Did BBC team responsible for faked footage of Syrian chemical attack travel under terrorist protection?

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 By Catte | OffGuardian | January 6, 2018

Most of our readers are now more than familiar with the bizarre events surrounding the BBC Panorama program Saving Syria’s Children. We’ve already returned to this story several times. The possibility that this program presented faked footage of a non-existent chemical attack by government troops on a school in Syria has been meticulously documented by independent researcher Robert Stuart over several years.

But a further twist to the story seems to show that the crew who filmed this questionable footage were being escorted and protected during their sojourn in Syria, by members of a jihadist terrorist group affiliated to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The evidence, on the face of it, seems damning.

Ten minutes, 18 seconds into the program (which can be seen here) the film crew record a car journey, with the two British doctors featured in the program, to “see what medical care is available for children closer to where the fighting is”. At one point the journalist Ian Pannell can be heard in voice over saying:

Western journalists have been targeted in Syria, so I have to travel with my own security. The doctors are able to be more low key and take their own vehicles.

As he speaks we see Pannell himself, presumably filmed by his cameraman Darren Conway, in a car, part of a convoy, accompanied by armed men. We also see the hood of one of the cars in the convoy several times and pretty clearly. It has a logo on it. This is it:

The inset on the right is the logo of Ahrar-al-Sham.

In case you’re wondering, this is the same Ahrar-al-Sham identified by a Human Rights Watch report in October 2013 as participants in the killing of women and children (see “You Can Still See Their Blood” – Executions, Indiscriminate Shootings, and Hostage Taking by Opposition Forces in Latakia Countryside.). The report details the slaughter of nearly 200 civilians “including 57 women and at least 18 children and 14 elderly men” by opposition forces including Ahrar al-Sham on August 4 2013.

It was just 19 days after this massacre – on August 23 – that Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway (now an OBE) apparently decided Ahrar-al-Sham were the go-to ’security’ guys for them. The documentary further shows Pannell, Conway and their chums being waved through ISIS road blocks without a hitch. This is the same ISIS who – allegedly – had declared war on all westerners and were prone to cutting off their heads (though in 2013 this hadn’t become the media meme it later became). Our boys are apparently welcome deep in ISIS territory, with no worries about repercussions.

This is probably explained by the fact Ahrar-al-Sham, according to Stanford University’s Mapping Militant Program, “worked with the Islamic State (IS) until January 2014″.

But maybe the contact with terrorists was fleeting and almost accidental? Well, below are two images that tell a story. The top one is a screencap from Saving Syria’s Children. The man outlined in red is the “Fixer/Translator” for the program, Mughira Al-Sharif, and he is shown driving Pannell’s convoy car (Pannell himself can be seen second from right next to the window in the back). Mughira is seen again in the bottom image in a photograph taken the same day and shared on Instagram. Also with him in this pic, and looking remarkably chummy, are two members of the Ahrar-al-Sham security detail who can be seen in Pannell’s car. Mughira described these men in his Instagram post as ‘friends’. That post was subsequently deleted.

(Above) Fixer/Translator Mughira Al-Sharif driving Ian Pannell’s convoy saloon car in Saving Syria’s Children. Pannell is second from right. (Below) Al Sharif poses with two of the Ahrar al-Sham men in an Instagram post of the same day, describing them as “friends”. The post was subsequently deleted.

Let’s be clear – these “friends’ of Mughira’s could well have taken part in the recent slaughter discussed above, and must, at very least, be assumed to support the mass murder of innocent people. And this man Mughira is employed by Pannell as his guide and helper in making their documentary.

Why are a supposedly distinguished and professional BBC journalist and his crew working with allies of ISIS? Why are they using them as their ‘security’? Why are they comfortable tooling round Syria in a car festooned with jihadist logos? Why did they end up producing a documentary using highly questionable footage to promote UK intervention against the elected government of Syria?

Did neither they nor their employers at the BBC realise what they were doing?

Or did they know and think it was just dandy?

When is the BBC – and Ian Pannell and Darren Conway(OBE) – going to answer these and the many other questions hanging over this program and their credibility?

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Robert Stuart: One Man’s Quest to Expose ‘Absolutely Historic’ @BBC Panorama ‘Fakery’

BBC Panorama ‘Fakery’ – Sputnik International

EXCLUSIVE: One Man’s Quest to Expose ‘Absolutely Historic’ BBC Panorama ‘Fakery’

For over four years, Robert Stuart has been forensically investigating the innumerable inconsistencies, contradictions, anomalies and apparent falsehoods in BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria’s Children. Speaking exclusively to Sputnik, the former journalist shares his most troubling discoveries.

On the evening of August 29 2013, just as the UK parliament was quite literally voting on possible military intervention in Syria, BBC News at Ten broadcast a report by journalist Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway from Syria, which claimed a Syrian fighter jet had dropped an incendiary bomb containing a “napalm-type” substance — possibly thermite — on the playground of an Aleppo school.

