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Mystery over missile launcher on rubbish dump near Cairo airport

Police indifference, conspiracy claims and a media cover-up? The strange tale of the Egyptian man who found a rocket launcher on the way to work
The SA-7 launch tube was found a mile from Cairo's international airport (screengrab)

It was a startling discovery in a country facing an Islamic State (IS) insurgency and attacks on commercial airliners: an SA-7 anti-aircraft missile tube found less than a mile from Cairo's international airport.

Ibrahim Yousri, who said he came across the weapon on Saturday while on his way to work in the Egyptian capital, immediately reported the discovery, according to his own account. What he did not expect was police indifference, a backlash from pro-government media and claims he had doctored his photographs to push a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy.

Yousri said that nearby security officers had initially believed he was playing a prank when he showed them what he had found.

In the above video, one security officer is heard speaking to someone on the phone, trying to describe the weapon, and saying it looked faulty.

Then, after posting his video and pictures on social media, the military intervened with an order for it to be removed from public view. 

Before deactivating his Facebook account on Tuesday, Yousri posted "We are now in the age of SA-7s being left on the pavement".

In a subsequent comment, Yousri clarified that he made contact with someone from the military forces and that he didn’t remove the post but rather just made it private. 

Translation: “By the way, the aim was to reach the authorities and I did get through to someone in the armed forces and I have changed the post from public to friends only.”

The missile launcher looked like a SA-7 according to a weapons expert who spoke to the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper, but stated it was impossible to tell if the weapon was real.

(A Russian SA-7 Grail missile/Wikimedia Commons)
Egyptian media and the six-year-old Facebook post

Shortly after Telegraph published its article Monday afternoon, another Facebook user, "Mirna A Fahmy", re-uploaded the same video and back dated it to 8 February 2011 – three days before then-president Hosni Mubarak stepped down from office after Egypt's 25 January 'Arab Spring' uprising. 

It was only at this point that most Egyptian outlets picked up the footage, reporting that it was actually six years old and linked to the mass anti-government protests taking place at the time.

Al-Watan wrote a story with the headline: “Telegraph falls into a huge error... Publishing a story about finding a rocket launcher in Cairo with a six-year-old video”. In the article they refer to a video they found dated 8 February 2011.

(Al-Watan article on the missile launcher)
However metadata linked to the Fahmy post clearly indicates that it was originally posted on Monday and just backdated – information that is available for any Facebook post.

Back-dated facebook post by Mirna A Fahmy
Another Egyptian news site, Al-Dostor, stated that a security source said that they had not been informed of any reports of a rocket launcher being found near the airport and that it could be an old video.

The Mobtada website also wrote an article "exposing" the Telegraph and stating that the British newspaper had committed a "crime" in the world of journalism by not waiting for an official response. They also stated that they had discovered through their own investigation that the first set of people who shared the video were pro-Muslim Brotherhood. 

Modtada also questioned who stood to benefit from the story coming out just as "travel restrictions to Egypt are being lifted" and "promotions of the country’s stability were doing well". 

The power of geo-location

Christiaan Triebert, a researcher with Bellingcat, an open source data journalism site, used geo-location methods to investigate the matter further. 

Using the buildings in the background of the video, Tirebert was able to geo-locate the exact location where the video was taken.

A different angle of the map reveals the proximity to Cairo International Airport.

With the location determined, Triebert next set about attempting to work out when the video was filmed.

He found historical data showing a satellite image taken on 13 August 2016 showing that a part of the apartment building in the background was still under construction whereas in the video the building is complete.

In early 2014 an IS affiliate group based in Sinai - known as Wilayat Sinai - released a video showing an Egyptian military helicopter being shot down with a surface-to-air missile killing five soldiers.

Egypt’s tourism ministry spokesperson Omaima al-Husseini said earlier this month there had been an increase in tourists coming to Egypt and that the situation in January was “much better” than in previous years.

Egyptian authorities have still to comment on the video.

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