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A Twitter account by the name of “MohammedAbuAq” posed as the brother of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed on Wednesday May 11 in the West Bank. Chaining tweets throwing oil on the fire, the latter has gained thousands of subscribers in two days. His imposture can however be unmasked by both visual elements and digital traces that the latter left, showing that this account changed identity several times in barely four months.
The MohammedAbuAq account, with the full name of Mohammed Abu Aqleh, presents himself as a “Muslim journalist” according to his biography, living in Qatar according to the flag visible on his account. He claims to be the brother of Shireen Abu Akleh killed in the West Bank by an unidentified shooting on May 11, whose image he wears in profile photo.
This account tweeted for the first time May 11 at 8:30 p.m. stating: “My sister Shireen was killed by Israeli bullets, and there is nothing else. I call on the international community to punish Israel as soon as possible.”
Since May 12, and in less than 24 hours, the latter has gained nearly 5,000 subscribers, going from 30,600 to 35,100 subscribers. Since then, he has continued to chain tweets claiming to give precise indications on the situation of the family of the journalist killed, first claiming that their house was surrounded by the Israeli armythat Vladimir Putin would have called him promising an investigation, or even that Pope Francis telephoned him to “calm the situation”.
False factual details
As Jordanian verification media Misbar shows, several factual details indicate that the account is inventing an identity: Shireen Abu Akleh did have a brother, but his name is Tariq Antoun Aqleh. An interview with the latter was posted on the Jerusalem governorate’s Facebook page, where he announced the date of the journalist’s funeral.
According to the same media, which cites a Palestinian political analyst who knows the family, Shireen Abu Akleh’s brother lives in the United States. In the various articles mentioning the family of the journalist, no one with the first name of Mohamed is also cited as here or there.
Finally, information published in the tweets is itself erroneous: the account mentions for example the “director of the Israeli intelligence agency, Yosef Meir” who would have called him to ask him to intervene on Al-Jazeera in order to call for calm.
However, no official by the name of Yosef Meir appears in the representatives of the Israeli intelligence services: the head of the ShinBet, the Israeli Internal Security Service is called Rohen Bar, and the director of the Mossad, the Institute for and External Special Affairs, is David Barnea.
Investigation of the digital traces of the account
The editorial staff of the France 24 Observers investigated the digital traces left by the @MohammedAbuAq account, that is to say the publicly available information allowing the activity of this account to be checked in the past.
One way to do this is to check account interactions prior to May 11, the day Shireen Abu Akleh was killed. We can study the responses made to this account on Twitter, in the advanced research tools of Twitter. These searches find users who have interacted with @MohammedAbuAq for example on May 9on a since-deleted tweet.
By searching for this tweet on the WebArchive site, a free tool for archiving web pages on the internet, it is possible to see what this tweet on May 9.
We thus discover that the user @bas99900 had replied not to @MohammedAbuAq, but to a user named @K_oiT_, whose account no longer exists. The account therefore changed its name to Mohammed Abu Aq. This account displayed a flag of Kuwait, a photo of the former Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah who died in September 2020, and was named Abdul Wahed Al-Mutairi. He claimed to be a “technical adviser” according to his biography.
This Twitter account by the name of @K_oiT made several tweets in early May, mostly related to Kuwait.
The user @K_oiT has also deleted all of his tweets which are no longer available today.
One user, but at least 4 different names
Every Twitter account has a unique digital identity called the “Twitter ID”. It is possible to recover this digital identity through sites such as https://tweeterid.com/ for example, making it possible to check in particular whether the Twitter account has changed its name.
The @MohammedAbuAq account has the Twitter ID number 1488519840000352264. As the @K_oiT account no longer exists, the only way to confirm this is to study the source code archived pages like here. By doing this, we discover the same number 1488519840000352264 indicating that @MohammedAbuAq and @K_oiT are indeed one and the same account which has simply changed its name.
But it does not stop there: by searching with the number 1488519840000352264 on the Yandex search engine, it is possible to see that this account has changed its identity at least four times. Digital traces appearing on the Twicopy site, which archives Twitter publications, show that the same Twitter identifier was named @Gd_kgo_ then @Palestineismy.
The account was created on February 1 at 2:29 p.m. According to studies of the account’s archives, the latter seems to have first been called @Gd_kgo_ , and presented itself as an Arabic-speaking account relaying “Ukrainian events” according to its name in Arabic. He indicated in his biography to be “a specialized media team to publish all the news around the world in Arabic”.
Most of his interactions consisted of reacting to Ukrainian news, the account also displayed the country’s flag. The account went further in late March by posting including a tweet stating: “for those who wanted to fight in Ukraine, a scholarship for permanent residence, a monthly salary, a wife and a house will be granted. Contact us through our embassies around the world.”
At the end of March, the account changed its name from @Palestineismy to be called Abu Obeida, specifying in his bio: “Mohab Abu Obeida, official spokesman for the Hamas Brigades”, posting mainly anti-Israel tweets and about the situation in the West Bank.
Finally, in April, the account switched its identity to display the Kuwaiti identity @K_oiT_ of the name of Abdul Wahed Al-Mutairi as we explained previously, before changing to @MohammedAbuAq on May 11.
While it’s not possible to know exactly how this account’s follower count is growing, it appeared to have just under 20,000 followers at the end of April. It is likely that his identity change to pose as Shireen Abu Akleh’s brother gained him between 10,000 and 15,000 followers.
What is the purpose of this account?
Beyond his versatile attitude assuming that this account seeks to gain subscribers by regularly swapping his identity and publishing on current topics, it is not possible to know his real motivations, and moreover to know who is the person behind this account.
The editorial staff of the France 24 Observers did not find any indication suggesting that this account would, for example, have been sold to several different users who would have thus changed its identity, as is sometimes done for accounts that acquire a critical number. subscribers.
Our team attempted to get in touch with the user behind the @MohammedAbuAq account to learn more about his intentions. We will publish his reactions if they reach us.