After its broadcast, some viewers took to the internet to express concerns about the veracity of the report’s footage. Among them was Robert Stuart, a former journalist working for a small community organization in Islington, London.

Walking Dead?                                                                         

One scene in particular struck him as “extremely odd.” In it, males young and old, their skin apparently in tatters, race into a “basic hospital funded by handouts” to be treated for chemical burns. At one particularly disturbing point, a number writhe, drool and groan, apparently in great distress.

However, the men are initially “quiet and static,” before the central figure looks directly into the camera for several moments and raises his arm, at which point “they start rolling around in agony and wailing. It looks farcical, ridiculous,” Robert told Sputnik.

A GMC-registered practicing doctor, who’d worked with burns victims firsthand, believed the scene to be “an act.”

“[They] were able to sit down, be touched by others, even talk. This is not how a severe burn victim would present. Most would be screaming the place down in agony even after treatment and all sorts of pain drugs, but they’re able to speak and breathe very well. Some are shown with skin hanging off but the flesh beneath actually looks like more skin. Also, if the poison was dropped from a plane, their hair would’ve been lost and patches would be evident — many still have full heads,” the doctor said.

This scene and other questionable aspects of the brief report prompted him to pen a letter to the BBC — as he was writing it, the BBC broadcast a Panorama documentary, Saving Syria’s Children, which expanded on the original report, and included further footage.

The documentary was said to have been intended to cover the work of two British doctors in Syria — but apparently completely by chance, while they were filming, the chemical attack occurred.

Ever since, Robert has repeatedly reviewed the program. As of December 2017, he’s identified contradictions, anomalies and areas of concern “almost too numerous to list.” At best, he believes the broadcast contains many scenes which are “largely, if not entirely, staged” — at worst, he suggests its content, and even the attack it allegedly covers, may be “fictionalized.”

​His correspondence with the UK’s state broadcaster about these issues has also continued — their response has been equal parts “stonewalling, evasion and misdirection.” Part of this effort, he alleges, includes the “diligent” blocking of every copy of Saving Syria’s Children on YouTube — as a result, one won’t find a “single scrap” of footage from the documentary on the platform. Anything uploaded is “taken down within hours,” which Robert claims isn’t the case with “any other” Panorama documentary.

Where, When, What, How?

One key source of confusion concerns the time of the attack. According to the BBC it took place August 26, 2013, although accounts of its timing “implausibly” span a range of six hours — Human Rights Watch states it occurred “around midday,” while the Violations Documentation Center places it at two in the afternoon.

Conversely, Pannell himself stated in BBC Complaints correspondence with Robert the strike occurred “at around 5.30pm,” while Conway places it between three and five. Alleged eyewitness Abu Yousef suggests it was closer to six, which is corroborated by a Turkish media article quoting a Syrian doctor who says it occurred at that time — although the chemical weapon was instead said to be a “phosphorus bomb.”

​Complicating the picture further, a team of Syrian investigators has researched the attack, contacting a former commander of the Al-Tawhid Brigade based in Aleppo province in August 2013. Despite having every reason to validate the claim, given it would offer useful propaganda against the Syrian government, they instead attested a “napalm bomb” attack did not happen that month, and none of the events depicted in the documentary actually occurred.

“We did not meet any air strike with the substance of napalm on Urum al Kubra or on any other region in the North West Aleppo countryside and the cheap fabrication of the BBC undermines the credibility of the Free Syrian Army. We’ve done a field investigation with the help of the delegate of the Free Syrian Red Crescent and [found] no victims, no traces and no memory with anybody of the alleged air strikes with the substance of Napalm,” the commander said.

The commander has agreed to provide a full statement to the BBC and offered to provide BBC journalists with safe transit from Antakya, Turkey to Urm Al-Kubra to interview witnesses and conduct their own investigation.

A July 2014 telephone conversation between two members of said Syrian investigative team documents the account of a local resident, who similarly affirms the alleged napalm bomb attack did not occur.

“He told me, ‘we didn’t hear about such a thing…we hear about rockets, there is a lot.’ When I told him it burns, he told me ‘we never had something like that, never, never. Nor did we ever hear about it.’ I asked him whether he was maybe out of the region at the specific time, and he said ‘even if I would have left the people keep on talking about this thing, I would have known about it’,” the investigator said.

Untroubled Journey

Almost every repeat viewing of Saving Syria’s Children raises further concerns and questions for Robert. A relatively recent discovery was reporter Pannell and cameraman Conway’s apparent embedment with jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham.

Approximately 10 minutes into the documentary, in a scene said to be shot the morning of August 25, Dr. Hallam sets off to “see what medical care is available for children closer to where the fighting is” — and Pannell follows.

“Western journalists have been targeted in Syria, so I have to travel with my own security. The doctors are able to be more low key and take their own vehicles,” he explains.

