f20fae2aa1c9dd29962eb28bd3d9d208__660xOn 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.

By Apic Toler, Bellingcat