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Russian Media Outlets Falsely Accuse Belarusian Brothers of Brussels Attack

March 22, 2016

By Aric Toler

On March 14, eight days before the terrorist attacks in Brussels, the Russian media outlet Lifenews reported (archive) that two Belarusian brothers, Ivan and Aleksey Dovbash, and an accomplice, Marat Yunusov, were planning a terrorist attack in Belgium. After terrorist attacks did take place in Belgium the following week, Lifenews doubled down, naming the brothers Dovbash and Yunusov as the “alleged” suicide bombers who attacked a metro station and airport in Brussels. Lifenews also reported (archive) that Russian security services warned Belgium of “preparations of an attack by three ISIS fighters, among whom are two brothers from Belarus.” The brothers, as Lifenews reports, fought in Syria before returning to Europe.

Soon after the attack, the Belarusian service of the Kremlin-funded Sputnik published an article (archive) citing sources from the Belarusian security services (KGB). The source reports that, “Two of the suspects — Ivan and Aleksey Dovbash — are natives of the Gomel Oblast, and the other — Marat Yunusov — is a native of Dagestan, who received Belarusian citizenship a few years ago.” Per the cited source, the brothers left Belarus for Belgium in 2008, and “one of them has definitely grown a beard.”

At first glance, it seems like Lifenews published the scoop of the century, and Belgium ignored a prophetic warning from both Russian media and security services.

However, just hours after the attack, Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty, and Euroradio published interviews on with Aleksey and Ivan Dovbash, the “suicide bombers” named by Lifenews. “If,” as one of the brothers said, “we are suicide bombers, why are we are still alive? If we are terrorists, then why have they not arrested us?” They went on to rebut the accusation that they had traveled to Syria. Per the interviews, Aleksey Dovbash did convert to Islam, but he is far from a terrorist who fought in Syria, as Lifenews reported. The brothers even went to the police after the Lifenews accusations, but were told that the accusations were just “rumors” and that there was no suspicion against them.

Unless Radio Svaboda and Euroradio are being lied to, these brothers are innocent, and Lifenews falsely accused them of being responsible for dozens of deaths in Brussels. A survey of Russian and Belarusian media coverage of the “Belarusian terrorists” reveals that, in nearly every case, only three sources were cited: Lifenews, in their accusations against the brothers and Yunusov, Sputnik, from their report with Belarusian security services, and TUT.by (archive), a Belarusian media outlet that spoke with the brothers’ family members.

Most media outlets quickly updated their stories after the interviews on Radio Svaboda and Euroradio were published.

Considering the track record of Lifenews, which often reports breaking news to the detriment of both truth and taste, there should have been additional scrutiny of such an exact claim of the guilt of three “terrorists.” Significant praise should be given to Radio Svaboda and Euroradio for using social media to locate and reach out to the accused brothers in order to correct the irresponsible and borderline, if not outright, libelous accusations of Lifenews.

Aric Toler

Aric Toler has written with Bellingcat since 2015 and currently leads the Eurasia/Eastern Europe team. Along with his research into topics in the former Soviet Union, he organizes and leads Bellingcat's Russian-language workshops for journalists and researchers. He graduated with an MA in Slavic Languages & Literatures from the University of Kansas in 2013, focusing on Russian literature and intellectual history. After graduation, he worked for two years as an intelligence specialist in the private sector. If you have any questions, or have a story idea related to eastern Europe or Eurasia, you can contact him at arictoler@bellingcat.com

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45 Comments

  1. stranger

    Yellow press like lifenews doesn’t deserve so much attention. That story is probably based on another real story, when Russian special services warned US colleagues that brothers Tzarnaevs were preparing a t-act, and we’re not heard until it actually happened:
    http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/boston-bombing-anniversary/russia-warned-u-s-about-tsarnaev-spelling-issue-let-him-n60836
    That is the problem of trust and collaboration between special services. Instead of ‘hunting witches’. But that was very wrong for lifenews to spoil their reputation if those people are innocent.

    Reply
    • stranger

      Ah, NBC claims it was a spelling error which let Tsarnaev to flee. That explains everything. The same BS as lifenews is.

      Reply
    • Sam

      Typical FSB/KGB whataboutism

      LifeNews is a Kremlin funded ‘news’ source.

      The founder now lives in Brooklyn NYC, not Russia.

      You can follow his Instagram.

      Or send some polonium tea..,

      Reply
    • Sam

      On the Tsarnaev brothers, [Russian intelligence] did tell [the United States] once, and then they stopped,” said Mike Rogers, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee. “When the FBI made further inquiries, they stopped cooperating. I thought that was really interesting because clearly they knew the Tsarnaevs were being radicalized.

      Russia warned the the US years before and then Russia refused to cooperate.

      Reply
      • stranger

        NBC gave another legend – a wrong name spelling. It depends what kind of inquiries, and the context. Also Mike Rogers is not a government official currently.