A number of vehicles are then shown setting off in convoy — among them a white pickup truck which, dashcam level footage reveals, bears the Ahrar al Sham emblem on its bonnet.

Ahrar al Sham has been accused of being involved in, or leading, numerous atrocities over the course of the Syrian crisis — a mere three weeks prior to Pannell’s trip, Human Rights Watch alleges the group were, alongside Daesh and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, “key fundraisers, organizers, planners, and executors” of an attack in which at least 190 killed and over 200 — “the vast majority women and children” — were kidnapped.

As the program enters its eleventh minute, Pannell’s van approaches a checkpoint held by a separate rebel faction, an experience common across the country at the time. After a brief and seemingly superficial inspection, the convoy is allowed to pass through unmolested.

As Pannell himself narrates, the faction in question is “ISIS…the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” At the time, the group was not subject to the extreme global notoriety it endures today — Robert suggests such a scene “simply wouldn’t be plausible now.”

“Conway is seemingly able to hop between vehicles with impunity at the checkpoint. As they reach it, Pannell instructs the cameraman — presumably Conway, the sole shooter credited on the documentary — to ‘put the camera down a bit’. Seconds later, in footage filmed from the rear of another vehicle, a Daesh guard inspects vehicles. How did they not end up in orange jumpsuits having their heads chopped off?” Robert told Sputnik.

​Daesh also crops up elsewhere in the documentary — an ambulance bearing the group’s distinctive flag calmly transports victims of the apparent attack to hospital — a “marked contrast” from the “ostensibly tense” checkpoint scene.

Trust Me, I’m a Doctor

A recurring character throughout Saving Syria’s Children is Dr. Rola Hallam, a British doctor representing the charity Hand in Hand for Syria. She immediately jumped out to Robert due to the manner of her introduction — taking time out during the apparent mass casualty scenario to conduct a calm and coherent to-camera interview.

​Dr. Hallam also appeared on the BBC prior to the Panorama broadcast — interviewed on Newsnight August 30 2013, the day parliament voted against military action, she expressed disappointment at the result, suggesting the world had “failed the Syrian nation.”

Subsequent digging into the doctor’s background offered yet further indications she and the organization she represents harbor strongly interventionist stances.

For instance, her father is Dr. Mousa al-Kurdi — who, according to a February 2013 article written Dr. Hallam’s colleague Dr. Saleyha Ahsan, is “involved politically” with the controversial Syrian National Council.

Dr. Hallam has denied that allegation — nonetheless, in a 2012 Al Jazeera interview, he passionately advocated for the Syrian National Council’s recognition as the “sole representative” of all Syrians. He also boasted of how at that year’s Friends of Syria summit in Istanbul — attended by Hillary Clinton — he told the foreign ministers of several governments, including Victoria Nuland of the US State Department, “either you defend us or you arm the Free Syrian Army to defend us — you have the choice.”

Facebook banner of Faddy Sahloul, cofounder of Hand in Hand for Syria.
Facebook banner of Faddy Sahloul, cofounder of Hand in Hand for Syria.

Robert’s exploration into Hand in Hand for Syria also raised many serious anxieties. The UK Charity Commission states the organization exists for “the advancement of health or saving lives” — yet, he found until July 2014, the Facebook banner of cofounder Faddy Sahloul read “WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES.”Moreover, he uncovered a photo of a Hand in Hand for Syria nurse, who also appears in the documentary, tending to the injuries of a child soldier.

Unidentified Hand in Hand for Syria worker with child soldier.
Unidentified Hand in Hand for Syria worker with child soldier.

“In September 2015, I formally raised my concerns with the Charity Commission, which ruled the cofounder’s bloodthirsty Facebook banner was a ‘historical issue’ that had since been addressed by the charity’s trustees, and the image of the nurse treating a child fighter was not ‘sufficient’ evidence Hand in Hand for Syria was ‘celebrating or supporting violence’,” Robert told Sputnik.

Iessa Obied, a medical professional connected with Hand in Hand for Syria, poses with rocket launcher.
Iessa Obied, a medical professional connected with Hand in Hand for Syria, poses with rocket launcher.

His battles with the Charity Commission did not end there — in March 2016, he submitted a further complaint, after uncovering images of Iessa Obied, a medical professional connected with Hand in Hand for Syria, posing with a “shocking” array of armaments, including rocket launchers, sniper rifles, “hell cannon” mortars, tanks, and more.

Iessa Obied, a medical professional connected with Hand in Hand for Syria, poses with a rifle.
Iessa Obied, a medical professional connected with Hand in Hand for Syria, poses with a rifle.

However, for the Commission, the images “[did] not raise sufficient regulatory concern.”RIP BBC?

Despite official denials, Robert intends to continue his campaign until the truth has finally been revealed — his determination stems from a belief the alleged falsification was “absolutely historic, and unbelievably brazen.”

