The Russian military has released what it called "irrefutable evidence" that the United States is providing cover for Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria in order to "promote American interests."
But there were problems with the images Moscow presented on November 14 alongside its accusations as proof: One was taken from a video game, while the others were taken from old footage from Iraq.
The accusations published on social media by Russia's Defense Ministry came on the heels of a BBC report that found U.S.-led coalition forces allowed hundreds of IS fighters to leave the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa.
The ministry's November 14 statement on Facebook accused the U.S.-led coalition of similarly allowing IS militants to flee the eastern Syrian city of Albu Kamal and interfering with Russian strikes on the fighters.
The statement, which it teased on Twitter, included several images that the ministry said showed IS vehicles leaving Albu Kamal for the Syrian-Iraqi border on November 9.
But Twitter users, including the investigative groups Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) and Bellingcat, noted that something was off: One of the images was identical to footage from a 2015 promotional video for a mobile video game called AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron.
CIT also found that the other images released by the ministry in its statement were taken from Iraqi Defense Ministry videos about anti-IS operations near Fallujah in 2016.
The ministry subsequently deleted both the original English-language Facebook post and tweet containing the images, but not before the one from the video game was broadcast by Russian state television.
Later in the day, the ministry replaced its Russian-language statement with an English-language one that also cited "irrefutable evidence" that the United States was "covering" IS units to "recover their combat capabilities, redeploy, and use them to promote" U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Comments under the ministry's updated Facebook post, which did not include the original images, were often caustic and searing.
"Hey, guys, what form do I need to fill out for a tax rebate to get back the money I paid that was accidentally spent so the Defense Ministry could play AC-130 Simulator?" one commenter wrote.
One Twitter user posted a screenshot from the iconic 1980s video game Frogger with the same caption used by the ministry: "ISIS automobile convoy leaves A[l]bu Kamal for Syrian-Iraqi border (November 9, 2017)."
The Russian Defense Ministry said later on November 14 that it was investigating a "civilian employee" of one of its departments who "mistakenly attached" the images to the statement, state news agencies reported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on November 14 that Moscow had "a lot of questions" about U.S. commitment to defeating IS militants in Syria, citing what he called "U.S. attempts to spare terrorists" in Albu Kamal and Raqqa, the state-run TASS news agency reported.
Escape From Raqqa
The BBC report about the exodus of IS fighters from Raqqa cited the U.S.-led coalition, known as Operation Inherent Resolve, as confirming that a deal allowing their flight had been struck between "local leaders on the ground" and that Western officials did not take "active part" in the talks.
"This goes to the heart of our strategy, 'by, with, and through' local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians -- they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations," the BBC quoted coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon as saying.
Newsweek on November 14 quoted the coalition as saying that it did not "make deals with terrorists" and denying the BBC's claim that it was involved in a "secret deal" with IS militants."
The coalition said last month that an agreement had been made to evacuate civilians from Raqqa, adding that the deal "purportedly excludes foreign [IS] terrorists."
"We do not condone any arrangement that allows [IS] terrorists to escape Raqqa without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else," the coalition's director of operations, U.S. Brigadier General Jonathan Braga, said at the time.