A fake Twitter account duped Reuters journalists into reporting on an Egyptian terror threat that did not exist.
On Tuesday, the news agency reported that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based terror network, threatened to attack tourists who stayed in Egypt beyond February 20.
The threat was posted on a Twitter account that Reuters initially identified as belonging to the terror network. But David Barnett, a research associate with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said no such threat was made by the group, and that the Twitter account cited in the Reuters report was a fake.
“Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis issued no statement warning tourists to leave Egypt,” Barnett told the BBC World Service on Friday. “Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis operates no official Twitter accounts. It repeatedly states this in its statements. The Reuters report that started this whole fiasco, as I like to call it, is not an official Twitter account.”
In an updated story, Reuters conceded that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis “does not post statements on social media sites,” but that “statements that appeared on the Twitter account in the past have afterwards surfaced on jihadist websites which the group says it does use.”
Barnett says the accounts are likely run by individuals who like to cause trouble, or by loyalists who are otherwise not affiliated with the terrorist group.
“There are…fake accounts,” Barnett said, run by “people who may support the group, people who may just simply want to cause chaos. This specific account [cited by Reuters] has been around for a number of months. It doesn’t always promote Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis statements.”
On Friday, a Reuters spokesperson acknowledged several version of the story cited a Twitter account that may not have been legitimate.
“In all of the published versions [of the story], questions about whether to trust the Twitter account were addressed in multiple places,” spokesperson Heather Carpenter told The Desk by email.
Ok so prob false alarm on the Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis warning to tourists. Reuters used fake twitter account as source.
— Ester Meerman (@estermeerman) February 18, 2014
— إنَهُ (@Bazramit) February 18, 2014
— Dudes on Scooters (@DudesOnScooters) February 18, 2014
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed several people, including two South Korean tourists, last weekend. Militants have killed several hundred policemen and soldiers in Egypt since the country deposed former president Mohamed Mursi last year.