Old images of bullets captured in Ethiopia resurface with false claim they show recent seizure

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Photos of thousands of bullets hidden in a large rice bag have been widely shared on Facebook in Ethiopia alongside claims that the images show a recent seizure in the country’s capital Addis Ababa. This post surfaced as Ethiopian authorities are confiscating illegal weapons found during home searches in the capital. However, the claim that the photo was taken recently in Addis Ababa is false. The image has been online since April 2021, and state-owned media reported at the time that this seizure happened at a checkpoint north of Addis.

The images were posted on a pro-government Facebook account called “Natnael Mekonnen” followed by nearly 500,000 people. The post was shared nearly 700 times and has generated over 7,000 likes since it was published on November 16, 2021.

The first photo shows thousands of bullets spilling out of a rice bag, and the second one shows the ammunition laid out on a white tarp.

“#Ethiopia. During searches in Addis Ababa, this was found in one house”, the post's caption reads in Amharic.

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on November 18, 2021

On November 2, 2021, the Ethiopian government announced a six-month state of emergency after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) claimed control of two key cities, Dessie and Kombolcha, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Addis Ababa. This move granted authorities permission to search homes in the capital and other cities.

AFP graphic on the conflict in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian government’s November 2020 offensive in the northern Tigray region was meant to be a swift operation but now threatens to unleash instability across the country. As fears grow of a rebel advance on Addis Ababa, authorities have conducted raids and confiscated ammunition in the capital. AFP reported that more than 100 city police officers swarmed an upscale apartment building in central Addis Ababa on November 5, 2021, inspecting tenants’ identification documents and searching every room for weapons.

However, the images shown in the Facebook post were not taken during recent seizures.

Old images

The Addis Ababa police have been releasing pictures of seizures (here, here and here) that happened recently in the country’s capital. However, the images shared in the Facebook post are not among the police's recent pictures.

AFP Fact Check ran reverse image searches and found the same photos in a Facebook post published by state-owned media Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) on April 15, 2021 -- months before the start of the state of emergency and recent seizures.

Screenshot of the images shared on EBC’s Facebook page on April 15, 2021

“Individuals found illegally carrying more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition were arrested,” EBC’s report reads.

It further gives details of the route the men attempted to take while smuggling the ammunition into a public transport bus traveling from Sekota to Bahir Dar.

Google Maps of route from Senkota to Bahir Dar

Furthermore, the account which shared the misleading post had previously shared the same images on Facebook -- with the ECB report copied in the caption -- on April 15, 2021.