British journalist John Cantlie appeared in a new ISIS video today, a seemingly eager correspondent highlighting the Islamic State in a slick propaganda production with touches of a tour guide.
No longer in an orange jumpsuit but wearing black pants and a casual brown jacket, Cantlie walks through Aleppo, referring to it by its ancient name Halab, “bombed flat by two years of war.”
The veteran photojournalist, who has worked for the The Sunday Times, The Sun the Telegraph and more, was first captured in Syria in July 2012. He was shot trying to escape (“every Englishman’s duty,” he later wrote), and was rescued within a week by the Free Syrian Army. He returned to Syria and was abducted in November 2012, not surfacing until his first video released by ISIS in September.
“Well, it’s true. I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But seeing as how I’ve been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State I have nothing to lose. Maybe I will live, and maybe I will die,” Cantlie said in that initial video.
In today’s production, looking a tad healthier than in his first video but still pale, Cantlie calls the reach of the Islamic State “breathtaking”
“One can truly appreciate firsthand the large swathes of territory liberated by and in control of the mujahedin,” he says in an embellished tone, waxing upon how “tilled land stretches as far as the eye can see … grain silos are packed to the rafters with wheat reserves.”
“Livestock leisurely graze on the lush green grass, a beautiful beginning to a delicious end here in Halab’s vibrant and colorful markets,” the Brit enthusiastically says.
The video shows kids gathered at a Quran class — “and, with any luck, they will form the mujahedin for the next generation in this region.”
At one point in the 12-minute video Cantlie points to a drone overhead. “The mujahedin really don’t care how many eyes in the sky are looking down on them.”
He then goes to the scene of a bomb strike where “the Islamic State Fire Brigade” have reported to the scene. Cantlie says the explosion was five minutes after they saw the drone. “That must have been an American drone with Assad’s bomb,” he says.
The video goes back to vistas of lakes and hills, pitching the region as “a place of serenity and real beauty.”
“The mujahedin are not phased by the bombings at all.” The video shows a jihadist fishing in the river, then mujahedin “enjoying a relaxing cup of tea back in town.”
It claims that under ISIS the town is erecting buildings with the “gorgeous white stone that Halab is so famous for.”
Cantlie then focuses on ISIS’ black flags posted everywhere around town. “The standard of the caliphate flutters high,” he declares.
The reporter then goes to a Sharia courtroom — or, actually, waiting room — sitting among unenthused people young and old, explaining the 1,400-year-old penal code and why thieves get a hand lopped off. “Sounds harsh, but you’re not going to commit the same crime again and it will dissuade others from doing the same.”
Those in the Sharia waiting room are positioned to stare at ISIS propaganda videos on a flatscreen TV. “And I must say, they’re a lot more entertaining than watching the news at 6,” Cantlie quips.
Cantlie is then shown going into the field to interview jihad leaders. One tells him the West should know that killing jihad leaders only “emboldens and motivates us upon this path, by Allah’s permission.”
He shows an ISIS media center handing out press releases so people can get news not “distorted by the West,” such as news on the Paris attacks.
Cantlie wraps up by interviewing a French mujahedin living in Aleppo, who says he was “delighted” by the Paris attacks after learning about them “a few days ago.”
The jihadist said he hoped the operation would “embolden” other Muslims in France to “defend their religion.”
“Defend your religion where you are. Kill them with knives. At the very least, strike them in the face. For the religion of Allah needs you more than you think. You are sitting on your couches, while today Muslims are being slaughtered in every corner of the world. What will be your excuse before Allah? … To all my brothers in France, I say to them: start carrying out individual attacks. Be wolves on the earth.”
The jihadist warns the West “we have also come to strike you, and we are already there to attack you.”
“The Muslims in the West number in the millions, and they are capable of inflicting mass carnage,” he says.
Cantlie called the video “the last film in this series,” leading some to wonder if that means a grisly fate soon awaits him.
But he may have been referring to a series of city tours within the Islamic State. Earlier video installments in the “Inside” series featured Kobane, now back under control of the Kurds, and Mosul.
Cantlie has also done another series for ISIS’ Al-Hayat media titled “Lend Me Your Ears,” delivered newscaster style from behind a desk, and had pieces published with his byline in ISIS’ magazine Dabiq.
Plus, he may have developed too much of a fan base among ISIS supporters to kill.
Some tweets today called for the Islamic State to produce more Cantlie videos, while one ISIS account was trying to draw attention to the Cantlie video by putting the trending topic “Kanye” in his tweet.