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The Story Behind the Picture ISIS Never Tweeted

But before I explain how the so-called ISIS-did-it theory was born, let me tell you the story behind this picture, How it landed on my computer screen and how I was able to identify it before sharing it with the world.

"The first image of a gunman appeared to have been first released by what was purportedly an ISIL-related Twitter account." "ISIS tweeted out Michael Zehaf-Bibeau picture."

One week after the attack in Ottawa, numerous international media outlets continue to spread false information.

How can I be so certain? Because I was the first to publish this photo.

This photo was first published and identified on my 100 per cent news Twitter feed @Breaking3zero several hours before the traditional media got a hold of it.

But before I explain how the so-called ISIS-did-it theory was born, let me tell you the story behind this picture, How it landed on my computer screen and how I was able to identify it before sharing it with the world.


At around 2 p.m. EST on October 22, one of my followers informs me of its existence, asking me if this really is the shooter. At this point in time, information on the Ottawa attack is still very vague and contradictory.

My first reflex is to ask him about the source. He points to the responses to a tweet posted by the Ottawa Police. Not just any tweet. But a tweet asking the witnesses of the attack to share with the police any information allowing to identify the shooter. And there, among the first responses, is the photo of a man holding a rifle.

Don't bother looking, this tweet doesn't exist anymore. It was deleted almost instantly. Posted from an anonymous account, this picture found itself in the huge virtual haystack called Twitter.

I don't know who deleted it. The rate at which it was taken off makes me think that it was probably the author himself. Maybe he thought he was sending a private message. Maybe after talking to the police he followed their advice to take it down.

Whatever the reason, thanks to a screenshot, I find myself with a copy in hand in the early afternoon.


Out of the question to publish it at this point. Without any research, and no certitude. And also out of the question to publish it prematurely, while there is still chaos in Ottawa, and the shooter might have accomplices.

Like a lot of journalists I have my sources, and I decide to send them the photo to get their feedback. In the meantime, I try to identify other elements to confirm its authenticity.

I start with the weapon itself. A Winchester. Three possible models. 1886, 1873, 1892. In any case, a very specific weapon. A hunting rifle. Not a semi-automatic. Not an automatic.

The first witness accounts coming in from the attack within the Parliament mention a rifle. And then there is the AUDIO recording. We hear the suspect shooting before the security personnel respond. While they spray continuously, he fires shot by shot. Just like a Winchester.

Then there is the scarf. Some witnesses of the shooting precisely described the suspect as wearing a "muslim-style scarf." Although this description is rather vague, the picture shows a man whose face is partially covered by a black-and -hite keffieh similar to those worn by the activists defending the Palestinian cause in the eighties.

Finally, there is the umbrella.

Its white handle shows under the suspect's right hand. The rest on the left hand side near his shoulder. It is thanks to this accessory that the shooter was able to hide his weapon, leave his vehicle and advance all the way to the monument without drawing attention.

If the information from one of my sources is correct, this is confirmed by the surveillance footage.


The weapon, the keffieh, the umbrella. Three pieces of evidence indicating the authenticity of the photo.

And as I am in the process of corroborating the background of the photo with that of the Ottawa monument, one of my sources gets back to me.

Only minutes earlier, a photo started circulating amongst Canadian security forces. Not this one, but a different one.

It's that of the shooting suspect. The same hair, the same forehead and upper facial features. Enough for my source, which tends to be very prudent, to confirm that the photo I sent him "resembles the shooter."


His indication as well as my own investigation concerning this picture leave no doubt. While in the US, CBS announces the shooter's name, I decide to publish the photo on Breaking3zero. It is 4:16 pm Eastern Time.

This could have been the end of the story. The combination of the speed of the social media and the "traditional" investigation. What I, amongst others, call info 3.0.

But the story goes on and gets even better.

Just SIX minutes after I published it, a French-language feed supporting the Islamic State picks up the photo and posts it.

One minute later, the account @ArmedResearch, "Military Historian. Providing latest updates in present conflicts" tweets out the picture with this caption:

"#ISIS Media account posts picture claiming to be Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, dead #OttawaShooting suspect."

This tweet is RTd over a thousand times. More importantly though, it draws the attention of numerous media outlets looking for the source.

@ArmedResearch directs them towards the so-called ISIS media account. Who systematically points towards the original source: @breaking3zero !

While some media prudently refuse to spread the allegation linking the photo to ISIS, others will do just that.

Like Toronto Star's national security reporter Michelle Shepard (tweet has since been deleted)

or, The Daily Beast, (corrected the following day)

And that is how some media start spreading the wrong idea that ISIS is at the origin of the photo.

What is even more disturbing is that the so-called "ISIS media account" is not even linked to ISIS.

Its simply an account held by a French-speaking sympathizer whose main activity consists of RTs in favor of ISIS's cause. No direct or official ties whatsoever.

Also, contrary to what you might be hearing from different sources, Twitter did not suspend the account following the publication of the photo of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Its the account owner himself who changed the identity, submerged by reporter requests and embarrassed to have assumed a status that was not his.

Today, under a different name, the account continues to RT pro-ISIS information.

Why bother to recap this whole story more than a full week after the events?

Because although numerous media outlets have since corrected their error, the false story continues to spread.

See for yourself, by typing any combination of the key words for the attack in Google. You will notice that from CBC to FoxNews, from Breitbart to The Independent and The Ottawa Citizen the myth is still alive.


In Photos: Ottawa Shooting

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