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Russia’s Long Con: A Fictitious Egyptian Journalist, His Fake Corruption Investigation and Fake Murder by Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the headquarters of what was then known as the Russia Today television channel in Moscow on June 11, 2013.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the headquarters of what was then known as the Russia Today television channel in Moscow on June 11, 2013.

In a month-long disinformation campaign, Russia invented a fake Egyptian journalist, made him expose ‘Ukrainian presidential corruption,’ and then had him murdered by Zelenskyy. All this was extensively covered by Russian and international media.

On December 22, 2023, the Egyptian news site El-Mostaqbal, self-described as a Fox Technologies LLC affiliate, reported that Egyptian investigative journalist Mohammed Al-Alawi had died in the country’s Red Sea resort city of Hurgada under mysterious circumstances.

In August 2023, Al-Alawi reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s mother-in-law purchased a luxury villa in Egypt’s upscale Red Sea resort town of El Gouna. He exposed Zelenskyy’s putative involvement in corruption schemes and misuse of the Western money that Ukraine receives to fight the Russian invasion.

This article was later deleted but remains in the web archive.

Citing police reports and testimony from relatives, El-Mostaqbal stated that Al-Alawi died from numerous fractures, bruises and a severe brain injury, causing a cerebral hemorrhage.

The report included two videos, which were also later removed from YouTube.

The first video claimed to have been filmed at the crime scene, but it didn’t show the body of the alleged victim or any police presence.

The second video showed a man sitting in front of a camera with his hand covering his face during the entire clip. The man introduced himself as Ahmed Al-Alawi, the brother of the murdered journalist. His interviewer, Mohamad Fathi, was also hidden from the camera.

Answering Fathi’s questions, Ahmed said his brother had received threats after publishing an expose about Zelenskyy’s mother-in-law’s villa, adding that the Egyptian police were investigating the involvement of several Ukrainian citizens in Al-Alawi's murder and examining whether the killers acted on President Zelenskyy’s personal orders.

On December 23, the English-language news site Clear Story News reported the news of Al-Alawi's killing, citing El-Mostaqbal’s report.

Prominent cyber intelligence analyst Kyle Ehmke links Clear Story News to John Mark Dougan, a former U.S. Marine and Florida police officer who has been living in Russia since 2016.

According to a 2023 Clemson University report, Dougan is affiliated with the DC Weekly website, which actively spreads disinformation about Zelenskyy purchasing luxury yachts.

On December 25-26, 2023, the story claiming that Egyptian journalist Al-Alawi was murdered by Zelenskyy became a top news item in the Russian media. The Russian media coverage of the story cited the El-Mostaqbal, and Clear Story News news sites and the two YouTube videos.

The Russian media outlets that covered the story included: Channel One, Russia’s state-controlled television channel; Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official Russian government newspaper; Sputnik, a state-owned news agency; Komsomolskaya Pravda, a popular Moscow-based tabloid; Moskovskij Komsomolets, a Moscow-based daily newspaper with a circulation approaching one million; Argumenty i Fakty, a weekly newspaper owned by the Moscow city government; TV channel 360, owned by the government of the Moscow region; and Tsargrad TV, a television channel closely aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.

The news site ("pravda" is Russian word for "truth"), reworked El-Mostaqbal's article, reporting that the Egyptian police “believe that Ukrainian intelligence services were involved in the murder of the journalist,” without indicating that the sole source of this claim was the video of Al-Alawi’s self-proclaimed brother.

On social media, users who regularly express anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian sentiments pushed the story about Al-Alawi’s murder in what appeared to be a coordinated campaign on X, Telegram, Facebook and the Russian-owned social networking service LiveJournal.

In these social media posts, the narrative of the story transformed from the Egyptian police investigating possible Ukrainian involvement into a fact verified by police.

For example, the Telegram channel Mria wrote: “Here it is, the Zelenskyy family in all its glory: corrupt officials, thieves, murderers.”

On X (formerly Twitter), an array of English-speaking and Arabic-speaking users shared the story of an Egyptian journalist having been murdered by the Ukrainian president. Those posts reached millions of users.

English-language Russian media also participated in the campaign.

The reputable outlet Al Araby, a London-based Arabic-language news site, reported about "suspicions surrounding the killing of Egyptian journalist Mohamed Al-Alawi" based on social media posts and a article.

How Russian propaganda launders fake news

English-language media associated with Russian intelligence services had been instrumental in disseminating the “murder of an Egyptian journalist” story.

One such media,, described Mohammed Al-Alawi as a “reputable Egyptian investigative journalist” who was killed “for exposing Zelensky.” is operated by InfoRos, a Russian information agency sanctioned in 2021 by the U.S. Treasury Department “for propagating Russian intelligence services-directed content.”

The author of the story, Drago Bosnic, is the former senior editor of the now defunct website Fort Russ News, which, according to the U.S. State Department, was part of the Kremlin's "networks to manipulate information and spread anti-democratic, authoritarian ideologies around the world."