“It was clearly very carefully orchestrated and set up. I had few illusions about the corporate media and the BBC, the one remaining perhaps being they wouldn’t fake something outright. This is an absolutely historic case, and unique. Whatever criticisms you could level at state-owned media in Iran or North Korea, nobody has ever done this before,” he rails.

In March 2017, Robert’s efforts attracted the attention of leading TV and radio producer Victor Lewis-Smith. He raised troubling questions with the BBC about Saving Syria’s Children, threatening to literally tear up a contract for a forthcoming radio comedy pilot with the corporation unless top brass could offer satisfactory answers.

In response, the BBC alleged Ofcom had reviewed the program and confirmed the authenticity of the documentary. However, the organization’s ruling related to a news report by television channel RT, which featured Robert’s investigation.

The BBC complained to OfCom “the program presented information in an inaccurate and misleading way.” While Ofcom upheld the complaint, it acknowledged it did not “undertake an assessment of the accuracy and/or impartiality of the program” in reaching its decision. Robert states this was “in no way a clean bill of health” for the documentary.

“It was not possible or appropriate for Ofcom to attempt to prove or disprove the allegations made about the BBC in the program. Similarly, Ofcom had no statutory jurisdiction to assess the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC program. Rather, our concern in this case was solely whether [it] resulted in unfairness to the BBC,” the regulator wrote.

​Lewis-Smith didn’t accept their defense, again threatening to terminate his contract, and demanding Panorama release raw footage of the event in order to gauge its veracity.

The eventual statement issued by the BBC in response to these concerns did nothing to address his concerns, and his contract was shredded. ​He now intends to make a crowdfunded documentary investigating the program, with Robert’s assistance. Sputnik submitted requests for comment from the BBC, but as of December 30 2017 has received no response.

“If the extent to which the BBC manufactured this documentary was proven, it would be a watershed moment. There’d be no coming back from that. It would destroy their credibility globally. Pannell and Conway could go down in history as having destroyed the BBC,” Robert concludes.

The views and opinions expressed by Robert Stuart are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik. 

I must say I was amazed to see this on the BBC News: Exposed: Secret Raqqa ISIS Withdrawal Deal

Exposed: Secret Raqqa ISIS Fighters Withdrawal Deal
By BBC

A secret deal that let hundreds of IS fighters and their families escape from Raqqa under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition

Lorry driver Abu Fawzi thought it was going to be just another job.

He drives an 18-wheeler across some of the most dangerous territory in northern Syria. Bombed-out bridges, deep desert sand, even government forces and so-called Islamic State fighters don’t stand in the way of a delivery.

But this time, his load was to be human cargo. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS, wanted him to lead a convoy that would take hundreds of families displaced by fighting from the town of Tabqa on the Euphrates river to a camp further north.

The job would take six hours, maximum – or at least that’s what he was told.

But when he and his fellow drivers assembled their convoy early on 12 October, they realised they had been lied to.

Instead, it would take three days of hard driving, carrying a deadly cargo – hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition.

Abu Fawzi and dozens of other drivers were promised thousands of dollars for the task but it had to remain secret.

The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared.

But it also enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.

Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal.

Out of the city

In a greasy yard in Tabqa, underneath a date palm, three boys are busy at work rebuilding a lorry engine. They are covered in motor oil. Their hair, black and oily, stands on end.

Near them is a group of drivers. Abu Fawzi is at the centre, conspicuous in his bright red jacket. It matches the colour of his beloved 18-wheeler. He’s clearly the leader, quick to offer tea and cigarettes. At first he says he doesn’t want to speak but soon changes his mind.

He and the rest of the drivers are angry. It’s weeks since they risked their lives for a journey that ruined engines and broke axles but still they haven’t been paid. It was a journey to hell and back, he says.

 

“We were scared from the moment we entered Raqqa,” he says. “We were supposed to go in with the SDF, but we went alone. As soon as we entered, we saw IS fighters with their weapons and suicide belts on. They booby-trapped our trucks. If something were to go wrong in the deal, they would bomb the entire convoy. Even their children and women had suicide belts on.”

The Kurdish-led SDF cleared Raqqa of media. Islamic State’s escape from its base would not be televised.

Publicly, the SDF said that only a few dozen fighters had been able to leave, all of them locals.

But one lorry driver tells us that isn’t true.

We took out around 4,000 people including women and children – our vehicle and their vehicles combined. When we entered Raqqa, we thought there were 200 people to collect. In my vehicle alone, I took 112 people.”

Another driver says the convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles.

Footage secretly filmed and passed to us shows lorries towing trailers crammed with armed men. Despite an agreement to take only personal weapons, IS fighters took everything they could carry. Ten trucks were loaded with weapons and ammunition.

