A video appearing to show a young Syrian boy braving sniper fire to rescue a girl was faked by a Norwegian film crew as an experiment, it has emerged.
The unidentified boy was labelled as a hero after footage circulated showing him apparently dodging a shower of bullets with the terrified girl to drag her to safety.
After being shared by Syrian activists and the Shaam Network, it attracted international attention and has so far garnered more than 5 million views on YouTube.
But now a group of Norwegian filmmakers has come forward to say they faked the video and deliberately presented it as reality to “spur debate”.
It was scripted and filmed in Malta over the summer with professional child actors and Syrian refugees volunteering to “react” in the background.
Lars Klevberg, a 34-year-old film director from Oslo, told BBC Trending he was “not uncomfortable” potentially deceiving millions of people.
“We wanted to see if the film would get attention and spur debate, first and foremost about children and war,” he said. “We also wanted to see how the media would respond to such a video."
The Norwegian Film Institute, which contributed 280,000 kroner (£26,480) towards the controversial project, said it was the producers’ responsibility to tell people the footage was not genuine.
Ase Meyer, a short film commissioner for the institute, told BBC Trending she was “surprised” people thought it was real because there is no blood visible after the boy appears to be shot.
"It was not a cynical way to get attention. They had honest motivations,” she added.
The Syrian civil war has been raging since the Arab Spring in 2011, with civilians trapped at the mercy of Government forces, defence militias and Islamist groups, including Isis, who have all been accused of atrocities.Reuse content