Looking into the Ghetto

Warsaw

I spent the morning at Warsaw’s Rising Museum, which was opened ten years ago in what was once the capital’s tram power plant to commemorate the tragic (and betrayed) 1944 uprising against the Nazis — the one the Soviets failed to support, halting their advance nearby while the Germans demolished the city, and the Western allies failed to assist.

As I have spent much of the past four years focusing on reporting on Syria, it his hard for me not to draw parallels with the awful plight of the anti-Assad rebels. The photographs of razed Warsaw remind me of the towns of northern Syria and a large portion of the historic city of Aleppo.

And in the museum you can read this editorial written by George Orwell complaining about the absence of support for the uprising offered by the Western allies. “The only thing they ask is, ‘Give us weapons,’ and when these weapons do not arrive, when their friends keep silent, they cannot understand. But there will come a time when they will, and we will pay the price for our deliberate, cold calculations.”

Orwell on the Warsaw Uprising

 

The price is already being paid when it comes to Syria: the refugee crisis impacting Europe is one price — and a costly one as it is ripping the European Union apart.

Another has been paid already: the prolonged conflict has become ever more sectarian, as was predicted by several reporters covering Syria, including myself, and it will have consequences not just for the immediate region but further afield.

Another cost has been to fuel recruitment among desperate Syrian fighters by hardline and al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias and, of course, the Islamic State terror army. Neglect allowed the rise of IS, as I and others predicted would happen, and the consequences of that are being seen on the streets of US and European cities.

In fits and starts, shaped by the day-to-day partisan battles back in Washington, commentators from the libertarian right and the non-interventionist left have argued there are no moderates among the Syrian revolutionaries. And this is untrue.

The claim is made by writers who have no authority, no first-hand knowledge, and who have not given the uprising against Bashar al-Assad the courtesy of ever bothering to find out on the ground what is going on. Syria is a dangerous place — as I know — but unless you mix with the fighters and their civilian supporters, how can you make the judgement call that they are all extremists?

Moderate is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Moderation is relative. But the rebel ranks are full of people I would describe as moderates. Yes, many, especially those who come from rural areas, are religious and cultural conservatives; their womenfolk may wear the hijab; their idea of democracy is sketchy at best. Their victory will not usher in a Western-style democracy. Aleppo won’t turn into Chevy Chase or Hampstead. But they are not jihadists and they have no truck with beheadings or bombing innocents in the West.

Their fight has been for human dignity — for the right to have some say about their governance. Their fight has been against the secret police and the pillage of the state by a ruling elite. Their fight has been for the right to be allowed to start down the path of change and reform and to develop. And our excuse has been to say it is too difficult.

 

Europe’s Far Right Seek to Inflame Nativist Sentiments

Mustafa is not unusual among the refugee fathers, husbands and sons placing their lives in the hands of people smugglers and making the short, but dangerous, sea crossing alone from Turkey to Greece, and then enduring a long and uncertain slog on land up through the Balkans or Hungary via Austria to Germany.

He has been watching the television news showing Hungarian and Macedonian border guards beating refugees, and has heard stories from relatives who have made it to Europe of running the gauntlet of brutal traffickers and getting robbed on the road.
The images and stories have confirmed his view that the trip is not one his daughter should share.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, the majority of those from the Mideast streaming into Europe are men, prompting some anti-immigrant and anti-Islam campaigners to argue that the continent is not facing a simple refugee crisis, but a migration designed to Islamize Europe.

At far right rallies in Germany, that imbalance is highlighted by anti-immigrant speakers and protesters alike as clear evidence that the migration crisis in Europe is a jihadist plot that will end up changing the face of European culture.

For my full report on how Europe’s far right is inflaming nativist sentiments click here.

 

A Jihadist Hug Before Being Stoned to Death

“First there were embraces and then the barbaric execution by stoning. Photographs of hugs that jihadists gave a condemned gay couple before killing them in north Syria have gone viral, prompting outrage in the West. For Islamic State sympathizers and members tweeting their responses, the hugs of death are a meant as an expression of compassion, a gesture of forgiveness—before the gruesome reality of their murder.”

From my latest piece for the Daily Beast chronicling the twisted minds of Islamic State enforcers. Read it here.

Terror-Bonding or Cynical Manipulation?

My take last night on a new twist in the cynical media operations of the so-called caliphate with a hostage ‘reporting’ from the embattled town of Kobani on Syria’s border.

“British hostage John Cantlie, who was abducted by jihadists alongside American journalist James Foley, was featured in a new propaganda video posted Monday night reporting from inside the besieged town of Kobani. He scornfully rejects Western media coverage of the battle for the Syrian border town, saying the militants of the Islamic State are not on the retreat and are now just mopping up…

The video then homes in on a healthy-looking Cantlie, who is dressed in black—like an ISIS fighter—in contrast to the orange jumpsuit of a prisoner he was seen wearing in five episodes of jihadist propaganda films called ‘Lend Me Your Ears.’ His hair has grown out and his skin color is less pale, suggesting that the previous videos were shot several weeks ago, around the time ISIS beheaded Foley and another American reporter, Steven Sotloff.

