No, the infamous Canadian sniper Wali has not been killed in Ukraine

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Several viral social media posts have claimed that a Canadian sniper, dubbed “the world’s deadliest sniper,” was killed just hours after arriving in Mariupol, Ukraine, where he had gone to fight. However, the man, nicknamed Wali, is still alive and well. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that he believes disinformation about his death serves to deter foreign fighters from going to Ukraine.

A former Canadian Armed Forces 22 Regiment soldier turned computer scientist, Olivier Lavigne-Ortiz, nicknamed Wali, traveled to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion by joining the International Legion for Territorial Defense of Ukraine in early March.

He is well known for his previous involvement in conflict zones, such as Afghanistan or Iraqi Kurdistan, where he fought against the Islamic State group. He is also an expert sniper.

But according to various online posts published between March 12 and 16, the young man died in Mariupol, Ukraine. Some of these publications claimed that he was killed only “20 minutes after arriving at the front”, and others claimed to have shooter video who killed him A rumor said it was a russian sniper who shot him.

A Twitter user brought these claims to our attention and asked us to verify the information.

A rumor debunked twice

The Canadian wrestler himself denied the rumors about his death on his own social media accounts. March 14 in a Facebook posthe explained, “Don’t worry about my safety. I’m already far from the base that was bombed yesterday. I was there before, but briefly.”

The group of fighters Wali had joined, the Norman Brigade, also posted a statement on Facebook to explain:

Wali is not in Mariupol. Rumors of his death began to surface around March 13 and the commanding officer of the Norman Brigade reportedly contacted him on the morning of March 15. […] Wali is a free spirit and I had to send him to another unit of his choosing because he was disregarding clear instructions and OPSEC guidelines. This is not a game. He was becoming a danger to the mission, to his family, and to himself.

After a few days of silence during which misinformation intensified, Wali posted again on his Facebook page on March 22, this time with a photo of himself in a ball pit. He said:

The rumors that he had died in battle were completely ridiculous. The truth is that we take ground from the enemy in addition to causing casualties. Unfortunately, we also lost colleagues, dead and wounded.

“There was a torrent of messages asking me if I was dead or not”

The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to speak with Wali via video call on March 22:

I was the last person to find out about my own death and the first to deny it. On the front lines, we are not allowed to have our phones. They are turned off and left in a safe place. When I returned from the combat zone for a rest period on March 21, I turned on my phone. There was a torrent of messages asking me if I was dead or not.

Actually, I never went to Mariupol – I started fighting in an area near the Dnieper River. Then, after a dispute with the brigade commander, I returned to kyiv. When I found out that I had been declared dead, I decided to take this photo in an old abandoned nursery. It was my way of announcing that these rumors were ridiculous and that all was well with me. The rumors were so strong that as long as he didn’t answer them, they would prosper.

However, to me it’s just raw, amateur trolling. I find it hard to understand the strategy behind this disinformation, because it was quite easy for me to deny it. Those who spread these fakes lose all credibility once the denial is published. It shows that they have no argument left, and they are willing to throw anything on social networks. They may also be losing the Internet misinformation war.

Misinformation first shared in China

According to To watch the news, the fact-checking unit of the French newspaper Libération, reports of Wali’s death were first leaked on Chinese websites citing Russian-speaking sources. The claim was then widely reported, including in various Facebook and Twitter pages on West Africa.

The wrestler told us that he didn’t investigate the origins of these rumors too closely, however, he has an idea why they might have started to spread.

It is a war of symbols for reasons of prestige. I am not essential to the war effort, but I am one of the best-known foreign volunteers in Ukraine. So, for propaganda purposes, it is good to say that I am dead to stem the flow of volunteers who may want to join the fight in Ukraine. My ‘quick’ kill would send the message that even experienced fighters can be killed easily.


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