Photo targeting Ilhan Omar predates US congresswoman's birth

  • Published on December 7, 2023 at 22:10
  • 3 min read
  • By AFP USA
US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has voiced concerns about a rise in anti-Muslim hate in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, but a photo claimed to show the Democratic lawmaker with a rifle in Somalia is being misrepresented online. The image was taken four years before she was born.

"Do you know her @Ilhan?" says a November 8, 2023 post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The post accumulated thousands of shares and includes a black-and-white photo of a woman holding a firearm. Text over the image claims it shows a "Muslim congresswoman at an Al' Qaida (sic) training camp in Somalia," Omar's birth country.

Screenshot of a post on X taken December 6, 2023

Similar claims circulated elsewhere on X, some published shortly after the 41-year-old politician from the state of Minnesota issued a statement denouncing what she called "a growing tide" of "anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian hate" in the United States (archived here).

The November 7 statement came one month after Israel declared war on Hamas following a surprise attack in which fighters associated with the Palestinian Islamist movement killed 1,200 people -- mostly civilians -- and took some 240 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel responded with air strikes and a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, where 17,177 people -- most of them women and children -- have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Much of the Palestinian territory has been reduced to rubble, displacing 1.9 million people, according to UN figures.

Omar, the first Somali-American in national politics, has repeatedly condemned Israel's military operation in Gaza and called for a ceasefire (archived here and here).

US Representative Ilhan Omar speaks during a news conference calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Capitol Hill in Washington on November 13, 2023 ( AFP / Mandel NGAN)

However, the claims on X are false -- the image, which has circulated online for years, is older than the congresswoman herself.

A reverse image search surfaced the original picture on the Associated Press's website (archived here).

"A woman recruit of the Somali Army checks her automatic weapon at a military training campus at Halane, Mogadishu, on Feb. 25, 1978. On the right is her instructor," the caption says.

Screenshot taken December 6, 2023 from the AP's website, with elements highlighted by AFP

Omar was born in the Somali capital of Mogadishu on October 4, 1982 -- four years after the photo was taken (archived here).

Jeremy Slevin, a spokesman for the congresswoman, referred AFP to a 2019 statement (archived here) in which Omar described the image as "pure propaganda designed to stir up hate and violence."

Claims that the picture shows Al-Qaeda militants -- not Somali military forces, as the AP caption says -- are also inaccurate.

Al-Qaeda was founded in 1988, according to Stanford University's Mapping Militants Project. The group's first attack targeted US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (archived here).

AFP has debunked other misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war here.

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