British hostage discusses American airstrikes on Islamic State’s media kiosks

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John Cantlie, a British journalist who has been held hostage by the Islamic State since 2012, is featured in a newly released video. The short production, which is three and a half minutes long, shows Cantlie standing in the alleged ruins of an Islamic State media kiosk in Mosul, Iraq.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization uses Cantlie to question the efficacy of the American-led bombing campaign, arguing that the media kiosks are hardly worthy targets. But earlier this month the Islamic State itself trumpeted the media kiosks as “one of the cornerstones” of its “internal media.”

“As the war between the Islamic State and the US-led coalition continues, the Americans have launched a surprising new tactic against the mujahideen,” Cantlie says. “Using their $13 million dollar F-18s and hundred thousand dollar missile systems, they’ve begun targeting not tanks, not trucks, not even the mujahideen, but Islamic State media kiosks.”

“This used to be one such media kiosk, targeted and destroyed the other day on this busy high street,” Cantlie continues. “Kiosks are used to distribute pamphlets and information regarding the Islamic State and serve to expose some of the lies and propaganda the Western media continues to peddle in their never-ending mission to tarnish the image of the Islamic State.”

Cantlie claims “it costs about $50 to build” one of the kiosks and he taunts the “collective might of the American war machine” because it strikes such inexpensive facilities. The British correspondent asks why the US bothers to bomb such locations: “Is it a ruse somehow by the CIA to undermine the Islamic State’s message to the Muslims of Mosul and, therefore, somehow diminish their control of the city? Is it perhaps to strike fear into the hearts of the mujahideen by abandoning any ideas to build another dozen kiosks to replace this one?”

“No,” Cantlie says, answering his own questions. “It’s because the Americans are so bankrupt of intelligence that this is all they have left to target.” He claims that the airstrikes are evidence of the “failed strategy of the US air campaign” and only risk the lives of civilians who are nearby.

“If this is what [President] Obama meant when he talked about degrading and ultimately destroying ISIS, clearly he’s got a long way to go yet,” Cantlie argues.

Amaq News Agency, a propaganda outlet affiliated with the Islamic State, released Cantlie’s video via social media and other web sites yesterday. It is his first appearance in months.

Operation Inherent Resolve Statistics as of Mar 17, 2016

Contrary to what Cantlie is forced to argue, the US-led coalition frequently targets the Islamic State’s tanks, trucks, fighters and leaders. In what amounts to a response to the Cantlie’s appearance, the Defense Department released an infographic (seen on the right) earlier today that summarizes the types of targets bombed to date. Fighting positions account for 7,118 of the 22,779 targets bombed thus far, according to CENTCOM’s data. Tanks, Humvees, buildings, staging areas and the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure are all regularly attacked.

Media kiosks are “one of the cornerstones” of the caliphate’s “internal media”

Although the video of Cantlie is intended to downplay the importance of the media kiosks, the Islamic State recently highlighted them as being an essential part of its media strategy for the areas under its control.

The 21st edition of the Islamic State’s Al Naba newsletter, which was released on Mar. 8, included an article entitled, “An Inside Look at the Media of the Islamic State.” Al Naba interviewed a jihadist known as Abu Umar al Muhajir, who has been with the media kiosk “project” from its inception.

Abu Umar explained that the Islamic State had been distributing its propaganda using CDs, but this strategy was “weak” because there were relatively few computers in the Levant. The proliferation of smart phones also made the “caliphate” rethink its messaging plans. The media kiosks are part of the propagandists’ solution and are intended “to be the conduit of communication between the people and the media of the Islamic State,” he said.

Abu Umar elaborated on the history of the media kiosks project, saying the Islamic State’s Wilayat Halab (Aleppo province) first experimented with them, but the effort initially faltered. The idea didn’t really take off until the release of the fourth episode of “The Clanging of the Swords,” an ongoing series that glorifies the “caliphate’s” war. The Aleppo media office announced the video in the media kiosks and this was “great advertising” for them. After that, all of the other wilayat (provinces) “requested the project” and it has been implemented in Raqqa and elsewhere.

The media kiosks “project has become one of the cornerstones of the internal media in the different wilayat of the caliphate,” Abu Umar emphasized, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.

Al Naba cited another Islamic State official, identified as Abu Fatimah al Ansari, as saying that the first kiosks in Iraq were placed in Mosul. There are “more than 60 media kiosks” in Iraq today, Al Naba added. The plan is “to convert these kiosks into comprehensive media centers, releasing urgent and daily news on widescreen TVs at all times, placed on the outside of the media kiosk,” Abu Fatimah told the newsletter. This is intended to counter the enemy’s “false and fabricated news.”

