Does This Image Show a Chemical Weapon in Mekele, Tigray?

A tweet posted on June 15 claimed that chemical weapons had supposedly arrived in Mekele area of Ethiopia’s Tigray region through Djibouti. The tweet shows an image of a phosphorous chemical attack.

Background

Article 2 of the Chemical Weapons Convention describes a chemical weapon as munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm from toxic chemicals and their precursors not prohibited by this convention.

In the ongoing armed conflict in Ethiopia, Tigray there have been reports of a food crisis that puts almost 350,000 people at risk of starvation. This is greatly influenced by the challenges that the war has caused in terms of access to remote areas.

Verification

A reverse image search shows that the image shared on Twitter is from 1966 as featured on the National Museum of The United States air Force on April 9, 2011. This site attributes the image to an attack that occurred in South Vietnam.  It was later shared by the same site on May 18, 2015. The Vietnam war which ran between 1955 – 1973 was a civil war between North and South Vietnam, with a great involvement of the United States. Similarly, this same image was featured among 46 other photos from the Vietnam War by The Atlantic.

A screenshot from the National Museum of The United States Air Force

 

Another article looking at the destructive nature of white phosphorus shows this same attack from the Vietnam War. (See screengrab below).

A situation report by the European External Programme with Africa, (EEPA) is shared under the tweet in question. The report states that chemical weapons were allegedly flown into Mekele from Addis Ababa on June 5, 2021. It further claims that the weapons were supposedly purchased from Russia, Ukraine and China.

This report however contains a disclaimer that;

“EEPA does not claim that the information is correct but verifies to the best of ability within the circumstances.”

A month ago, Mekele, Tigray’s capital suffered an alleged phosphorous attack. In an article by The Telegraph, images it received were reported to be consistent to burns sustained from a chemical attack. However, in a reply to this post, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied these allegations maintaining that they take the international obligations under the Chemical Weapon Convention seriously.

 “In this connection, the Ministry would like to categorically reject this allegation,” it stated, “as a victim of chemical weapons attack itself, Ethiopia also condemns in the strongest terms the use of chemical weapons by anyone anywhere.”

Verdict

NO, this image of a chemical explosion does not represent an alleged attack in Mekele, Tigray. This image was taken during the Vietnam war in 1966.

This story was produced by Africa Uncensored in partnership with Code for Africa with support from Deutsche Welle Akademie.

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Nyakerario Omari

Nyakerario J. Omari is a Kenyan writer and journalist with a passion for in-depth stories told through documentaries. She has an interest in reporting matters concerning health, crime and human rights.