The drivers point to a white truck being worked on in the corner of the yard. “Its axle was broken because of the weight of the ammo,” says Abu Fawzi.

This wasn’t so much an evacuation – it was the exodus of so-called Islamic State.

The SDF didn’t want the retreat from Raqqa to look like an escape to victory. No flags or banners would be allowed to be flown from the convoy as it left the city, the deal stipulated.

It was also understood that no foreigners would be allowed to leave Raqqa alive.

Back in May, US Defence Secretary James Mattis described the fight against IS as a war of “annihilation”.“Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to north Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa. We are not going to allow them to do so,” he said on US television.

But foreign fighters – those not from Syria and Iraq – were also able to join the convoy, according to the drivers. One explains:

There was a huge number of foreigners. France, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi, China, Tunisia, Egypt…”

Other drivers chipped in with the names of different nationalities.

In light of the BBC investigation, the coalition now admits the part it played in the deal. Some 250 IS fighters were allowed to leave Raqqa, with 3,500 of their family members.

“We didn’t want anyone to leave,” says Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Western coalition against IS.

“But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations,” he says.

While a Western officer was present for the negotiations, they didn’t take an “active part” in the discussions. Col Dillon maintains, though, that only four foreign fighters left and they are now in SDF custody.

As it left the city, the convoy would pass through the well-irrigated cotton and wheat fields north of Raqqa. Small villages gave way to desert. The convoy left the main road and took to tracks across the desert. The trucks found it hard going, but it was much harder for the men behind the wheel.

A friend of Abu Fawzi’s rolls up the sleeve of his tunic. Underneath, there are burns on his skin. “Look what they did here,” he says.

According to Abu Fawzi, there were three or four foreigners with each driver. They would beat him and call him names, such as “infidel”, or “pig”.

They might have been helping the fighters escape, but the Arab drivers were abused the entire route, they say. And threatened.

“They said, ‘Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa – we will come back,’” says Abu Fawzi. “They were defiant and didn’t care. They accused us of kicking them out of Raqqa.”

A female foreign fighter threatened him with her AK-47.

Into the desert

Shopkeeper Mahmoud doesn’t get intimidated by much.

It was about four in the afternoon when an SDF convoy drove through his town, Shanine, and everyone was told to go indoors.

“We were here and an SDF vehicle stopped by to say there was a truce agreement between them and IS,” he says. “They wanted us to clear the area.”

He is no fan of IS, but he couldn’t miss a business opportunity – even if some of the 4,000 surprise customers driving through his village were armed to the teeth.

A small bridge in the village created a bottleneck so the IS fighters got out and went shopping. After months of fighting and taking cover in bunkers, they were pale and hungry. They filed into his shop and, he says, they cleared his shelves.

“A one-eyed Tunisian fighter told me to fear God,” he says. “In a very calm voice, he asked why I had shaved. He said they would come back and enforce Sharia once again. I told him we have no problem with Sharia laws. We’re all Muslims.”

Instant noodles, biscuits and snacks – they bought everything they could get their hands on.

They left their weapons outside the shop. The only trouble he had was when three of the fighters spied some cigarettes – contraband in their eyes – and tore up the boxes.

“They didn’t appropriate anything, nothing at all,” he says.

“Only three of them went rogue. Other IS fighters even chastised them.”

He says IS paid for what they took.

“They hoovered up the shop. I got overwhelmed by their numbers. Many asked me for prices, but I couldn’t answer them because I was busy serving other people. So they left money for me on my desk without me asking.”

Despite the abuse they suffered, the lorry drivers agreed – when it came to money, IS settled its bills.

IS may have been homicidal psychopaths, but they’re always correct with the money.”

Says Abu Fawzi with a smile.

North of the village, it’s a different landscape. A lonely tractor ploughs a field, sending a plume of dust and sand into the air that can be seen for miles. There are fewer villages, and it’s here that the convoy sought to disappear.

In Muhanad’s tiny village, people fled as the convoy approached, fearing for their homes – and their lives.

But suddenly, the vehicles turned right, leaving the main road for a desert track.

“Two Humvees were leading the convoy ahead,” says Muhanad. “They were organising it and wouldn’t let anyone pass them.”

As the convoy disappeared into the haze of the desert, Muhanad felt no immediate relief. Almost everyone we spoke to says IS threatened to return, its fighters running a finger across their throats as they passed by.

“We’ve been living in terror for the past four or five years,” says Muhanad.

It will take us a while to rid ourselves of that psychological fear. We feel that they may be coming back for us, or will send sleeper agents. We’re still not sure that they’ve gone for good.”

Along the route, many people we spoke to said they heard coalition aircraft, sometimes drones, following the convoy.

From the cab of his truck, Abu Fawzi watched as a coalition warplane flew overhead, dropping illumination flares, which lit up the convoy and the road ahead.

When the last of the convoy were about to cross, a US jet flew very low and deployed flares to light up the area. IS fighters shat their pants.”