Al Naba also emphasized the importance of the media kiosks for the Islamic State’s recruiting, as “many” of the provinces’ residents started down the “path of jihad after learning of the truth through these platforms.” This led to a “large demand” for more kiosks. The newsletter identified fighters who allegedly joined the “caliphate’s” cause after viewing propaganda in the facilities.

According to a jihadist known as Abu Ayyah, the kiosks “attract many of the residents” beginning around “eight in the morning” and are open until the nighttime prayer. Abu Ayyah explained that many of the Islamic State’s new believers “have been affected by the media” shown at the kiosks and this means more needed to built.

Still another Islamic State media operative, known as Abu al Bara al Furati, explained to Al Naba that the six media kiosks in Raqqa, Syria are not enough to keep up with demand and so they are building more. Abu al Bara noted that the kiosks distribute propaganda in several different languages.

Therefore, less than two weeks before Cantlie’s latest video was released, the Islamic State itself explained to followers the importance of media kiosks in its overall media strategy.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Confused says:

    Well we know he is still alive.

    By the way, the FSA is picking up steam in the Azaz Corridor, it absorbed an IS counter-attack with zero US Air Support, defeated it, and and is moving forward towards el-Rai and Sawran. I’m seeing them with brand new trucks and lots of Turkish and Saudi hardware. They are also pushing on the SDF terrorists, but slower as they are prioritizing opening more Turkish supply lines and booting the SDF terrorists from Tishrin and the Manbij Plains before wiping the Afrin Canton out and clearing the SDF terrorists out of it.

    Turkey is building a rock proof case to present the world as if it were needed to begin with, that PYD is a terrorist organization front for PKK. It is also building up more forces.

    I really think Erdogan is getting ready to put the boot down on Assad, IS, and SDF. Especially as Putin is silently lifting his counter-sanctions on Turkey and there is regime in-fighting at the moment with Maher Assad removed from his post by force.

  • Tony says:

    What would “fighting positions” entail, exactly? That seems very vague. Is it just a bunch of ground troops with guns amassed in one area?

  • Arjuna says:

    Disguised covered, places in houses mostly. Holes for the rats. This is how Saif Al Adel describes them: “Building covered trenches with more than one entrance inside the yards of homes to avoid bombardment or blockage of the entrance by falling rocks. This is in regard to city inhabitants or areas expected to be bombarded. For defenders of cities, military ABC dictates digging up a trench, but the genius lies in locating the place where the trench is to be dug in order to perform its defensive purpose as well as possible. Regarding trenches, we say that fighting in open areas without aerial cover or good air defenses is a big gamble and the fighter should be camouflaged under a difficult terrain.”

  • TRM says:

    Don’t consider Cantlie a hostage. He’s a Muslim convert who is probably more of an Emir Haw-haw.

  • C-Low says:

    This is sad US war by pansy.

    All the command and control safe houses etc… in the cities not to mention basic requirements power sewer bridges roads etc… We bomb minor kiosk? Maybe in stead we should just drop a few ton of cheep pamphlets propaganda material on top around the kiosk, if its big screen TV maybe we should hack take over the entire TV network to make every radio, TV pro west anti ISIS all day everyday.

  • craig hovey says:

    The list of targets that have been destroyed seems to be paltry considering the amount of time it has taken. Regardless of that, I don’t believe that Isis would have gone to the trouble of creating this video if the destruction of the media kiosks had not hurt them.

  • Fredrik says:

    He could also been brainwashed to cooperation, he have been in their captivity for a long time, long enough to play some pretty bad mind games on him.

  • Arjuna says:

    I’m with you. He’s a traitor and a target now. Don’t care how much he’s been tortured or how. He turned. We should not say “forced” with respect to any of his efforts. War is hell. Take him out.

  • Dave12345 says:

    Lol, but this is obviously untrue, because otherwise he would have a beard. They wouldn’t allow him to shave if he was a Muslim.

  • Doug says:

    Sounds like ISIS is providing solid targets for eliminating jihadis and all efforts should be made to continue bombing them as they are built or during times of maximum usage. Anyone going near one is a potential corpse and word will quickly spread. This is what World War III looks like and we had better adapt if we are to survive. Fight terrorists with terror—its what they understand and need to learn to fear.

  • gunner says:

    he is the only journalist out of his group they didnt kill. his 1st interview he said he to do this against his will. i think being a reporter for them was his only option to live. just like much of the iraq population being force to join. and there liberators, the iraqi army was attacking the sunni population of IRaq before IS came to power. so its been a war zone for 13 years now. there is no right there.


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