Homeland Security

On Chemical Weapons Attack International Media Turn to Former Doctor Accused of Kidnapping Journalists

Aya Fadl, lies on a bed, with an oxygen mask to heal breathing difficulties following a suspected chemical attack on her town of Khan Sheikhoun, in the northern province of Idlib, Syria, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (Courtesy of Aya Fadl via AP)

The alleged chemical weapons attack this week near Idlib, Syria captured the attention of the world, as international media published horrific images of the dying and injured.

But many journalists who have covered the conflict on the ground are now outraged, as Shajul Islam — a former British doctor who had his license stripped after being accused of participating in a terrorist kidnapping ring targeting Western journalists — is being interviewed and promoted by international media as an expert for presenting commentary on the incident.

British journalist John Cantlie was to be the main witness against Islam during the pretrial hearing. However, Cantlie was then kidnapped a second time. Cantlie is still being held captive by the Islamic State.

Because Cantlie wasn’t available to testify at the trial, the kidnapping charges were dropped against Islam.

One of the currently outraged reporters is Jenan Moussa. She has filed numerous reports from inside Syria and is one of the top journalists covering the conflict:

Her complaint was specifically directed at NBC News, which heavily promoted their interview with Islam:

But other outlets, including Al-Jazeera and the CBC in Canada, are also promoting Shajul Islam in their coverage of the attack:

Meanwhile, Islam is now using his new notoriety to raise money for his efforts. In his videos, he seems more concerned about propaganda and his fundraising than in treating the chemical weapons victims:

Islam reportedly fled back to Syria last year after having his medical license revoked. He has been active on social media from areas controlled by Jabhat al-Fateh, the former al-Qaeda affiliate:

Shajul Islam and his brother were arrested in November 2012, accused of being part of a British kidnapping cell that operated on the Turkish-Syrian border where many Western journalists would cross:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNequ62JZqw

Two of those kidnapped journalists taken by the cell, Cantlie and Jeroen Oerlemans, were taken by the British cell in July 2012 and later released. Cantlie presented evidence against Shajul Islam during his pretrial hearing.

Oerlemans was later killed covering the conflict in Libya:

Cantlie spoke with Channel 4 about his captivity:

The case against Islam fell apart when Cantlie was kidnapped again. Cantlie was taken along with American journalist James Foley, later beheaded by ISIS.

Because Cantlie was no longer able to testify, the charges were dropped. The Daily Beast reported:

The London legal case was viewed among extremist groups in Syria as a call to action to accelerate abductions of Western journalists, because one of the former hostages had testified against the alleged extremists in pretrial hearings before the case fell apart. The case also highlights the British government’s long struggle with how to combat the growing number of its own citizens who are waging jihad in Syria and fighting alongside ISIS.

In early November 2013, the British government released and dropped all charges against Shajul Islam, a British-trained doctor who was associated with the NHS. Islam had been arrested in October 2012 when he arrived back in London with his wife and child at Heathrow airport and was charged with the false imprisonment of two Western journalists kidnapped in Syria in July 2012.

The British government also charged in 2012 his older brother Najul for helping Shajul prepare for the abductions and his associate Jubayer Chowdhury for participating in false imprisonment. Charges against those two men were also dropped late last year. Shajul’s younger brother Razul is also believed to have gone to Syria to wage jihad.

The case fell apart because the two Western journalists who had been abducted in Syria in July 2012 and could identify the suspects did not appear to testify at the trial. One of them had testified against Shajul Islam at pretrial proceedings and said Islam was part of a cell of foreign-born extremists in Syria that included 10 to 15 U.K. citizens. Islam, through his lawyer, denied being involved in the abductions at the time.

The British media covering the trial were baffled as to why the charges against Shajul were dropped, as it hadn’t yet been reported that John Cantlie had been kidnapped again:

Cantlie has been shown in ISIS propaganda videos and magazines, and is still reportedly being held captive:

Shajul Islam recently gave an interview in Syria with an al-Qaeda supporter, American activist Bilal Abdul Kareem, about the kidnapping charges:

https://twitter.com/NoahHurowitz/status/840683324125388801

Since fleeing the UK and being smuggled back into Syria, several UK charities have raised considerable sums to support Shajul Islam with no explanation how supplies would be able to make it into besieged areas, or what is being done with the money:

https://twitter.com/LukasMikelionis/status/811502259439894528

As one UK media outlet reported this past November on funds being sent to Shajul Islam:

Former counter-terror cop Chris Phillips said: “Security services would be interested to know how the funds are used.”

I’ve asked NBC Senior editor Emmanuelle Saliba on Twitter why no mention of Islam’s background was mentioned in their broadcast:

I’ll let you know what reply I receive.