In its reporting about the “assassination of a journalist,” referred to another Russian news site, Military Review, which in turn cited the Russia-linked Clear Story News website.

The spin continued with inoSMI, a branch of the Russian government-owned media conglomerate Rossiya Segodnya, which translated the article from English and published it in Russian on December 26, 2023.

InoSMI is tasked with translating and publishing "the most striking and remarkable materials of foreign media into Russian." Its translations are then picked up and republished by state-controlled Russian news outlets.

On December 27, 2023, RIA Novosti, a major Russian state-owned domestic news agency, published a news report on the “murder of an Egyptian journalist” story, based on the piece translated by inoSMI.

RIA Novosti plays a role in the Russian media analogous to that of major Western news agencies like Reuters and The Associated Press, meaning that all media outlets in the country can republish RIA Novosti content. As a result, many other major Russian news sites and agencies cited the story in their reports about Ukraine’s supposed murder of an Egyptian journalist. Those included Sputnik, Life, Federal Press,, and Svobodnaya Pressa.

An established foreign media outlet can also be an intermediary for laundering Russian propaganda. On December 26, 2023, inoSMI published a Russian translation of an article from Yeni Şafak, an Islamist Turkish daily newspaper.

“Egyptian journalist Mohammed al-Alawi was killed in Hurghada. It is assumed that Ukrainian special services are behind this, reports Yeni Şafak,” inoSMI wrote in Russian.

However, inoSMI’s translation mispresented Yeni Şafak’s story as the Turkish newspapers’ own investigation. In fact, Yeni Şafak said the source for its story was "a news report in the state-supported Russia Today."

Exposing the fake murder

The Center for Countering Disinformation under the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council was the first to report that the news about the murder of Egyptian journalist Mohammed Al-Alawi was a fabrication.

On December 26, 2023, the Center raised doubts about the existence of the Egyptian investigative journalist Mohammed Al-Alawi, writing that “there is no information about such a ‘person’ on the Internet, except for the fake article about the alleged villa purchase by Ukraine President’s mother-in-law."

On December 31, Egypt’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that there was no murder of a journalist in Hurgada and that the report about Zelenskyy’s mother-in-law purchasing a villa in El Gouna was a fabrication. The ministry said it had located the villa in question, interviewed its Egyptian owners and established that Zelenskyy’s family has nothing to do with the property.

On January 2, Egypt Telegraph, a Cairo-based news site, published an investigative piece on the Mohamed Al-Alawi case. Its journalists conducted thorough research, examining police reports and property records, and interviewing colleagues across the country in search of a journalist named Mohamed Al-Alawi. The report concluded that there is no evidence of Al-Alawi's existence and no police record that a journalist by that name had been murdered in Egypt.

Egypt Telegraph analyzed a copy of the contract that the fake Al-Alawi had included in his expose, claiming it proved Zelenskyy's mother-in-law had purchased a villa in Egypt. Egypt Telegraph concluded that the document was fake.

The New Arab (TNA), a London-based news website, published a major investigation into reports of Al-Alawi's "death" on January 12. The report concluded that a “[p]ro-Russia disinformation network is behind the fabricated killing of a ‘journalist’ who broke the fictitious story on Zelensky villa purchase in Egypt.”

The New Arab identified as the main source for English-language fake news reports about Al-Alawi. TNA did not find “any evidence that an Egyptian journalist with the name or pseudonym Mohammad al-Alawi had ever existed before the day the videos [about Zelenskyy’s mother-in-law's alleged villa in Egypt] were uploaded to YouTube.”

TNA journalists concluded that the two videos from the original El-Mostaqbal article about Al-Alawi’s “assassination” were also fabricated. They noted that in the first video, “footage showing the scene of the assassination is very short and light on details,” showing “a corner of a dimly lit street, without providing any information about its location, or the identity of the person who produced the footage.”

The second video, featuring an interview with a man whose face is hidden claiming to be Al-Alawi’s brother, “is just as cryptic,” the TNA journalists wrote:

“The face of the interviewee is not shown. The interviewer ‘Mohamad Fathi’ is not seen in the video, replaced instead by what looks like an AI-generated avatar. The intonation and tone of the interviewer’s voice, as well as his pronunciation, is very similar to those heard in the original Mohammad al-Alawi video.”

TNA also quoted from a December 2023 Clemson University report on how Russian disinformation networks are launching fake news campaigns similar to the fictitious Al-Alawi assassination.

“Each [story] was first placed as a video appearing on a newly active social media account,” the Clemson University report stated. “These videos each give a first-person account from a supposed witness who serves as living evidence for the narrative claims. Each video then appears as the source of a story in one or more of a group of African and Arabic news sites. The narrative then surfaces as a story on DC Weekly and is circulated around social media.”

At the time of this publication, none of the Russian media outlets that reported about the death of Al-Alawi had publicly admitted that it was fake news, corrected or removed their reports.