For the tenth time since taking him hostage, the Islamic State (ISIS) has paraded British journalist John Cantlie as the “host” of one of its propaganda videos, this time giving a guided tour of the contested Syrian city of Aleppo, which ISIS seeks to portray as functional and productive under its control.
Ominously, Cantlie – who spoke of his likely death at the hands of his captors in a previous outing – describes the new video as the “last in this series.”
The well-produced video is filled with travelogue-style scenes of a supposedly happy and productive Aleppo (referred to as “Halab”) under ISIS dominance, including people farming, shopping at markets, picking up propaganda leaflets at a “media point,” praying at mosques, awaiting the judgments of a sharia court, and going to school.
The latter provides an opportunity for Cantlie’s captors to force him to read a glowing account of ISIS’ fabulous education system, rebuffing “common accusations of the West” that “under Islamic State education will suffer.” He goes on to state that “religious studies and changes to the curriculum don’t quite fit their image of progressive schooling.” Instead, “here in Halab, these young men here are learning Quran recital and languages, and with any luck, they will form the mujahedeen for the next generation in this region.”
Although the video is mostly about the joys of life under ISIS, including shots of relaxed jihadis sipping tea and even fishing off a bridge, time is also spent whining about the damage from Syrian and U.S. bombing, including an interlude where a drone is spotted in the sky, and Cantlie assures the audience that his captors are not worried about being spied upon or attacked by American drones. It is implied that the drone helped Syrian aircraft target the city in a bombing run that allegedly came close to hitting the film crew, depositing the propaganda point that the U.S. military is coordinating with dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The clip wraps up with a few words from a jihadi praising the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, and calls for more of the same. “The Muslims in the West number in the millions, and they are capable of inflicting mass carnage,” he says, calling upon them to “do what is obligatory in their religion.”
As the International Business Times observes, the Islamic State has never been in complete control of Aleppo, contrary to the impression the video leaves. In fact, they have been giving up control of territory in the area to shift manpower eastward to the Kurdish front.
IBT also spots the terrorist who called for more Charlie Hebdo attacks, referring to the incident as if it had occurred very recently, suggesting that his segment of the video was filmed in mid-January. Given the ISIS penchant for pretending its captives are still alive for several weeks after it has murdered them, fears for Cantlie’s safety will be increased by the manner in which he describes the new terrorist video as the final installment in the series he was compelled to make.