        “Nevertheless, Massachusetts Representative Bill Keating, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, was scathing about the lack of forthrightness shown after the marathon attacks by American law enforcement. “I got more information from Russia than I did from our own FBI,” Keating told Boston Public Radio in August 2013.”

        Reply
  2. stranger

    And you again are just using any opportunity to attack Russia. You take a risk to turn into a narrow interest club, a cult of Russia haters and attract only the corresponding audience and have lost the trust and any interest of normal people.

    Reply
    • John Zenwirt

      Stranger: “Russia haters…”

      Stranger; I doubt those on here (my family comes from two hundred miles from Russia’s borders) hate the ordinary Russian; they are the main victims of their own regimes (Stalin times).

      I only denounce Putin and his personal cabal; the rest of Russians just good, OK people as anywhere on this earth…

      Reply
      • Frank

        In general this idea of Russian haters and anti Russians sentiment within Europe is without any real foundation.
        Yes, in general a lot of people have their doubts about the ethically responsibility and morality of the Russian government. This is based on actions, the proven lies, the way media, law and politics is organized and basically the declared rules and regulation (laws).
        Most people have nothing against the Russian people and do wish them happiness and prosper as well.
        Most people even think the Russian people are victims in a sense as well, though not even realizing it themselves.

        Reply
        • stranger

          But I’m not saying anything about sentiments and perceiving of Russia by the majority of people in Europe and US. I’m saying about biased and single sided coverage of what is going in Russia in some western media. Especially in some Eastern European countries. Particularly I believe this site overuses such approach.

          Reply
        • stranger

          That’s why i called it the potential risk to become a cult. A cult is by definition an isolated limited group of people who don’t need any evidences to believe in their ideas. You are trying to divert.

          Reply
    • Jim Kovpak

      Hey “stranger,” here’s a little tip. If you’re going to have a conversation with yourself, be sure to change your user name each time.

      Reply
    • Aric Toler

      Stranger,

      As I noticed in my article, most Russian media outlets issued a correction and updated article. The post shows out that Lifenews, which is not representative of the whole of Russian media, is garbage, which I don’t think you would disagree with. But please, keep believing that this is an “opportunity to attack Russia.”

      Reply
      • stranger

        Aric, you are taking some yellow press web site and ‘debunk’ their garbage, on the same time you name your article ‘Russian media falsely bla bla’. On the same time you praise the same propagandistic garbage s.it Radio Svoboda. Russia knows about t-acts like nobody else, especially during the Chechen wars, and recently the plane at synai and many others. And instead you find some garbage resource lifenews to dedicate the whole article to it as if it is most important thing about brussel event. And the tone of this and other articles at this site is clearly to blame Russia.

        Reply
        • Aric Toler

          Think whatever you want, but the irresponsible accusations from Lifenews were published on nearly every Russian media outlet, as you will see in my article. And I’m sure you have read it closely, as you seem to spend a lot of time on this site (enough that you have posted 268 comments here from just 1 IP address).

          Reply
          • stranger

            From 2 IPs at least, a home computer and the phone. I didn’t mean to seem aggressive, the communication with trolls here makes some wrong mood. Of course it is my opinion, what matters is the how most people perceive that.

          • stranger

            I wanted to say it was not ethical to use a t-act in Brussel as an extra opportunity to kick Russian media and praise propagadists like Radio Svoboda. That is IMHO , only in my impression.
            As for ip, I wonder how many here are writing under different nicks from the same ip instead?

        • Sam

          Yellow press websites… That are run by the Kremlin?

          Chechen wars?

          People wanted freedom to determine their own future, breaking away from a failing system…. And Russia bombed them all.

          Sounds like a failed system.

          Reply
    • Sam

      Stranger,

      Nobody here is a Russian hater, we just dislike Kremlin trolls and propaganda.

      We see through their bs, which sometimes means you.

      While you work at a propaganda troll farm, we reject you, but sympathize with real Russians. (Which you hate in your position)

      You support Putin and his propaganda, we support the honest hard working Russians.

      stranger, you are failing your propaganda mission. I hope there are no dire consequences.

      Reply
      • stranger

        Where did I say that I support Putin and his propaganda? Also the ‘Radio Liberty’ (Svoboda) which is praised in this article is the same propagandistic BS, financed by the government money (US congress, used to be financed by CIA at the cold war times) and prohibited broadcasting to US itself by law. If I were BC I would be very careful to avoid to become associated with such resources.

        Reply
    • Sam

      “Attack Russia” is the Kremlin propaganda phrase.

      Russia, the innocent besieged fortress.

      Nobody wants to attack or invade Russia.

      Putin just tells Russians that.

      Reply
  3. John Zenwirt

    “The Diameter Of The Bomb.”

    “The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
    and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
    with four dead and eleven wounded.
    And around these, in a larger circle
    of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
    and one graveyard. But the young woman
    who was buried in the city she came from,
    at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
    enlarges the circle considerably,
    and the solitary man mourning her death
    at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
    includes the entire world in the circle.
    And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
    that reaches up to the throne of God and
    beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.”

