with the US Department of Defense, I was also digging for any other source to confirm any of the information in the Al Masdar News article.  When searching for the alleged event in general searches, I found nothing.

But what about those commanders?  The Al Masdar article specifically identified a supposed “commander of Jund al-Khalifa” named “Abu Abdul-Rahman Al-Ansari.”

This does raise some suspicion, as Jund al-Khalifa is a group in Algeria that has sworn loyalty to ISIS.  Like much of ISIS outside of their actual territory, a group or individual can simply call themselves “ISIS” and ISIS seems willing to accept them.  But it’s plausible that a commander from a powerful ISIS affiliate in Algeria would pay a visit to ISIS central.  Mosul would probably not be the best place, however, as the very city is currently war-torn, and coalition forces are pushing ISIS back into the NW quadrant.

An “Abu Abdul Rahman” (minus the “Al-Ansari” was ) was killed in January.  He was also not Algerian, but there is no evidence of his involvement with the Jund al-Khalifa faction.  Could Abu Abdul Rahman Al-Ansari be a completely different individual, with an Arabic name, who commanded an Algerian group, and was in Mosul, Iraq on Friday, March 3rd?

I was also able to learn of an “Abu Azzam”.  The Al Masdar article lists his name as “Abu ‘Azzam” (notice the apostrophe before “Azzam”).  Well, Abu Azzam was actually killed in 2005.  ISIS wasn’t even splintered off from Al Qaeda at that time.

I haven’t been able to find any information on the other five names of supposed ISIS commanders killed in this supposed air raid.

The noise of fake news

It appears that for whatever reason, Al Masdar News has published a story with information that either they invented, or gained from a very unreliable source.  They did not list any sources in their article.  The other right-wing sources that I’d rather not list individually likely saw this story, exaggerated and spun it for their own purposes, and republished it.  Likeminded sources on the internet with no accountability tend to do that, looking for quick hits.

I have also found no evidence that President Trump has made any changes to an Obama rule on attacking mosques.  We follow the President very closely at The Pavlovic Today and are aware of his executive orders.  None of us have heard of this, nor have I found evidence anywhere else, other than the unreliable right-winged sources mentioned earlier.  The Al Masdar article made no such claim, however.

There are legitimate facts out there, facts that are not covered, or not covered very well by the mainstream media.  Unfortunately, they are often drowned out by the noise of fake news.  This particular story may have appealed to a certain portion of Trump’s voting base, but to most, the thought of our military attacking an Islamic place of worship is appalling.

Listing a mosque, as the Coalition target is irresponsible and misleading.  Sometimes, unfortunately, a mosque might be used for recruitment by ISIS, Al Qaeda, or other dangerous militants.  But this story, originating from what was considered to be a legitimate source,  Al Masdar News, was simply put a fake news.

Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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