A Twitter account that tweeted a controversial photo of a Muslim woman wrongly accused of ignoring victims of the Westminster terror attack has been outed as a Russian troll. The photo, shared by @Southlonestar, showed a woman in a hijab walking past a victim laying on the ground and clutching her phone as she walked along the bridge.
"Muslim woman pays no mind to the terror attack, casually walks by a dying man while checking phone #PrayForLondon #Westminster #BanIslam," the tweet read.
The photo shared by @SouthLoneStar in March after 52-year-old Khalid Masood drove a van into pedestrians killing five people and injuring dozens of others before he was shot dead by armed police.
It swiftly went viral at the time and prompted a fierce racial backlash from far-right activists in the UK and the US. Many people also attacked the woman suggesting that she was more interested in her phone and was indifferent to the chaos around her.
The man who took the photo, Jamie Lorriman, spoke out in defence of the unnamed woman, pointing out that she was visibly upset and traumatised in other photographs.
"Her behaviour was completely in line with everyone else on the bridge, but you're not assuming others are callously ignoring the scenario," Lorriman told the Independent at the time, adding she was one of the hundreds of people fleeing the bridge and trying to avoid looking at the "horror surrounding them".
The unnamed woman also released a statement via Tell Mama, a group that monitors hate incidents against Muslims, saying she was "shocked and totally dismayed" to find her photo making waves on social media and said she did stop to see if she could help the victims.
The @SouthLoneStar account that shared the photo claimed to be a "Proud TEXAN and AMERICAN patriot." It was recently named one of 2,700 Russian-backed accounts designed to sow discord in the US during the 2016 presidential election in a list handed over to the US House Intelligence Committee earlier this month.
The account, which had over 16,000 followers, also tweeted about Brexit, the EU referendum vote and European politics last year. The account has since been suspended by Twitter.
"I hope UK after #BrexitVote will start to clean their land from muslim invasion!" the user once tweeted. Another post read: "UK voted to leave future European Caliphate! #BrexitVote".
These troll accounts are believed to have been churned out by Kremlin-backed "troll factory" Internet Research Agency that tweets out controversial, divisive content to sow discord in the US and UK and influence political opinion.
Multiple US congressional committees along with special counsel Robert Mueller are currently investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between Donald Trump's campaign and Moscow. Tech giants Twitter, Facebook and Google have admitted that Russian operatives bought thousands of dollars worth of politically divisive ads on their platforms and were recently grilled by lawmakers.
The UK parliament is also launching its own investigation into Russian interference in British politics and the Brexit vote. Twitter and Facebook have been asked to submit evidence of accounts related to the EU referendum and the general election in 2017.
Damian Collins, head of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, who is heading the parliamentary probe said these Twitter accounts did attempt to "influence political debate in the UK and also to insight hatred and turn communities against each other".
"I think it shows that Russian-controlled accounts have been politically active in the UK as well as America," Collins said, The Wired reported. "This could just be the tip of the iceberg because we've only really just started looking and doing a proper detailed study of what accounts linked to Russian organisations have been doing politically."