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Viral image of soldiers holding flags of Israel and Isis is digitally altered

IN SHORT: An unlikely image of a row of soldiers holding the flags of Israel and Isis is circulating on social media, with the claim that Islamic State was “created and funded” by Israeli and US intelligence agencies. But the image has been photoshopped.

Note: This report includes details about a breaking news story. Information was, as far as possible, correct at the time of publication but may change rapidly.

“ISIS was created and funded by Mossad and the CIA,” reads the caption for an image circulating on social media in Nigeria, South Africa and elsewhere in March 2024.

“Israel treated ISIS fighters in their hospitals and John McCain met with their leader and supplied weapons.”

The image shows a row of smiling soldiers holding the black and white flag of Isis, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, next to the blue and white flag of the country of Israel.

Mossad is Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. The CIA is the US Central Intelligence Agency.

John McCain was a US senator and Republican Party presidential candidate. He died in 2018.


What is Isis?

Isis is a militant Sunni Islamist group that captured and held large parts of  northern Iraq and eastern Syria in the Middle East from 2014 to 2019. The group’s previous name was the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil). It’s also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, or simply as the Islamic State.

At its height, the Islamic State controlled a self-declared caliphate of roughly 4,400 square kilometres, a region of about 8 million people.

In 2015 the International Criminal Court revealed it was investigating “crimes of unspeakable cruelty” by the Islamic State. These included:

[M]ass executions, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, torture, mutilation, enlistment and forced recruitment of children and the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities ...

The Islamic State has been linked to deadly attacks in Nigeria, Benin, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. It has also claimed responsibility for attacks in over 20 other countries across the world.

Most recently, an Islamic State group based in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for a 22 February attack on a concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia’s capital. At least 133 people have been reported to have been killed in the attack.

But is the image of soldiers with the flags of Isis and Israel really proof that Isis “was created and funded by Mossad”?

US-led African Lion military training exercise in Morocco

A reverse image search reveals that the image has been altered.

The original photo shows that instead of the Isis flag, the soldiers are holding a green and yellow flag next to the Israeli flag.

The photo appears in several news reports on troops from an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) battalion joining the US Africa Command’s African Lion military training exercise in Morocco in June 2023.

Its caption on the Times of Israel website reads: “An IDF contingent of soldiers from the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion in Morocco to take part in the US-led African Lion military exercises on June 5, 2023.”

The photo was also posted on the IDF’s official X (formerly Twitter) account on 5 June 2023. 



A machine translation of the post’s Hebrew text reads: “A delegation of 12 fighters and commanders from the Golani patrol unit left yesterday for the ‘African Lion 2023’ exercise … that is taking place in Morocco. About 18 countries and about 8,000 soldiers from the US army, Morocco and Ghana are participating in the exercise.”

The altered image is not proof that Mossad created and funded Isis.

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