The myth of Zouheir, a 'hero Muslim security guard' in Paris

  • 17 November 2015
Fans were evacuated from the Stade de France after a series of explosions Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fans were evacuated from the Stade de France after a series of explosions

A compelling story about a heroic Muslim security guard stopping a suicide bomber from entering the Stade de France on Friday, saving perhaps hundreds of lives, is making the rounds on social media. But it's not true.

The rumour sprang from a gripping account of the events outside the stadium which was published by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. The story quoted a security guard who asked to only be identified by his first name, Zouheir. The man described how one of the suicide attackers had a ticket to the match between France and Germany, but was turned away from the gates when guards found his explosive vest. The man backed away from security guards and detonated the explosives.

Zouheir gave a detailed account of events at the stadium, statements that were confirmed to the Wall Street Journal reporters by a police officer. But although the story relied on his account, it wasn't actually him who turned away the bomber - a detail that was confirmed to BBC Trending by Journal reporter Joshua Robinson. Instead, Zouheir was stationed elsewhere in the stadium, and related what he heard from colleagues who were closer to the bomb blast. And although his name is of Middle Eastern origin, his religion was never mentioned in the piece.


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Those facts did not, however, stop Zouheir from being hailed as a hero - and sometimes specifically as a Muslim hero - on social networks and on news sites including the Mirror, the Huffington Post and others. In a headline posted on Mail Online, Piers Morgan hailed a "brave Muslim named Zouheir", but that story was later edited.

"Zouheir" has been mentioned more than 8,000 times on Twitter, with all of the most popular tweets in reference to the Paris story. Several users claimed that there was some sort of cover-up happening around the story, or that it was being suppressed due to supposed anti-Muslim media bias. Others shared it to highlight what they thought was an "important" story and a "ray of hope" in a grim situation.

Hundreds of posts were also shared on Facebook and Instagram, and typical were images such as this one, which was retweeted more than 1,300 times:

The rumour was inadvertently fuelled by another Wall Street Journal reporter, who tweeted:

Al Omran, a correspondent in Saudi Arabia, quickly realised his mistake and tweeted a correction two hours later:

But while his initial tweet attracted more than 300 retweets, the second one was only shared a handful of times.

Zouheir's story went viral even though an authentic story of a Muslim hero has emerged from the Paris attacks. Safer, a bartender at the Casa Nostra restaurant, spoke to the BBC's James Longman, and recounted how he pulled two injured women into the basement as gunfire continued on the street outside. His story had only a handful of mentions on social media as of Tuesday afternoon.

Image caption Safer helped two women who were shot outside the cafe where he works

Blog by Mike Wendling

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