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A Chinese official’s tweet of an image of an Australian soldier that sparked a furious reaction from Canberra was amplified across social media by unusual accounts, of which half were likely fake, an Israeli cybersecurity firm and Australian experts said.

The digitally altered image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child was tweeted by China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

Twitter declined Australia’s request to remove the tweet.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra told ABC television on Friday that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s demand for an apology drew more attention to an investigation into war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Cyabra, an Israeli cybersecurity firm, said it was highly probable that an orchestrated campaign had promoted Zhao’s tweet.

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