The coalition now confirms that while it did not have its personnel on the ground, it monitored the convoy from the air.

Past the last SDF checkpoint, inside IS territory – a village between Markada and Al-Souwar – Abu Fawzi reached his destination. His lorry was full of ammunition and IS fighters wanted it hidden.

When he finally made it back to safety, he was asked by the SDF where he’d dumped the goods.

“We showed them the location on the map and he marked it so uncle Trump can bomb it later,” he says.

Raqqa’s freedom was bought with blood, sacrifice and compromise. The deal freed its trapped civilians and ended the fight for the city. No SDF forces would have to die storming the last IS hideout.

But IS didn’t stay put for long. Freed from Raqqa, where they were surrounded, some of the group’s most-wanted members have now spread far and wide across Syria and beyond.

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The Smugglers

The men who cut fences, climb walls and run through the tunnels out of Syria are reporting a big increase in people fleeing. The collapse of the caliphate is good for business.

“In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had lots of families leaving Raqqa and wanting to leave for Turkey. This week alone, I personally oversaw the smuggling of 20 families,” says Imad, a smuggler on the Turkish-Syrian border.

“Most were foreign but there were Syrians as well.”

He now charges $600 (£460) per person and a minimum of $1,500 for a family.

In this business, clients don’t take kindly to inquiries. But Imad says he’s had “French, Europeans, Chechens, Uzbek”.

“Some were talking in French, others in English, others in some foreign language,” he says.

Walid, another smuggler on a different stretch of the Turkish border, tells the same story.

“We had an influx of families over the past few weeks,” he says. “There were some large families crossing. Our job is to smuggle them through. We’ve had a lot of foreign families using our services.”

As Turkey has increased border security, the work has become more difficult.

In some areas we’re using ladders, in others we cross through a river, in other areas we’re using a steep mountainous trail. It’s a miserable situation.”

However, Walid says it’s a different situation for senior IS figures.

“Those highly placed foreigners have their own networks of smugglers. It’s usually the same people who organised their access to Syria. They co-ordinate with one another.”

Smuggling didn’t work out for everyone. Abu Musab Huthaifa was one of Raqqa’s most notorious figures. The IS intelligence chief was on the convoy out of the city on 12 October.

But now he is behind bars, and his story reflects the final days of the crumbling caliphate.

Islamic State never negotiates. Uncompromising, murderous – this is an enemy that plays by a different set of rules.

At least that’s how the myth goes.

But in Raqqa, it behaved no differently from any other losing side. Cornered, exhausted and fearful for their families, IS fighters were bombed to the negotiating table on 10 October.

“Air strikes put pressure on us for almost 10 hours. They killed about 500 or 600 people, fighters and families,” says Abu Musab Huthaifa.

Footage of the coalition air strike that hit one neighbourhood of Raqqa on 11 October shows a human catastrophe behind enemy lines. Amid the screams of the women and children, there is chaos among the IS fighters. The bombs appear especially powerful, especially effective. Activists claim that a building housing 35 women and children was destroyed. It was enough to break their resistance.

“After 10 hours, negotiations kicked off again. Those who initially rejected the truce changed their minds. And thus we left Raqqa,” says Abu Musab.

There had been three previous attempts to negotiate a peace deal. A team of four, including local Raqqa officials, now led the talks. One brave soul would cross the front lines on his motorbike relaying messages.

“We were only to leave with our personal weapons and leave all heavy weapons behind. But we didn’t have heavy weapons anyway,” Abu Musab says.

Now in jail on the Turkish-Syrian border, he has revealed details of what happened to the convoy when it made it safely to IS territory.

He says the convoy went to the countryside of eastern Syria, not far from the border with Iraq.

Thousands escaped, he says.

Abu Musab’s own attempted escape serves as a warning to the West of the threat from those freed from Raqqa.

How could one of the most notorious of IS chiefs escape through enemy territory and almost evade capture?

“I remained with a group which had set its mind on making its way to Turkey,” Abu Musab says.

Islamic State members were wanted by everyone else outside the group’s shrinking area of control; that meant this small gathering had to pass through swathes of hostile territory.

“We hired a smuggler to navigate us out of SDF-controlled areas,” Abu Musab says.

At first it went well. But smugglers are an unreliable lot. “He abandoned us midway. We were left to fend for ourselves in the midst of SDF areas. From then on, we disbanded and it was every man for himself,” says Abu Musab.

He might have made it to safety if only he’d paid the right person or maybe taken a different route.

The other path is to Idlib, to the west of Raqqa. Countless IS fighters and their families have found a haven there. Foreigners, too, also make it out – including Britons, other Europeans and Central Asians. The costs range from $4,000 (£3,000) per fighter to $20,000 for a large family.

French fighter

Abu Basir al-Faransy, a young Frenchman, left before the going got really tough in Raqqa. He’s now in Idlib, where he says he wants to stay.

