Al-Qaeda-linked militants and Syrian journalists

By: Nadia Bilbassy 

 

Last summer, I had the privilege of meeting a group of young Syrian men; college graduates with high hopes, personal ambitions and plans for the future. However, the political struggle and the brutal war made sure that their dreams were put on hold.

They were determined though to make a difference. They got together and set up a radio station and called it, “Fresh FM.” They were one of a very few broadcast media outlets which operated in Northern Idleb Province.

They came under continuous aerial bombardment. Mortar shells exploded outside their office many times. Few of them saw their friends and relatives die in front of them at the hands of the Syrian regime, but the young men were determined to stay. Their biggest worry was failure.

They worked around the clock and late into the night to make sure the launch of this radio station was successful. They ran into serious problems of writing scripts, having trained voices, meeting the news bulletins deadlines and of course, faced the difficulty of uploading their material into the Internet.

They had no power or telephone lines. They ran out of diesel that fueled their generators. They battled the freezing Syrian winter but they overcame every obstacle. Finally they told me that their radio station is doing well. They added few new programs that focused on first aid, children, and women.

They were very proud of their work. They have added to the success story of Kufernubul, a small town in rural Idelb that prides itself on non-violent resistance to the Syrian regime. They gave a voice to the voiceless and they gave a glimmer of hope to an otherwise grim reality that seems to be hungry for death and destruction.

Silencing the hope

Last week, a group of heavily armed men identified themselves as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, (ISIS) raided their office.

They held the first reporter at gunpoint and led him inside the house, donated by a local lawyer so the young men could use it as an office. They confiscated all the equipment, stole all the laptops and the transmitters and destroyed the office. They led the men who happened to be working at the time onto a bus and took them away, vanishing into the darkness.

Ironically, the same house was raided in 2011. The two raids were almost identical, except one was committed Syrian soldiers and the other was by the ISIS.

The attack on the reporters was not unusual. The ISIS has been kidnapping and killing Syrian journalists and activists with impunity. Many reporters, mainly Syrians, have been targeted by ISIS which begs the question: why ISIS is killing the reporters and who are funding it and what is its agenda.

ISIS and other Al-Qaeda linked groups are not in in control of Kufurnubul. They came from outside the area but the act itself is very daring. They came again almost the day after and kidnaped an editor of a local newspaper, Mohamed Saloum.

The Fresh FM reporters were later released but their equipment was taken and the radio station came to a halt.

Journalist kidnappings the rule, not the exception

ISIS kidnaped another young reporter, Loua Abu Aljoud in Aleppo. Loau is a sweet, brave young man in his early twenties who had been working very hard to file stories about the suffering of civilians and the shortages of basic supplies of food and medicine when he was taken away by armed men. He is still in captivity. ISIS is also responsible for the kidnapping of an Aleppo comedian, Abdul Wahab al Mulla. He made satirical videos on YouTube about life in the city. ISIS didn’t find it funny.

ISIS uses extreme violence to silence reporters and activists who were in the forefront of the conflict during the early rise against the Syrian regime. They are using religion to mask its brutal agenda. They spread fear and terror.

Misinterpreting Islam

In Islam, God has ninety nine names, among them; the powerful and the revengeful; but all of suras, or chapters, in the Quran start with the merciful.

It seems that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria doesn’t even practice mercy which is the most fundamental tenant of Islam.

The first message the Prophet Mohammad received from God was “read.” It wasn’t kill, or kidnap, or even worship but read. The prophet said every Muslim should seek knowledge, even if it was far away.

The gentle egalitarian appeal of Islam enabled it to reach as far as China. Muslims built a great state in Andalusia because they were inclusive and were tolerant of other religions and ethnicities. They embraced other cultures, valued learning and sought knowledge.

During the Abbasside caliphate of Islam, the caliph used to pay gold coins to reward poets or the writers. Today, ISIS promotes the culture of terror and destruction. They shamelessly execute reporters and silence their voices.

Isn’t it time to speak up against their atrocities and call them by their true name, a bunch of blood thirsty men who remind me of the people who burnt down the biggest institute of learning in Mesopotamia, the Baghdad Library. They are anti-knowledge, and anti-progress.

The armed men who raided Fresh FM radio might not have finished high school but they managed to a silence radio station by the power of their weapons that is sadly not even of their own making

 


Nadia Bilbassy-Charters is a Senior Correspondent in Washington DC for Al Arabiya TV and MBC TV. She reports on U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis the Arab world. This article was first published in Alarabiya.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect ARA News’ policy.

 

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