In a remarkable new video released by the Islamic State militants, British hostage John Cantlie gives a tour of the Syrian city of Kobane and denounces Western coverage of the fighting in the city.
(Note: Our video team believes the first segment of may have been doctored.)
Cantlie, a photographer and journalist who was taken hostage in late 2012, has appeared in a number of propaganda videos for the Islamic State in recent months, usually in an orange jumpsuit in front of a plain black screen. However, the new video, released Monday via social media accounts linked to the Islamic State, appears markedly more professional than the previous ones. Notably, it appears to show Cantlie walking outside and animatedly discussing recent events.
The video also takes aim at a different target: Although previous videos appeared designed to criticize Western military action against the Islamic State, this time the main target appears to be Western media and their coverage of the situation in Kobane, where the Islamic State has battled for control against Kurdish militias.
The video begins with an aerial shot of Kobane purportedly shot by a "drone of the Islamic State army," before apparently showing Cantlie walking in what he describes as the "so-called PKK safe zone." (PKK refers to the Kurdistan Workers' Party.) Cantlie says the area is now controlled by the Islamic State, and he goes on to call Western media's reporting on Kobane inaccurate.
The British hostage specifically singles out reporting by the International Business Times, the BBC and the Independent's Patrick Cockburn. Cantlie argues that no Western reporters are in the city and thus are receiving their news only from "Kurdish commanders and White House press secretaries."
Perhaps what's most odd about the video is how much it apes the Western media it criticizes. The video begins with a logo "Inside 'Ayn al Islam' " (a reference to what the Islamic State calls Kobane) and makes use of a number of relatively sophisticated graphics throughout. Cantlie, who may have been speaking under duress, brings to mind BBC correspondents in his presentation.
The Islamic State also uses the video to give its cynical version of recent events, notably suggesting that "good old John Kerry" has been criticizing "Kurd-hating Turkish President Erdogan." Cantlie also makes reference to the cost of American airstrikes in Kobane ("almost half a billion dollars in total") and a U.S. airdrop that accidentally landed in the hands of the Islamic State. "The mujahideen is now being resupplied, by the hopeless U.S. Air Force, who parachuted two crates of weapons and ammunition straight into the outstretched arms of the mujahideen," he says.
At the end of the video, Cantlie says that media reports are wrong and that fighting in Kobane is almost over. "Urban warfare is about as nasty and as tough as it gets," he says, "and it's something of a specialty of the mujahideen."
Cantlie was taken hostage by the Islamic State in November 2012, at the same time as American journalist James Foley, the first hostage whose execution was filmed and shared on the Internet. Like Foley, it was the second time Cantlie had been taken hostage: He had been freed by Syrian Free Army troops earlier in 2012.
The British journalist's kidnapping has created anguish for his family. His sister recently called for the United States to "reinitiate direct contact" with his captors, while Cantlie's 80-year-old father died last week just days after filming a video from his hospital bed asking for the release of his son. “I want John to know how very proud I am of him," Paul Cantlie said in his video.