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:
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) April 6, 2017
Her complaint was specifically directed at NBC News, which heavily promoted their interview with Islam:
This doctor in Syria describes the chilling reality of treating victims of chemical attacks. pic.twitter.com/IclMuvzJrM
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 6, 2017
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) April 5, 2017
— Emmanuelle Saliba (@_esaliba) April 6, 2017
But other outlets, including Al-Jazeera and the CBC in Canada, are also promoting Shajul Islam in their coverage of the attack:
Hospitals are overwhelmed with victims of the chemical attack in Syria. pic.twitter.com/vujObOkvIO
— AJ+ (@ajplus) April 5, 2017
— CBC News: The National (@CBCTheNational) April 5, 2017
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:
— Dr Shajul Islam (@DrShajulIslam) March 26, 2017
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:
— Emma Beals (@ejbeals) August 13, 2016
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:
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:
Shajul and Razul Islam are 2 brothers from London – linked to the British kidnapping ring in Syria which started operating in summer 2012
— Daniele Raineri (@DanieleRaineri) February 26, 2015
Man in court accused of kidnapping British photographer John Cantlie http://t.co/6gBA5uvv
— The Independent (@Independent) October 17, 2012
Cantlie spoke with Channel 4 about his captivity:
— Frank Owen (@frankowen999) August 6, 2012
The case against Islam fell apart when Cantlie was kidnapped again. Cantlie was taken along with American journalist James Foley, later beheaded by ISIS.
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) August 20, 2014
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:
British court dropped case of Shajul Islam, but British papers didn't report Cantlie had been kidnapped again. http://t.co/u9AlBMsi1n
— Edward Wong (@ewong) September 18, 2014
Cantlie has been shown in ISIS propaganda videos and magazines, and is still reportedly being held captive:
— 🏙MILENIO🏙️ (@UrgentNews5) February 19, 2017
Shajul Islam recently gave an interview in Syria with an al-Qaeda supporter, American activist Bilal Abdul Kareem, about the kidnapping charges:
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:
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:
@_esaliba Media inquiry here. Why didn’t you mention the kidnapping charges against Shajul Islam? Charges dropped after witness was kidnapped again.
— Patrick Poole (@pspoole) April 6, 2017
— Patrick Poole (@pspoole) April 6, 2017
I’ll let you know what reply I receive.