An author, whose novel was photoshopped to create a bizarre “nun with a gun” image of so-called Islamic State recruiter Sally Jones, has hit out at the media for repeatedly using the picture without any context.
Colin Bateman, who has seen the cover of his darkly comic 1995 book Divorcing Jack apparently doctored by Jones and used by the press, said the picture has become the “ultimate stock image.”
“Nobody ever asks why on earth a Syrian terrorist would be holding a Jack Russell,” he told HuffPost UK.
Sally Jones, who was dubbed the White Widow, died earlier this year in a US drone strike in Syria, according to multiple reports, including one in The Sun, which printed the oft-used picture of her on its front page.
Jones used her Twitter to recruit women and provided practical advice on how to join Isis in Syria.
She is believed to have been behind dozens of terror plots and was the leader of the secret Anwar al-Awlaki battalion’s female wing.
Reacting to news of Jones’ death on Facebook, Bateman said “she just hijacked the image, which was then itself hijacked by the world’s media”.
The nun image, one of only a handful of Jones, is often used by the media without any context, implying it is real.
Bateman, a Northern Irish screenwriter and ex-journalist, told HuffPost he was dismayed how often the media would use the picture with no context or explanation of its origin.
“Nobody delves any deeper. Obviously there’s very little information about her so they grasp at what they’ve got. Nobody ever goes deep on it and asks why it’s being used or where it’s from or where it originated.
“It’s become the ultimate stock image.”
In 2014, the Daily Express ran the image under the caption: “Sally Jones in her nun and gun outfit”.
When asked if he wanted the media to stop using it, Bateman said: “I was a journalist for 20 years. I know how it works... Sometimes it’s the easiest thing you grab [to use as a picture].
“But I just think a little bit of context is useful to have.”
HuffPost understands it was taken from one of Jones’ social media accounts when it was first reported that she had travelled with her husband Junaid Hussain to Syria to join Isis in 2013.
He was killed by a US drone in 2015, and had reportedly been planning “barbaric attacks against the West” including terror plots targeting high profile public commemorations this summer.
While Jones’ death has not been confirmed by officials. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said on Thursday: “If you are a British national in Iraq or Syria, and have chosen to fight for Daesh, an illegal organisation preparing and conspiring terrorist attacks on our streets, then you have made yourself a legitimate target and run the risk, every hour of every day, of being on the wrong end of an RAF or USAF missile.”
Bateman believes Jones herself may have created the image. She played in an all-female punk group in the 1990s and Bateman said this coincided roughly with the time of the book’s success.
“The book was quite punky and had a lot of punk references. I presume she picked it up around then, because the image hasn’t been on the book for quite a few years, so it’s not something she’s picked up recently,” he said.
Bateman remembers first seeing the photoshopped image when he opened a newspaper and saw it on page three.
“It was just a shock,” he said. “You read into it and you realise how surreal and bizarre it is that this has come back to haunt you.”
Since then, Bateman has had no one had ever approached him over the connection between his book and the picture.
He said when he first saw it on The Daily Mail, he posted a comment pointing out the connection but had no response.
“I know it’s been used for terrible things. If in some way I’m connected to even one person being recruited to go out there. I really hate that fact,” he said.
“It’s just a bizarre connection to have. I’m just sorry if any people have suffered because of it.”
He added: “It corrupts my happy memories of the book in a way but also I’m quite proud of the image and the book, the fact that people are still talking about it 22 years after it was published.”
Bateman, who has written 33 novels and six screenplays - including the film adaptation of Divorcing Jack - said the episode may inspire him to write a novel.
“As a writer you never know where ideas are going to come from. It’s strange to be involved in a true story... I wouldn’t rule it out at all,” he said.