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Web's bin Laden 'death photo' (just the photo) is fake

Update, May 5, 12:35 p.m. ET:

Can't believe I missed this First Read post last night: Fake out: Senators confused over bin Laden photos -

Here's the confusion: Three senators -- Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), all Republicans on the Armed Services Committee, said they had seen a picture of the deceased bin Laden, but now are backing off.

Updates, May 4, 5:32 p.m. ET:

The White House is explaining the decision to not release any pictures:

The White House had been weighing the release of a photo, in part to offer proof that bin Laden was killed during a raid on his compound early Monday. However, officials had cautioned that the photo was gruesome and could prove inflammatory.

"It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool. That's not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies," Obama told CBS News, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Watch Carney's press conference and read more here.

Also, there is some Internet malware being distributed by folks claiming to have pictures. The FBI has even issued a warning on the subject. Suzanne Choney has good advice on avoiding the computer attacks here.

Update, May 4, 1:20 p.m. ET:

NBC's Chuck Todd, via his Twitter feed: Pres. Obama has decided NOT to release any photos.

Update, May 4, 12:53 p.m. ET:

The New York Times' Lens blog just published another fake picture and linked to another. Both images started circulating on Twitter and elsewhere yesterday. I didn't link to them or debunk them here--I'm just updating this post to follow the debate in Washington over whether photos will be released. If real images are released, or surface otherwise, we will then decide if and how to publish them. And update here.

Update, May 4, 12:29 p.m. ET:

Our friends at First Read are covering the ongoing Washington debate about whether or not to release a death photo of bin Laden.

Most recently: Key Republicans say don't release bin Laden photo

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI): "Osama bin Laden is not a trophy; he is dead, and let's now focus on continuing the fight until al Qaeda has been eliminated."

Earlier today: To release the photos or not?

Senior administration officials have told NBC News that a decision on whether to release the photos of a dead Osama bin Laden will be made today.

Updates, May 3, 9:47 p.m. ET:

msnbc.com story: CIA director: Bin Laden death photo to be released

CIA director Leon Panetta told NBC News Tuesday that a photo proving the death of Osama bin Laden "would be presented to the public," but the comment quickly drew a response from the White House saying no decision has yet been made.

Watch Brian Williams' interview with Leon Panetta here.

Watch Chuck Todd's report on the back-and-forth in the Obama administration over the possibility of a photo release here.

Both videos and a write-up of the story are available here.

Update, May 3, 5:43 p.m. ET:

msnbc.com story: White House: Bin Laden death photo 'gruesome'

The White House said the photograph of a dead Osama bin Laden is "gruesome" and that "it could be inflammatory" if released.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the White House is mulling whether to make the photo public, but he said officials are concerned about the "sensitivity" of doing so. Carney said there is a discussion internally about the most appropriate way to handle but "there is not some roiling debate here about this."

Asked if President Barack Obama is involved in the photo discussion, Carney said the president is involved in every aspect of this issue.

Continue reading here.

Update, May 3, 11:54 a.m. ET:

msnbc.com story: US may release photos of bin Laden sea burial

WASHINGTON — The government may release photos of Osama bin Laden's burial at sea later on Tuesday but no final decision has been made, a U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Knowing there would be disbelievers, the U.S. has said it used convincing means to confirm bin Laden's identity during and after the firefight that killed him. But the mystique that surrounded the terrorist chieftain in life is persisting in death.

Was it really him? How do we know? Where are the pictures?

Already, those questions are spreading in Pakistan and surely beyond. In the absence of photos and with his body given up to the sea, many people do not believe bin Laden — the Great Emir to some, the fabled escape artist of the Tora Bora mountains to foe and friend alike — is really dead.

U.S. officials are balancing that skepticism with the sensitivities that might be inflamed by showing images they say they have of the dead al-Qaida leader and video of his burial at sea. Still, it appeared likely that photographic evidence would be produced. (emphasis mine)

Continue reading here.

Update from NBC News, May 2, 11:04 a.m. ET:

From NBC's Courtney Kube:

A senior U.S. official says that they are still deciding whether to release a still photo of dead bin Laden.

"It is really, really graphic," the official said, adding that U.S. officials are trying to decide whether it is just too graphic to put out.

New link, May 2, 10:50 a.m. ET:

From The Guardian: (Linked page contains graphic image):

The bloodied image of a man with matted hair and a blank, half-opened eye has been circulating on the internet for the past two years. It was used on the front pages of the Mail, Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mirror websites, though swiftly removed after the fake was exposed on Twitter.

It appears the fake picture was initially published by the Middle East online newspaper themedialine.org on 29 April 2009, with a warning from the editor that it was "unable to ascertain whether the photo is genuine or not".

Editor's note + update, May 2, 10:11 a.m. ET:

Based on some of the comments below (I've also replied inline there), I've updated the headline to clarify that this post is just an attempt to clarify that one picture purporting to be something is in fact fake, not a larger commentary on the important news that Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. troops. To follow our reporting on the raid that killed him, read Bill Dedman's story here.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government says they have pictures of bin Laden's body and are considering whether and when to release them. According to The Los Angeles Times:

During the operation, a photo of his face was transmitted to analysts, who confirmed the identification.

According to Pentagon officials, photos of Bin Laden's dead face do exist but those widely distributed on the Internet are fake. At some point, if only to convince die-hard Bin Laden followers, officials are expected to release a corpse photo, as has been done in the past when famous villains such as Che Guevara and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were killed or captured. Additionally, such special ops are typically videotaped by mini-helmet cams to document a sensitive mission and assist in debriefing and future training.

Original post:

Graphic image below: Please be forewarned that an image lower down on this post looks like the bloody face of a dead body. Some viewers might find it disturbing. We don’t think the wounds are real, but you still might not want to look at it.

An image circulating on the Internet and displayed on some television news programs abroad purports to show Osama bin Laden’s bloody corpse. No U.S. or Pakistani officials have confirmed its authenticity, and two U.S. officials have warned NBC News that the image is a hoax.

Based on an initial look into the image file, we agree, and think it’s a fake. At first glance, the pixelation around the “wound” area and the odd lack of transition between different colored cloth and flesh indicate that the image has been manipulated.


Furthermore, the facial expression and beard are very reminiscent of a 1998 image of bin Laden, the first picture shown below. Next to it, we show the original resolution of the “corpse” image as we’ve seen it (197 by 263 pixels), “flopped” 180 degrees on the horizontal axis to conform to the original 1998 image’s beard orientation. The third image is a blended image of the two, with the “corpse” image at 100 percent opacity below the original image at 43 percent opacity. The way the images “lock” in place at the mouth, beard and nose indicate to us that the image circulating on the Web and some foreign television outlets is nothing but a clumsy fake:

The picture on the left is a file photo from Reuters. The center image was sent in by a number of readers as an email attachment--it's initial provenance is unknown. The image on the right is a blend of the two others we made here at msnbc.com.

Below, Iraqis watch a TV program displaying the picture in Baghdad:

Sabah Arar / AFP - Getty Images

Iraqis in Baghdad watch a news broadcast on Arabic satellite news channel Al-Arabiya showing an image which has been circulating on the internet and allegedly shows the body of Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

For the latest news on bin Laden's death, see our regularly updated story. For pictures of reactions to the news, see a slideshow of wire photos or a selection of images submitted by viewers from around the United States.

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Photos of Osama bin Laden's hideout
How the US tracked bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden: The most wanted face of terrorism