Australia summons Turkish ambassador

NEW DELHI: A video of a religious ceremony has been viewed more than one million times on Facebook posts alongside a claim 350 people “accepted” Islam in New Zealand after last week’s deadly mosque shootings. The posts are misleading-the video is from an unrelated Islamic event in Germany available online since 2007 – and contain no other evidence to back up the claim of 350 people accepting Islam in New Zealand in recent days.

What are we verifying?
The 90-second video starts with a bearded Caucasian man wearing a skullcap passing a microphone to another man, who then speaks in Arabic. It continues with a ceremony spoken in Arabic and German. The video was viewed more than one million times in 48 hours after being uploaded on Monday to the Facebook page of Sajid Hashmat, who identifies himself as a “senior leader” with a regional political party in India that represents Muslims.

The caption alongside the video in the misleading Facebook post states in English: “50 Muslims were killed on Friday in New Zealand & 350 people accepted #Islam today in #NewZealand”. AFP created an archived version of this false post (1). The post was published after 50 worshippers in two mosques were shot dead in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday. An Australian man has been charged over the murders. AFP found dozens of other posts with the same video and misleading caption on Facebook and YouTube, some of which had been viewed tens of thousands of times.

What do we know?
Through an investigation using video analysis tool InVid and multiple keyword searches, AFP established the video appeared on YouTube on November 24, 2007 (2). The German-language caption in that post translates to: “Five people adopt Islam”. Through further searches, AFP identified the man wearing the skullcap as Pierre Vogel, who describes himself on his verified Facebook page as “the most famous preacher in Germany”.

AFP contacted Hashmat to ask why he posted the video alongside the caption, and whether he had any proof to back up his claim that 350 people had accepted Islam in New Zealand after the attacks. Hashmat said by phone: “That video is symbolic, a reference. There is a news link below that video from where I got the information”. The link he referred to was a blog post that similarly made the claim of 350 accepting Islam, without citing any evidence or sources. AFP published a blog post on Wednesday that gives an in-depth report on its investigation into the misleading posts (3).

What can be concluded?
AFP found more than 70 posts on Facebook that had the same video and caption, with similar posts also on YouTube and Twitter. Comments on these posts indicated many people believed the 2007 German video was a recent one from New Zealand, and they did not understand Hashmat’s stated nuance about it being “symbolic”.

Turkish envoy summoned
Meanwhile, Australia’s prime minister said he would summon Turkey’s ambassador in Canberra yesterday to explain “very offensive” comments made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. Erdogan, while campaigning for local elections, presented the attack as part of an assault on Turkey and Islam and warned anti-Muslim Australians would suffer the same fate as soldiers at Gallipoli, a blood-drenched WWI battle.

“I find it a very offensive comment, of course I do, and I will be calling in the Turkish ambassador today to meet with me to discuss these issues,” Scott Morrison told national broadcaster ABC. Erdogan had already been sharply rebuked by New Zealand for his comments and for using gruesome video shot by the Christchurch mosque gunman as an election campaign prop. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters protested on Monday that such politicization of the massacre “imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and it’s totally unfair”.

Peters announced on Tuesday that he would be travelling to Turkey this week at Istanbul’s request to attend a special meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Three Turkish nationals were wounded in the rampage that killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday. The accused gunman, a self-avowed white supremacist from Australia, livestreamed much of the attack and spread a manifesto on social media claiming it was a strike against Muslim “invaders”.

The manifesto references Turkey and the minarets of Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia, now a museum, that was once a church before becoming a mosque during the Ottoman empire. “This is not an isolated event, it is something more organized,” he said during a campaign event on Monday in Canakkale in western Turkey. “They are testing us with the message they are sending us from New Zealand, 16,500 km (10,250 miles) from here.” Erdogan did not project the video at the Monday event. Peters said he had complained directly to visiting Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.- Agencies