Fact Check: New York Post's Qaddafi Headline Almost Certainly Wrong

The Post credits a Yankee fan who was probably not even at the scene


Friday morning's New York Post / Newseum

New York Post coverlines are famously provocative, pithy, and fun, and today's is no exception. It proclaims of the death of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, "Khadafy Killed By Yankee's Fan." Putting aside their unusual spelling of his name, which is valid but not the most correct, there are some problems with this too-good-to-be-true story.

The Post seems to have taken two semi-related photos and conflated them into a single storyline that does not actually exist. The first photo shows Qaddafi dead; that's certainly true. The second shows a Libyan holding up Qaddafi's famous gold-plated pistol, which was recovered at the scene where he was found. This obviously young Libyan, who Al Arabiya reports is named Ahmed Shaibani, is wearing a Yankee's cap. But the Post's matter-of-fact telling that this is Qaddafi's killer is almost certainly wrong.

The photo of the Libyan holding Qaddafi's gold gun was, according to the original caption, taken by the road-side concrete tunnels where the former despot was first discovered after his convoy was hit by a U.S. drone strike. But that's not where Qaddafi was killed. Video from a mobile phone clearly shows that about two dozen rebels strapped Qaddafi into a pick-up truck and drove him away. Where they drove him to isn't clear, but based on the video it appears that the rebels killed him soon after unloading him from the truck.

So here's the first big problem with the Post's version of events: Qaddafi and his supposed Yankee fan killer were in two different places. The second big problem is that our Yankee-loving Libyan does not appear in the citizen video taken of Qaddafi after his capture and before his death. If he was at the scene, there's no evidence for it.

There's another, smaller issue: Shaibani might not actually know who the Yankees really are. The logo is a famous symbol, and often that's enough. As NPR's Ahmed al-Omran pointed out, "Just because he was wearing that hat doesn't mean he's a Yankee fan. Probably he doesn't even know the what Yankees are." Anecdotally, I have found traveling in the developing world that Yankees caps are prolific, but knowledge of American baseball teams is not.

We don't know for sure who killed Qaddafi, and we will probably never find out for sure. But there is very strong evidence that the young man holding Qaddafi's gold pistol did not pull the trigger. Ambiguity might not make for as fun a story as the one that the New York Post is pushing, but it's important to remember that not all young Libyan males are interchangeable.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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