Shia 'Advocacy Journalism' Behind Story Claiming Saudis Gave Rebels Chemical Weapons

A website that ran a story alleging that the chemical weapons responsible for 1,429 deaths came from the Saudis to rebels who mishandled them has anti-U.S. and anti-Saudi links, as well as ties to the Occupy movement.

MintPress was started last year in Minneapolis by Mnar Muhawesh, a St. Cloud State college graduate with Palestinian immigrant parents who hired a start-up slate of experienced correspondents with funds from mysterious unnamed investors.

Editor-in-chief Muhawesh, a Shia, described her faith and journalism philosophy in an interview before starting MintPress:

"If you know what you are doing is going to make a difference for Muslims, then do it," she says. The need for Muslim, especially Shia, journalists has become crucial in the Western world, Muhawesh feels. "[We] as Muslims are not represented equally as we should be, and as long as Muslims avoid journalist careers, then the voice of the Muslims will rarely be heard or even understood," she adds.

Many Shia scholars, including the prominent Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi of Toronto, have stressed the need to enter the world of journalism. Being the mainstream source of media, journalists are gifted with that ability to let the world know what Islam and Shi'ism really stand for. As Muhawesh puts it "Alhamdullila I feel like God has given me a mission in life to represent Muslims in the one country that is fighting a war against Islam, yet the one country that is giving opportunity to everyone. I am taking advantage of this opportunity and will Insha'Allah help Muslims everywhere."

The Anti-Defamation League has mentioned Muhawesh as it keeps track of anti-Israel press.

Upon launching MintPress, she told MinnPost that she wanted to counter the "hate" of Fox News and saw no need to get comment from the accused on stories such as Rick Santorum's comments about Islam and Occupy Wall street claims that the U.S. wanted to indefinitely detain their protesters:

In the case of the Santorum story, there was no defense from the candidate or his campaign; there was also no pushback to the OWS claims. Muhawesh does not claim objectivity — “we want to fix the system,” she says, adding “we want peace, not war” — but says as the site departs its trial week, reporters will seek out authorities, too.

Correspondents and staff writers include writers and analysts with experience contributing to Iran's Press TV, J Street, Russia Today, Al-Jazeera, Occupy Wall Street, AlterNet, TruthOut and Electronic Intifada. The site promises to run stories through a "social justice" lens.

Yesterday, MintPress ran an exclusive from correspondent Dale Gavlak, a University of Chicago graduate who has lived in Amman, Jordan, the past 20 years and has also contributed to the AP, National Public Radio and BBC:

The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”

However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.

Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”

Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.

Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.

“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.

Iranian media ran with the story as well as U.S. sites such as InfoWars. The story doesn't address questions such as why Saudi Arabia would send chemical weapons to the rebels when President Bashar al-Assad and his forces are easily targeted with proper conventional munitions.

Yahya Ababneh, who shared a byline on the story with Gavlak, is a contributor to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, an anti-U.S., anti-Saudi pan-Arab newspaper that praised the 9/11 attacks as “the end of the U.S. empire" and called Osama bin Laden just "half a terrorist."