In the “Lend Me Your Ears” series, the British freelance photojournalist emphasizes that he is a prisoner of the Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, and doesn’t know whether he will live or die. But in Monday night’s five-and-a-half minute clip, titled “Inside Ayn al-Islam” (the Arabic name for Kobani is Ayn al-Arab), the 43-year-old Cantlie makes no reference to his captivity, raising questions about whether he has crossed the line and is now a willing propagandist for the jihadists behind the camera.”

You can read the full article here.

I quote also a British security official saying: “The video is troubling. Was this filmed under duress? Volunteered and suggested? Is this Stockholm Syndrome? Does it cross a line? Is he playing them?”

Bring Back UK Sedition Law

Listening to a recent posted video of the crude Anjem Choudary calling for the forceful overthrow of the established political order in the UK it is hard not to conclude that the 2010 abolition of the old sedition laws rather than their updating was foolish.

 

 

And Aleppo?

From my Daily Beast dispatch this weekend:

“A battle is taking shape that could decide the fate of the Obama administration’s strategy for defeating ISIS, and it’s not around the Kurdish town of Kobani. It’s for the future of the second biggest city in Syria, ancient Aleppo, besieged on three sides by the forces of the tyrant Bashar Assad and the murderous zealots of the so-called Islamic State holding part of the other side.

For the relatively moderate Syrian militias to whom the Obama administration already is funneling arms, the neighborhoods of Aleppo where they still hold ground are a last redoubt inside the country. And in the next few hours or days their last supply line to the outside very likely will be cut.”

You can read the full report here.

The Things They Say

On October 15 the Islamic State released a video featuring several foreign fighters, including a British national named Abu Abdullah. The men say coalition airstrikes against IS are considered cowardly by the jihadists because they avoid face-to-face confrontation. Yes, it is so more manly cutting the throat of a journalist or aid worker or enslaving a woman who doesn’t share your religion.

Why Do Westerners Join the Islamic State?

American and Western officials are scrambling to understand the mindsets of the Westerners joining the jihadist Islamic State. In an article today for the Daily Beast I explore the challenges they are facing.

“Identifying who already has gone to join ISIS, who might go, and why is an urgent priority, and the FBI’s psychological analysts at Quantico have been enlisted in the effort to chart the pattern of radicalization and to try to get into the heads of these young men and women.”

There is still much not understood and decades of de-radicalization programs supply only a few answers. A former senior bureau profiler, Mary Ellen O’Toole, talked me through some of the problems when putting Western jihadists on the couch, saying it is as hard as pinpointing potential serial killers in the general population.

“You can look at second or third-generation immigrant men and say they are more vulnerable but one variable doesn’t make a mass murderer,” she told me. Real-world profilers have to be cautious and avoid falling back on facile ethnic, racial or religious “profiling.”

But she had no doubts that the British jihadists involved in the killings of American reporters James Foley and Steve Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines are psychopaths.

You can read the full story here.

Waiting For The Revolution

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — He is a revolutionary man, this 46-year-old Sunni, Salafist sheik and father of six with the graying beard, twinkling dark eyes, immaculately ironed thawb and manicured fingernails. He endorses the jihadist-led uprising against the Shia-dominated regime in Iraq and he warns the marginalization of Sunni Muslims will lead to an insurrection in Lebanon, too. “The way they are dealing with us they are pushing us to it,” he says.

The Sheikh

The Sheikh

Read my full Daily Beast dispatch here.

When a Jihadist Bomber Bungled

Earlier this week I cast more light on the April 23 bombing of the French embassy in Tripoli. In a piece for the Daily Beast I added to a previous report of mine where I revealed that there was more than one jihadist target that day – bombers sought also to attack the British Council with the explosion planned to go off about six minutes after other members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell managed to detonate a powerful blast outside the French Embassy.

You can read both Daily Beast articles here and here.

The British Council attack apparently failed not because of the vigilance of security guards but as a consequence of bungling and panic by the driver of the rigged car. The driver parked his car too close to high concrete bollards, preventing him from opening his door.

The “Keystone Bomber” tried to exit through a window, prompting a guard, oblivious to the danger, to call out, offering help, according to my sources. The offer spooked the driver who reversed and made off. His companion in the getaway vehicle also made a hasty escape, smashing into a parked car round the corner.  

Below are still photographs leaked to me from the British Council’s CCTV recording of some of the saga.

Approach

The getaway vehicle, an SUV, approaches the British Council. In the distance you can see the rigged car.

 

Rigged

 The rigged car approaches the British Council.

 

Parking

 The getaway vehicle is at the end of the road while the driver of the rigged car parks in front of the British Council.

 

Reverse

 A guard opens a metal door to ask if he can help as the jihadist reverses the car. The getaway SUV has already left.