On November 15, the leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Debretsion Gebremichael, claimed his forces fired rockets at Asmara, the capital of neighboring Eritrea. He described the attack as retaliation for Eritrea’s intervention in the unfolding conflict between Tigray and Ethiopia’s central government, headquartered in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. There were no reports of casualties from the rocket attack on Asmara.
Multiple sources have confirmed a rocket attack took place, but due to Eritrea’s extremely tight control on media, very few specifics have leaked out.
On November 14, a YouTube channel called “My Views on News,” which has more than 10,000 subscribers and 3.2 million views, posted a video about the attack. That video, which attracted 62,000 views, makes specific claims about where the rockets landed and features a still image, purportedly of the aftermath of the attack, showing large fires.
“The Ministry of Information building, airport, and some residential buildings in Asmara have been hit,” the narrator says while the photo is onscreen.
The claim that the photograph shows the aftermath of the Asmara attack is false. In fact, it was neither taken on the African continent nor in 2020: It’s an Associated Press photo from August 2015, showing the aftermath of a series of deadly factory explosions in Tianjin, China.
On November 15, the U.S. Embassy in Asmara, Eritrea, issued an alert to U.S. citizens in the area.
“At about 7:50PM local time, a series of loud noises were heard in Asmara,” it read.
"Unconfirmed reports indicate they may have been explosive devices believed to be in the vicinity of the Asmara International Airport. There are no indications the airport was struck.”
On November 17, the U.S. State Department condemned the reported rocket attack on Asmara, as well as rocket attacks on two airports inside Ethiopia on November 13.The statement says the Asmara attack happened on November 14, while other sources report it occurred on November 15.
The BBC also found that the photo from Tianjin was misattributed on other social media accounts as a photo of the Asmara rocket attack aftermath, so it is not clear that the “My Views on News” YouTube channel was the origin for the misleading attribution.
The Ethiopian government launched a military operation in the Tigray region after an alleged attack by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces on a government arsenal on November 4. The TPLF denied carrying out the attack.
Tensions between the TPLF in Tigray and the central government in Addis Ababa over local autonomy have been brewing this year. In September, Tigray held local elections in defiance of a ban that the central government says it imposed due to COVID-19 concerns.
Since the start of the government’s military operation in Tigray, an estimated 30,000 refugees have flooded over the border into neighboring Sudan. Human rights watchdogs say there is evidence civilians have been massacred.
Disinformation has played a role in the Ethiopian conflict. The BBC found multiple social media postings that tried to pass off photographs from other countries, conflicts and events as photographs from the current conflict in Ethiopia.