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Images of French soldiers in Mali looting the country’s gold reserves? Attention, intox!

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A series of photos posted on Facebook purport to show French soldiers exploiting Mali’s gold resources, while Malian soldiers “fall at the front to defend their homeland”. But in reality, none of these images were taken in Mali and they are not of French soldiers.

Operation Serval, then Barkhane: since 2013, French army troops have been present on Malian territory, as part of military operations aimed at combating jihadist armed groups in Mali, and more broadly, throughout the Sahel. If the French presence should be reduced, following the announcement on June 10 by Emmanuel Macron of the gradual end of Operation Barkhane, the action of French soldiers was not always well seen on the spot.

And according to some publications, like this one on Facebook, instead of fighting alongside the Malian army, photos show French soldiers exploiting underground resources to extract gold bars.


Thousands of gold bars… seized by American soldiers in Iraq during the 2003 war

On the first three photos, we can easily distinguish the flag of the United States on the arms of the soldiers, as well as a logo identical to that of the “Airbrone” brigade, present on Pictures the deployment of the 173e Airborne brigade in Iraq, in 2003, visible in this archive gallery.

The flag of the United States as well as the logo of a US Army brigade can be seen on the military uniforms in these three photos.
The flag of the United States as well as the logo of a US Army brigade can be seen on the military uniforms in these three photos. © Observers

Detail of the uniform of a US serviceman of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, December 31, 2003.
Detail of the uniform of a US serviceman of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, December 31, 2003. © US Department of Defense

A reverse image search (we explain here the procedure) makes it possible to find numerous occurrences of these three photos on media sites English speakers and Arabic speakers, as well as on numerous social media posts.

Two events actually explain these images, reported by different media at the time. First, on May 24, 2003, American soldiers checked and seized a truck with suspicious cargo in the vicinity of Al-Qaim, near the Syrian border. This is what explains L’Orient-Le Jour with an article titled “US Forces Seize 2,000 Gold Bars Near Syrian Border.”

Two days later, 999 ingots were seized in a similar event at a checkpoint in Kirkuk, near the Iranian border. American media like Stars and stripes or CNN reported the discovery at that time. In both cases, the drivers were paid to transport unknown cargo from Baghdad, the capital, to a town near a border, Al-Qaim and As Sulaymaniyah.

While it is not possible to know what exact event each of these photos is associated with, it can be said with certainty that they came from seizures of shipments of gold bars by American soldiers in Iraq, and that they were taken between May 24 and 26, 2003.

These images appear regularly on Twitter and Facebook, often being used out of context or with little information, until very recently.

“American soldiers with Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’,” quips this Internet user in this tweet, archived here.


“Americans are thieves of civilizations. Rare photo showing the US military stealing a shipment of Iraqi gold in 2003. These are weapons of mass destruction ! “, indicates this user in this message, archived here.

Archive of this tweet available here.

Operation Sangaris and mining images : the other photos were not taken in Mali either

Likewise, the next three images show soldiers pulling crates out of a hole in the ground, bulldozers and what would be gold among red rocks. They would prove the gold mining activities of the French army in Mali.

In 2019, two of these photos had already circulated on social networks with this claim. This propaganda was verified at the time by the editorial staff of the Observers of France 24.


The first picture was taken in the Central African Republic, as part of the destruction of 750 kg of ammunition by the soldiers of Operation Sangaris, on February 10, 2014. It can be found in the multimedia section of this post on the website of the Ministry of the Armed Forces.

Screenshot of the Facebook post, showing French soldiers from Operation Sangaris, February 10, 2014, in the Central African Republic.
Screenshot of the Facebook post, showing French soldiers from Operation Sangaris, February 10, 2014, in the Central African Republic. © Observers

The image showing what would be gold among rocks in the photomontage is unrelated to Mali: it only appears on gold shopping sites, linking the image to an origin in Tanzania Like on This site. According to verifications made in 2019 by the editorial staff of France 24 Observers, this image could be found on the site of a mining group in Zambia, a site which is no longer accessible. TheAFP Factual found the archived version of this site.

Screenshot of the Facebook post, showing gold among rocks.
Screenshot of the Facebook post, showing gold among rocks. © Observers

Finally, according to theAFP Factual, the photo of the bulldozer would show an “armored vehicle of the engineers (EBG)”, and this image, present in particular on a post blog dating from 2005, has been circulating on the Internet for about fifteen years. The exact origin of the last photo, showing construction machinery in an area under construction, could not be known. These two photos do not appear to be linked to any military or mining activity in Mali.

Screenshot of the Facebook post, showing an armored engineer vehicle.
Screenshot of the Facebook post, showing an armored engineer vehicle. © Observers

Screenshot of the Facebook post, showing three construction machines on a construction site.
Screenshot of the Facebook post, showing three construction machines on a construction site. © Observers

To follow the daily checks of the Observers team, subscribe to the Twitter account @ InfoIntoxF24.




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