On June 16, an American media activist living in rebel-held Syrian territory sat down before a camera to vent his frustration with a former employer. Bilal Abdul Kareem described how he and his online outlet, On the Ground News, had been contracted by CNN to film the documentary Undercover in Syria.
“This was with CNN and their correspondent Clarissa Ward, which I have big-time respect for, big-time respect as a journalist, as a person,” Abdul Kareem remarked.
With a sardonic grin, Abdul Kareem described how he was slighted: “This Undercover in Syria, you can Google it — it won the prestigious Peabody Award, and it won the prestigious Overseas Press Club Award, which are basically the highest awards in journalism for international reporting. Now, [CNN] barely mentioned my name! I’m telling you, somehow CNN must have forgotten that I was the one that filmed it, I guess they forgot that.”
Indeed, Abdul Kareem’s name was a mere footnote in the Peabody Awards press release on its honoring of CNN. The organization praised Clarissa Ward for “[going] undercover into northern Syria to document Russian influence on the fighting and to navigate the ongoing devastation,” but credited Abdul Kareem only in small print, despite the fact that he was responsible for providing CNN with its on-the-ground footage.
Last December, AlterNet’s Grayzone Project exposed Bilal Abdul Kareem’s involvement with some of Syria’s most notorious jihadist figures and his open propagation of their sectarian ideology. Most prominent among the clerics granted a friendly audience by Abdul Kareem was Abdullah al-Muhaysini, the Saudi Arabian hate preacher and warlord praised by Abdul Kareem as “probably the most loved cleric in the Syrian territories today.”
Muhaysini is indeed popular among the Al Qaeda-allied rebels of Syria, and holds considerable sway over the entire region of Idlib. He has appeared in refugee camps to recruit child soldiers, raised millions of dollars for jihadist offensives and granted his blessing to the mass executions of captured Syrian soldiers on the grounds that the captives were kuffar, or blasphemers. The cleric’s goal, like that of ISIS, has been to establish an exclusively Sunni state purged of Shia, Druze and Christian citizens of Syria, and run according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
This June, Abdul Kareem appeared as a guest on a special Ramadan program on Muhaysini’s Jihad’s Callers Center. Introduced by co-host Khattab al-Otaibi as “an American in Syria who is with the rebels and mujahideen,” Abdul Kareem was welcomed by Muhaysini.
Ward’s coverage for the Undercover in Syria CNN special took place in rebel-held eastern Aleppo and Idlib. In these areas, she appeared in a full black niqab to comport with the dress code imposed by al-Nusra, whose legal apparatus had forbidden the wearing of colorful hijab and even outlawed smoking cigarettes and playing music.
Working alongside Abdul Kareem, Ward documented the aftermath of bombings by the Syrian and Russian militaries and the cruelty they visited on the civilian population. She framed the Syrian government’s battle to oust the jihadist-led rebels from eastern Aleppo as “a war on normalcy.”
At the time, Ward was possibly the only Western reporter welcomed into al-Nusra-controlled territory. Kidnappings and the gruesome killing of journalists like James Foley had become the order of the day in areas of Syria controlled by rebel militias and ISIS.
In her apparent zeal for access, Clarissa Ward solicited a working partnership with one of al-Qaeda’s top propagandists in Syria, Bilal Abdul Kareem. Having reaped the benefits of its star correspondent’s partnership with a jihadist “media man,” CNN now seeks to erase their affiliation altogether.
Read it all at Alternet.