Saturday, 12 June 2010

'Taliban uses HIV bombs'

That headline doesn't sound very believable, does it?

Yet that is exactly the headline used by The Sun on 9 June on an article by Tom Newton-Dunn:

Taliban fighters are burying dirty needles with their bombs in a bid to infect British troops with HIV.

Hypodermic syringes are hidden below the surface pointing upwards to prick bomb squad experts as they hunt for devices.

The heroin needles are feared to be contaminated with hepatitis and HIV. And if the bomb goes off, the needles become deadly flying shrapnel.

Ah - so the needles, if they exist, are only 'feared to be contaminated with HIV'.

However unlikely all that sounds, it was soon copied unquestioningly by outlets such as Fox News and the Daily Mail - without any of them apparently stopping to think that it sounded absolutely bloody ridiculous.

Thankfully, Septicisle, Left Outside and Richard Bartholomew looked at the story with more enquiring minds.

So indeed, did Jeff Schogol, who found the Sun's source - MP Patrick Mercer - only 'got the impression' this was actually happening:

He could not say for certain whether the Taliban have used these devices.

“That wasn’t a question I asked directly, but I got the impression that these are certainly being employed by the Taliban, al-Qaida, etc.,” he said. “I’m not aware of any injuries that have been caused by it so far.”

And, unlike other churnalists, Schogol did some other fact-checking. And he:

caught the International Security Forces-Afghanistan unaware with questions about the devices.

“Right now, we've got diddly,” said ISAF spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks via e-mail. "No reports, no intel, nothing – but we’re checking.”

The Joint IED Defeat Organization didn’t have any confirmed reports of infected-needle bombs, but said it’s not unusual for the Taliban to employ anti-tamper devices.

“This is more a scare tactic than a realistic weapon,” said JIEDDO spokeswoman Irene Smith in an e-mail.

Was this type of enquiry really beyond the wit of Newton-Dunn and all the churnalists that followed him?


  1. Wouldn't the heat of the explosion sterilise the needles anyway?

  2. And there's the small point that HIV can't survive outside the human body for longer than 30 seconds...

  3. The Sun's stable mate the News of the World are running a silly story today claiming that EU killjoys are planning to ban 'Rampant Rabbits'
    When you read beyond the sensational headline you discover that the EU is actually trying to reduce the use of PVC especially in white goods like dishwashers and fridges. But presumably the headline 'EU seeks to make large electrical items more environmentally friendly' would get their readers attention in the same way.

  4. "HIV can't survive outside the human body for longer than 30 seconds... " nor, presumably, can it survive an explosion. D'oh!


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