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Old image of mock military drill falsely claimed to show US warship blown up by Yemen

Yemen’s Huthi rebels have been firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea since November, claiming they are targeting Israeli-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza. Images falsely connected to the tension have spread online, including posts circulating in South Africa and Nigeria claiming to show a US warship ablaze after an attack “by Yemen”. The claims are false: the image is old and shows a military drill staged by Iran on a mock US aircraft carrier.

On January 10, 2024, an X account in the name of Turkish-born South African politician Mehmet Vefa Dag shared an image of a fiery explosion on a ship at sea.

“The attack on the U.S. Warship today by Yemen! Yemen proved itself again,” reads the caption.

<span>A screenshot of the false X post, taken on February 8, 2024</span>
A screenshot of the false X post, taken on February 8, 2024

Dag is the leader of the South Africa National Democratic Movement, a small political party based in Cape Town, and is seeking the presidential seat in the country’s election in May.

According to reports, his social media content is awash with anti-LGBTQIA and antisemitic sentiments (achived here and here).

The same warship claim was repeated on other accounts on X as well as on Facebook (here and here).

Red Sea attacks

In November 2023, Yemen's Huthis began targeting ships in the Red Sea they claimed were linked to Israel -- attacks the rebels justified as being in support of Palestinians in Gaza, where Israeli forces are waging war with Hamas.

The Red Sea is a key shipping transit route which carries up to 12 percent of global trade.

The United States and Britain have responded with air strikes against the Iranian-backed rebels, who have declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets.

While the Huthis have announced (archived here) multiple attacks on US ships, the claim that the image in question shows a Yemeni strike on an American vessel is false.

Iranian military drill

A reverse image search located the photo in a news article published back in 2015 by the UK Daily Mail describing how Iran’s Revolutionary Guard blew up a replica of a US aircraft carrier during defence drills (archived here).

American photo agency Associated Press (AP) was credited with the image.

A search in AP’s archives found (archived here) the same picture uploaded on February 25, 2015, with a disclaimer explaining that the image was a handout from the Iranian news agency Tasnim and was not immediately verifiable.

<span>A screenshot of the photo in the AP archives, taken on February 8, 2024</span>
A screenshot of the photo in the AP archives, taken on February 8, 2024

“A replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier is exploded by the Revolutionary Guard's speedboats during large-scale naval drills near the entrance of the Persian Gulf, Iran,” reads part of the AP caption.

AFP also reported (archived here) on the military drill named “Great Prophet 9” in the Strait of Hormuz using a similar handout photo sourced from Iran's Fars news agency.

<span>A screenshot of the photo in AFP's archives, taken on February 13, 2024</span>
A screenshot of the photo in AFP's archives, taken on February 13, 2024

According to reports at the time, the televised simulation was a show of power by Iran ahead of a deadline for reaching a deal over its nuclear program with the US and other global powers (archived here).

AFP Fact Check has debunked similar claims about recent ship attacks in the Red Sea here and here.