    Yehuda Amichai.

    Reply
  4. stranger

    Ukraine chief of Special Security Services (SB U) has already investigated the Brussel attack. He said he ‘would not be surprised if it was an element of Russian hybr id war’. And that was not an yellow resource like lifen ews, that was high-positioned Ukrainian national security official. Russian PM called him dim’wi t, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said ‘A human being cannot say this’. There are no diplomatic words for them already.

    Reply
  5. John Zenwirt

    Perhaps in all this, we could spare a moment to contemplate the lives lost, and mourn the victims; But we see nothing of this on Bellingcat…

    Reply
  6. Cris

    Sputnik news… mmmhhh… seriously?
    I live in Vienna (Neutral ground in neutral country) and according to them the refugees should have already burned down my house 2 times, robbed me 5 times. Additionally when they cite RT to give more weight to their information, following an exponential level of clever allegations, I should look constantly at my back fearing one rape a day from an angry Syrian mob.

    Reply
  7. John Zenwirt

    “We are faced by a more dangerous, a more urgent security threat from so-called Islamic State,” Wainwright (Chief/InterPol) told the BBC on Thursday. “It threatens not just France and Belgium but a number of European countries at the same time. . . . It is certainly the most serious threat we have faced in at least a decade.”

    http://tinyurl.com/jfcpnhu (WashPost)

    Reply
    • stranger

      At least you may get some idea what was going on in Russia especially during the second Chechen war. Only in Moscow hundreds more people died in t-acts than in Brussel and France attacks together. And the western press was telling about honest Chechen fighters for the freedom. Now they don’t call ISIS so.

      Reply
      • Mad Dog

        Sadly, those who died in Moscow, etc. died at the hands of the FSB in the opinion of some and from a botched rescue mission at that school. No one is really sure the Moscow events were done by Chechen’s. But then again, no one is really sure about anything that happens in Rodina.

        Reply
        • stranger

          Here is another story you would definitely appreciate: http://www.rense.com/general73/confess.htm No body is really sure about anything happened at Manhattan and the Pentagon building.

          Seriously, A lot of t-acts were proved, the executors found for the blast at Buynaksk, it was also pretty obvious who took hostages at the maternity house in Budyonovsk, at the school in Beslan, the theater at Dubrovka, the person who rented the basements in Moscow where the explosives were stored was identified. His interviews are available where he claims from Chechnya that allegedly FSB used him and he didn’t know why he brought explosives to the basements. Those blasts started after Basaev and Khattab invaded Dagestan from the territory of Chechnya and then were kicked back. Should FSB blow the other houses just to find another excuse?

          I believe the idea of FSB involvement appeared firstly by the Russian Jew immigrant who calls himself a historian Yuri Felshinskiy. They invited a Russian FSB deserter Litvinenko for their book ‘FSB blows Russia’. That same Litvinenko who was poisoned by polonium later. Though he didn’t have a high position in FSB, he dealt with criminal investigations, and in that book he was just trying to play an expert role, he didn’t claim that he had any first hand insider information. His justification was mostly based on the Ryazan incident. That story was tightly related to the former fled oligarch Berezovskiy. Litvinenko directly received wages from Berezovskiy in London. So that was a very dark story. If you wish you can research by open sources, read that book (I did, was not convinced). I’d just avoid categorical statements.

          Reply
          • Mad Dog

            Instead, we find Mikhail Y. Leskin dead in a hotel in Washington. Must have been the CIA at work, eh wot stranger? Further, I just gotta love your Russian Jew immigrant (didn’t you mean to say traitor?) statement. Yeah, them Jews are really out to rule the world and eat babies.

          • stranger

            Mad Dog, exactly! I knew that you love that kind of stories… 🙂 As for Felshinskiy look at his face, in google, or how he speaks, you would see everything.

          • Mad Dog

            Oh yeah, I forgot, he calls himself an historian cause he is. He defended his PhD thesis at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Guess that qualifies him.

          • stranger

            No, I didn’t want to focus of the person, though his sight is so expressive, but how the version of FSB connection to Moscow blasts was born. In this sense I put historian in quotes.

          • Mad Dog

            Damn, I would hate to have my face and speech analyzed by someone to figure out if I am a scoundrel or not….I would always lose!

  8. Mad Dog

    Uh, the Sovs under Stalin and the Russians under Putin and others have dealt several bad cards to Chechens. A people who were deported en masse to desolate destinations only to see their weakest members die in their “New Life” would surely long for some kind of justice. Calling for some kind of redress and return of property only brought more destruction and full on attacks on a people finally back to their homeland. Chechens have a right to be very pissed off and it has nothing to do with honesty as the Sovs/Russkies have never dealt with them in an honest fashion (unless you call Scuds some kind of honest payback).

    Reply

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