The fighting in Raqqa was intense, even back then, he says.

“We were front-line fighters, waging war almost constantly [against the Kurds], living a hard life. We didn’t know Raqqa was about to be besieged.”

Disillusioned, weary of the constant fighting and fearing for his life, Abu Basir decided to leave for the safety of Idlib. He now lives in the city.

He was part of an almost exclusively French group within IS, and before he left some of his fellow fighters were given a new mission.

There are some French brothers from our group who left for France to carry out attacks in what would be called a ‘day of reckoning.’”

Much is hidden beneath the rubble of Raqqa and the lies around this deal might easily have stayed buried there too.

The numbers leaving were much higher than local tribal elders admitted. At first the coalition refused to admit the extent of the deal.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, somewhat improbably, continue to maintain that no deal was done.

And this may not even have been about freeing civilian hostages. As far as the coalition is concerned, there was no transfer of hostages from IS to coalition or SDF hands.

And despite coalition denials, dozens of foreign fighters, according to eyewitnesses, joined the exodus.

The deal to free IS was about maintaining good relations between the Kurds leading the fight and the Arab communities who surround them.

It was also about minimising casualties. IS was well dug in at the city’s hospital and stadium. Any effort to dislodge it head-on would have been bloody and prolonged.

The war against IS has a twin purpose: first to destroy the so-called caliphate by retaking territory and second, to prevent terror attacks in the world beyond Syria and Iraq.

Raqqa was effectively IS’s capital but it was also a cage – fighters were trapped there.

The deal to save Raqqa may have been worth it.

But it has also meant battle-hardened militants have spread across Syria and further afield – and many of them aren’t done fighting yet.

All names of the people featured in the report have been changed.

This article was originally published by The BBC

BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg deletes tweet about UK’s ‘corrupt’ relationship with israel

Source

MEMO | November 10, 2107

BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg [Policy Exchnage/Flickr]

A prominent BBC journalist has deleted a tweet in which a senior Conservative MP can be seen complaining about the British media turning a blind eye to the corrupt relationship that has allowed Israel to “buy access” in Westminster.

The tweet was posted by the BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg on Wednesday while the Scottish journalist was covering the build up to the resignation of Priti Patel. The Secretary of State for International Development had taken part in undisclosed meetings in Israel organised by the powerful Conservative Friends of Israel lobby (CFI) last summer.

Kuenssberg’s Twitter posts on the day was full of posts on the Patel story including comments about Number 10 denying the allegation made by the Jewish Chronicle that Prime Minster Theresa May had been made aware of the 12 meetings Patel had had during her “family holiday” in Israel.

In her deleted tweet, which MEMO has been able to grab as a screenshot, Kuenssberg reported a comment made by a “senior” Tory MP who, enraged by the debacle, called for Lord Polak, honorary president of CFI and the person thought to be behind Patel’s Israel trip, to be sacked.

“Strong words,” tweeted Kuenssberg, “Senior Tory says Lord Polak should be chucked out of the party, claiming ‘the entire apparatus has turned a blind eye to a corrupt relationship that allows a country to buy access’.”

MEMO contacted Kuenssberg to ask why she had deleted the tweet but has not received a reply from the journalist.

The BBC has often been accused of pro-Israel bias and it would appear that this was yet another example of the broadcaster censoring criticism of Israel or senior BBC journalists enforcing self-censorship when it comes to Israel.

While it’s not absolutely clear what the senior Tory meant by the “entire apparatus”, it would appear that the concerns raised by the Conservative politician echo similar complaints made by Israel’s critics over the influence of CFI and other pro-Israeli lobby groups on the entire British establishment including the media.

Kuenssberg’s decision to delete the tweet it seems is further proof that the “entire apparatus” is reluctant to shed light on the “corrupt relationship” between the UK and Israel, which critics say is the reason why the BBC and other media corporations have turned a blind eye, and allowed Israel through the CFI and organisations like the Labour Friends of Israel to “buy access”.

HOLLYWOOD EXPOSED: Harvey Weinstein Scandal BLOWS LID On Sick & Depraved Industry!

