These photos show the aftermath of an accidental fire at a Hindu temple, Indian police say

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Photos of a charred statue of the goddess Kali were shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter alongside a claim that “jihadis” carried out an arson attack against the Hindu deity in the Indian state of West Bengal. The claim is false; local police said the photos in fact show the aftermath of a fire that was caused by an accident at a Hindu temple. 

The photos were published on September 1, 2020, here on a religious group's Facebook page that has more than 10,000 followers. The post has been shared more than 3,400 times.

A screenshot, taken on September 10, 2020, of the misleading post.

The post’s caption reads: “In West Bengal, jihadis burnt the idol of mother Kali. Not only mother Kali but also the hearts of 140 crore Hindus have been burnt.” 

Jihadists are people involved in a jihad, the struggle or holy war to defend Islam. 

The photos were shared alongside an identical claim on Facebook here, here, here, here, here, here and here, and on Twitter here, here, here, here, here and here

The claim, however, is false. 

On September 2, 2020, West Bengal Police took to Twitter to deny the claim and urged social media users not to spread the false information.

“Misleading. Legal action is being taken. Please don’t get carried away by misleading, provocative and mischievous posts,” the tweet reads.

A screenshot, taken on September 10, 2020, of the tweet from the West Bengal Police

Police in Murshidabad, a town in northeastern West Bengal, also refuted the claim on Twitter here and clarified that the blaze was an accident. 

“As stated by mandir committee it was a fire accident. Temple authorities are taking necessary action. Local police and administration coordinating. Do not share to anyone without verifying personally. You may contact mandir committee for further details,” reads the September 2 tweet.

The statement from Murshidabad Police was issued in direct response to a tweet from a top West Bengal official who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party. 

Murshidabad Police also posted a photo of a hand-written public notice from Sukhdev Vajpeyi, the head of the Hindu temple where the fire occurred. 

"Hindus and Muslims live peacefully in this area of Murshidabad and this incident is an accident, not done by any Muslim mob, which is being claimed by some local people", Vajpeyi wrote.