The fire was staged in Notre Dame
The roof of Notre-Dame, one of the most famous cathedrals in the world and symbol of France, went up in flames on Monday 15th April. The Paris police reported this at 7.16 p.m. on Twitter. Photos and videos of the fire spread quickly on social networks - and that is basically all that is known about it so far. While media worldwide reported on the current state of the fire, theories and speculations about the outbreak quickly formed elsewhere, more precisely: whether it was perhaps intentionally set.
It did not take long before the theory was first heard that it was an “Islamist attack” - this claim was fueled by fake and satire accounts that turned out to be CNN or Fox News designated or German blogs like Philosophia Perennis and Journalists watch; the latter has an article entitled “Notre-Dame: Do we have a war in Europe?”. The alleged deliberate arson theory carried on, but it should be supported by posts and comments on Facebook and Twitter sharing old articles, photos taken out of context, or misleading photos.
CORRECTIV cooperates in the run-up to the EU election for the project FactCheckEU with 18 fact check editorial offices in Europe. With the help of the French partners, CORRECTIV has checked some rumors, allegations and speculations on the subject.
1. There is no evidence that the fire was started intentionally - nor is there any evidence of a terrorist attack
English language sites such as Infowarswrite, referring to a tweet by journalist Christopher Hale, "a worker" reported that the fire was "intentionally" set - Hale quickly deleted the tweet, the article is still online. The German blog Journalists watch takes up the claim.
According to the AFP press agency, the public prosecutor in Paris has launched an investigation into "negligent arson" and is questioning construction workers. The AFP also writes: “According to the fire department, the fire could be related to the work. The fire seemed to originate from the scaffolding that was installed on the roof. ”But until the cause of the fire has been finally clarified and investigations have been completed, this remains pure speculation. Various blogs and Facebook posts - as can be seen in this example - suggestively suspect the French police of a conspiracy because they so quickly assumed negligence.
A few hours after the fire broke out, a fake tweeted CNN-Twitter account and a wrong one Fox News-Twitter account that the fire was a "terrorist attack" - for which there is no evidence and, according to the current state of the investigation, also no clue. The non-profit fact check association MimikamaCreated screenshots of both tweets, meanwhile both fake accounts have been deleted.
2. No evidence of links to previous cases of vandalism in French churches
Several articles link the Notre-Dame fire to reports of other cases of vandalism in churches. At the end of March, several media reported like that FAZ and the world on an announcement by the French Ministry of the Interior. According to this, there were 1,063 "acts" directed against Christians in 2018, including apparently mainly cases of vandalism against churches. The French fact check organization CheckNews had reported about it. Vandalism, however, is diverse and ranges from broken windows to satanic graffiti to stolen church goods.
In fact, three churches burned in France in recent months: Saint Sulpice burned in Paris in March, one church burned in Grenoble in January and one in Rennes in August - although the latter was an accident, anarchists confessed to the case in Grenoble, However, the investigators are skeptical, and in the case of Saint Sulpice the causes, possible perpetrators or motives are still unclear.
Blogs like Compact Online, Vera Lengsfeld and Tichy's insight relate these cases to yesterday's fire. Compact writes, for example: “Was the fire really an accident? In France, an average of two churches are desecrated every day. "
The French politician Philippe Karsenty made a similar statement in an interview with the US broadcaster Fox News. However, the moderator then interrupted him and warned not to speculate.
3. People smiling in photos cannot be assumed to be happy about the fire
Several posts and articles disseminate photos of smiling people in the Notre-Dame area. The aim is apparently to imply that they are happy about the fire in the Catholic Church.
A photo of two men walking under a barrier tape and smiling is shared among other things on the Facebook account “Konrads Erben”. The photo originally appeared on the English language site of at 9:29 p.m. Sputniknews, the site wrote about it: "Evacuation is ongoing in the Notre Dame area."
An article from the Vadhajtasok blog with a cover picture showing two men posing is also shared on Facebook. The photo is apparently also real and comes from an AFP photographer. CNN shared a picture that must have been taken shortly before or after and shows one of the men on Twitter at 9:37 p.m.
The photos are apparently real, but there is no verifiable allegation that the men were happy about the fire. The context - for example, whether the men smiled because of media attention or something else - is not known.
4. No, no car with fuel tanks and documents in Arabic was found near Notre-Dame
Under the posting of "Konrad's heirs" mentioned in the previous point, some users share an article in the English daily newspaper without comment The Telegraph With the headline "Petrol tanks and Arabic documents found in an unmarked car near the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris spark fears of terrorism" - they suggest that it is a current article related to the fire.
But the article of the telegraph is from September 8, 2016. The case has nothing to do with the fire. The Telegraph itself clarifies this in a disclaimer above the text:
5. No, there was no one standing on the cathedral after the fire broke out - not even a yellow vest protester walked around it
Several users share a post by a French user with a photo of the burning cathedral. It seems as if a person is standing on the cathedral, the user marked it and wrote: "Can who explain that?"
The French colleagues of the AFP fact check project looked at the photo and wrote: "It is in reality the 'Virgin of the Pier' on the portal of the cathedral, the only large statue of the gate that was not destroyed during the revolution." It is therefore not a question of a person, but a statue.
In her post, the user also links to a tweet claiming that a video shows a person in a djellaba, a garment that is worn in Morocco, for example; 30 minutes after the fire broke out, she was walking around the outside of a tower of the cathedral. This tweet in turn refers to another tweet by journalist Sotiri Dimpinoudis, in which a short video clip from the Spanish television channel rtve you can see. Dimpinoudis claims that it is a demonstration of the yellow vests.
But the person in the video is not wearing a djellaba, nor is it a demonstrator of the yellow vests. In this video on the US news channel CNBC you can see from minute 42 that the person comes back without a vest accompanied by another person - and starts to work on the spot. Both people wear a bright, shiny helmet, like the ones normally worn by the "Sampeurs Pompiers Paris". They are obviously firefighters.
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