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Josh Sigurdson and Dan Dicks of Press For Truth break down the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal as Hollywood enters desperation mode.
Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer behind Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare In Love and many other massive hits was recently accused of abusing women and forcing women to watch him in some unseemly private situations.
Following many including Ashley Judd of all people, Gweneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie coming out about this, the lid has begun to come off the entire depraved Hollywood industry where kids and adults alike are abused and used and forced into terrible situations.
Terry Crews who happens to be a big guy came out saying he was harassed and grabbed by producers, saying that this story goes far further than Harvey Weinstein, and there’s no doubt about that.
Rob Shneider, Cory Feldman, formerly Cory Haim before he passed away and Elijah Wood have come out about this horrible things that happen behind closed doors.
Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, Nelly, R Kelly, Woody Allen, Pete Townshend, the list of creeps in the industry goes on and on.
However, this is something we see in Britain at the BBC as well. We see it among billionaire investors, politicians from Dennis Hastert to Bill Clinton, advertisers like Jared Fogle and the list of sick degenerates grows by the day.
This links all forms of global elitism.
The do-good lefties in Hollywood and the music industry, Washington, finance and this needs to be called out in order to be stopped.
This story is breaking into the mainstream media after decades of independent media breaking these stories and being called crazy.
Is this the beginning of a massive expose’ of the entire global occult elite structure? Or is this just another media blitz?
We will find out soon enough

Who runs Hollywood? C’mon – latimes

 

Nick Robinson @bbcnickrobinson and the Westminster bubble

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The BBC’s Nick Robinson (a former chair of the Oxford University Conservative Association) has desperately tried to discredit independent media by saying that criticism of the BBC is so persistent that it’s negatively affecting public perceptions of mainstream media, and also accused independent media of living in a “social media bubble”.

I’ll tell you what really negatively affects people’s perceptions of the BBC. It’s stuff like the BBC politics editor Robbie Gibb moving directly from the supposedly impartial BBC directly to Theresa May’s propaganda team at 10 Downing Street, BBC journalists like Laura Kuenssberg fabricating fake news stories to attack Jeremy Corbyn and being allowed to get away with it without punishment, and the shockingly biased BBC coverage of stuff like the Scottish Independence referendum (massive anti-Independence bias that was obvious to all but the most rabid of Unionists) and the General Election debates (Jeremy Corbyn getting relentlessly grilled on his sticky subjects while Theresa May was tossed one ridiculous softball question after another).

As for living in bubbles, it’s not the diverse range of independent media journalists who are living in a deluded political bubble, it’s clearly the mainstream media journalists who operate in the cosy Westminster clique alongside the politicians they’re supposed to be holding to account.

How else is it possible to explain that the political class and Westminster bubble journos were both so ridiculously out of touch with the public mood that their only debate about Theresa May’s vanity election was whether she’d end up with a super-majority of 100+ or a mega-majority of 150+?

Mainstream media journalists have become so absorbed in the Westminster political bubble that they’ve ended up uncritically repeating the tropes that are circulating amongst the privileged political class (many of whom went to the exact same elitist private schools as they did) instead of actually trying to hold the political class to account for their actions.

All too often mainstream journos just regurgitate these delusional tropes from Westminster bubble as if they’re news, whilst basically ignoring the serious real life issues faced by ordinary people (the lower orders) like the unprecedented ongoing Tory wage slump since 2010, the systematic abuse of disabled people, the housing crisis, and the critical state of the NHS, the education system, local government services, and the rail network.

Their total immersion in the insular Westminster bubble perspective is the reason so many mainstream media journos were flabbergasted and completely incapable of understanding how Theresa May lost her majority on election night.

The gradual realisation that independent media had a significant role to play in the result that took the mainstream journos by such surprise has got them fired up and angry.

They’re furious because they see themselves as the true and only legitimate gatekeepers of public opinion, and they can’t stand the idea that uppity plebs from ordinary backgrounds are now using social media to influence public opinion away from the predetermined news agenda favoured by the elitist establishment class of Westminster politicians, mainstream media hacks, and corporate fat cats.

People like Nick Robinson are outraged because they tried every propaganda trick in the book to guide the public into handing Theresa May a huge parliamentary majority, but we didn’t do as we were told, shopping around for news that better matches our own perception of reality than the ludicrous tropes that emanate from the Westminster bubble and get magnified by the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media.

Just hours after Robinson fearfully aimed both barrels at independent media the Tories shot a massive great hole in his already sinking argument by parachuting the former chair of the BBC Trust Rona Fairhead into the unelected House of Lords to take up a ministerial position in Theresa May’s government!

How on earth is anyone expected to believe that the BBC are actually an impartial public service broadcaster when these days they’re obviously more of a fertile recruiting ground for new members of the Tory government than an institution committed to holding the Tory government to account?

But Robinson and his ilk would have you believe that any critical coverage of the revolving door between the BBC and the Tory party, or the desperately deteriorating standard of BBC political coverage, is some kind of nasty conspiracy spread by sinister forces who are intent on upsetting the natural order of things.

As far as they’re concerned the intimate relationship between the BBC and the Tory government is all above board and nothing to worry about.

And it’s this complacency and complicity that is the main reason that their influence is being gradually eroded by independent media journalists who cover politics from outside the confines of the insidious Westminster bubble

Listen To The Warmongering & Lies Peddled By The BBC

Listen To The Warmongering & Lies Peddled By The BBC

Video: Listen To The Warmongering & Lies Peddled By The BBC That Led Up To Trump Bombing Syria!

 

 

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