Najeeb Ahmed, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, went missing in October 2016 following a scuffle with members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the students organisation that is affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The case was investigated and subsequently closed by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Ever since his disappearance, social media has been thick with rumours that Ahmed has joined the Islamic State fundamentalist group.

The message above has been circulated on WhatsApp along with a photograph showing young men posing in front of an IS banner. “Our Najeeb, Najeeb of JNU, Najeeb of Azadi gang,” it says in Hindi. “Beloved of leftists, he has been placed in ISIS directly from JNU. He has sent his wishes to Rahul ji [Congress chief Rahul Gandhi] and Kejri sir ji [Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party] from Syria.”

The photograph claims to show Najeeb Ahmed in the centre of the photo.

Alt News has already debunked this claim twice earlier. This time, the rumour started circulating after a tweet by Ahmed’s mother addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, inquiring about her missing son.

Fake news

This rumour has been circulating since early 2018. In August 2017, a student of the Vellore Institute of Technology, Vellore, also named Najeeb had gone missing and was suspected to have joined the Islamic State, a conclusion investigators reached on the basis of text messages the 23-year old had sent to his family before he went missing.

As it turned out, news of a Najeeb from VIT, Vellore, who was suspected to have joined the Islamic State was conflated, deliberately or otherwise, with the disappearance of JNU’s Najeeb Ahmed, and shared widely on social media platforms and WhatsApp.

In the past, BJP leaders such as Ram Madhav and Swapan Dasgupta have fallen prey to this misinformation.

Misreporting by Times of India

In March 2017, Times of India published an unverified story, according to which unidentified sources had told the newspaper that JNU’s Najeeb Ahmed was an Islamic State sympathiser, something that the browsing history on his computer allegedly revealed. The report claimed that according to police sources, Ahmed used to watch videos of Islamic State on YouTube.

The item was picked up and relayed by several news organisations, before the Delhi Police confirmed that the news was bogus and there was no truth to the report that Najeeb Ahmed had viewed pro-Islamic State videos.

What is the origin of the viral photo?

Alt News reverse searched the image and discovered that the photograph of ISIS fighters used along with the message claiming Najeeb Ahmed has joined the Islamic State was clicked in the year 2015 by Reuters. It is part of a photo album titled “Battle For Iraq” and was uploaded in March 2015.

This article first appeared on Alt News.