John Cantlie has featured in ISIS’s latest propaganda video in a bizarre ‘chat-show’ style film, in his second period of incarceration with ISIS, having already escaped captivity in 2012 and subsequently allowed himself to be recaptured. The period leading up to the latest film is filled with intrigue and important questions, most pertinently how did he manage to become a captive of ISIS twice.
The present policy on hostages taken by ISIS for the UK & USA governments is media blackout, ostensibly to starve the abductors of publicity and to protect the lives of those taken. While the wisdom of this has been debated, it does produce the unedifying spectacle of previously unheard of journalists being shot to international fame by their sudden and unexpected deaths.
This was the case, in many respects for brutally murdered Westerners James Foley, Stephen Sotloff and David Haines who were executed in three ISIS propaganda videos released over the past month. An observation by the terrorist organisation, perhaps, that the “Message to America” execution videos were not producing the desired result of a cessation of airstrikes seems to have led to a change of tactic in the fourth film, released yesterday.
The new video “Lend me Your Ears” departs from the preceeding videos in that the feature, John Cantlie, is not executed and instead stars as the host of a talking head documentary or American style ‘chat-show’. A number of installments in the series are promised in which Cantlie will tutor us in the foibles of the West.
Cantile himself is unusual as he was relatively well known to security and counter-terrorism observers before his appearance in the film, as he had already been abducted and escaped jihadist captivity in 2012, and returning to the UK amid media attention.
His capture was especially newsworthy at the time because during his captivity he was treated for gunshot wounds by a jihadi fighter who spoke with a British accent and claimed to be an NHS doctor. Upon his return to the UK, Cantlie was debriefed by the security services and a court case ensured against the alleged jihadist Doctor, Shajul Islam, who has also returned to the UK. Cantlie was to be a star witness.
The trial collapsed and Islam went free after Cantlie was unable to give evidence. The reasons for this were initially unclear, however a feature in the Independent last week with a journalist who knew Cantlie appears to throw light on the matter. Even as the court case that could have convicted a leadinng British jihadi was collapsing, Cantlie was preparing to go back to Syria.
Journalist Kim Sengupta, who knew Cantlie wrote in the Independent: “I met Cantlie again in London, in September 2012. He was going back to Syria and wanted to meet the fighters I knew who had said they’d helped to free him… I heard that John had been kidnapped again and, with him, Jim Foley… their abductions were kept out of the media, at the request of their families and the British and US authorities, for fear of jeopardising their safety”.
An old saying may be paraphrased as ‘to be captured once may be regarded as a misfortune. To be captured twice looks like carelessness’. It is not known presently whether his stated reasons for returning are fully true, and some experts have even speculated to Breitbart London that a manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome may have factored into his decision. His flat delivery of the pre-scripted dialogue in the new video suggests it is given under duress, but we are far from knowing the full facts of the matter now.
Judging by recent ISIS trends, we could expect the next video to appear between the next five to ten days. It may be timed for release to coincide with a major event, like the Cantlie video which hijacked Scotland referendum hashtags to encourage broader dissemination, or may be accidentally leaked early like the Sotloff execution film.