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How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh


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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.”

Screenshot of @MohamedAbuAq account as of May 13, 2022. Archive: http://web.archive.org/web/20220512143346/https://twitter.com/MohammedAbuAq © Observers

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.

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Twitter user interaction with MohammedAbuAq on May 9. Link: https://twitter.com/bas99900/status/1523724694335098880 © Twitter

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.

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Archive of the same tweet showing that user @K_oiT_ replied to this user. © Twitter

This Twitter account by the name of @K_oiT made several tweets in early May, mostly related to Kuwait.

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Screenshot from archive of a tweet from @K_oiT_ where this user tweets on a subject relating to Kuwait: “Iran is also trying to sow discord and hypocrisy between Iraq and Kuwait. May God protect Kuwait from the evil of the wicked and from the conspiracy of the impious”. © Twitter

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
In this tweet, the account @K_oiT_ explains that “news is circulating about Yemen joining the Gulf Cooperation Council. […] If the news is true, may God bear witness to us that the State of Kuwait is the second country for our brothers in Yemen, and they will be treated as Kuwaiti citizens without excluding anyone.” © Twitter

The user @K_oiT has also deleted all of his tweets which are no longer available today.

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Tweets deleted by @K_oiT_ but whose digital traces still exist on Twitter. © Twitter

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.

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Twitter Account ID @MohammedAbuAq © https://tweeterid.com/

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.

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
The @K_oiT_ Twitter account has the exact same numeric ID as the @MohammedAbuAq account meaning it is the same account that has changed its name. © Web Archive

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.

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
The Twitter account with the Twitter ID number 1488519840000352264 also had two other identities: @Gd_kgo_ and @Palestineismy. ©Yandex

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.”

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Tweet made by the account @Gd_kgo_ inviting volunteers to go to Ukraine. © Web Archive

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.

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Screenshot of a tweet from @Palestineismy introducing himself as Mohab Abu Obeida, official spokesperson for the Hamas Brigades. © Web Archive

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.



France 24-Trans

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