A shocking report from pan-Arab TV station Al-Jadeed reveals America’s Republican Senator, John McCain, visited kidnappers of Lebanese pilgrims.
Elizabeth O’Bagy, political director for the “Syrian Emergency Task Force” and , a U.S.-based nonprofit providing support to the opposition, allegedly organised the visit which brought McCain just half a mile inside Syria on Monday 27 May.
The 76 year-old notoriously hawkish senator is particularly famous for singing a song consisting of the words “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”
In one meeting inside the Syrian border at the Bab al-Salameh border border crossing, he held talks with Asifat al-Shamal (Northern Storm Brigade), which controls the crossing. Asifat al-Shamal is one of countless militant groups which make up the much reported “Free Syrian Army”, a term which has becoming increasingly redundant as sectarianism, religious extremism and Al-Qaeda ideology become the norm.
In Elizabeth O’Bagy’s own Twitter commentary, she announced that McCain was hosted by the Asifat al-Shamal Brigade and met twenty “commanders” in total.
Soon after or during the snap visit, at least three photos surfaced showing McCain posing with various individuals.
In the following images, McCain is posing with senior members of the Asifat al-Shamal Brigade as well as the chief of the “Free Syrian Army”, Salim Idriss.
On May 22, 2012, dozens of Lebanese men and women were travelling on a bus through Syria on their way back to Lebanon from a pilgrimage to religious sites in Iran. After crossing the Turkish border into the Aleppo region, the bus was ambushed in Azzaz by around 30 gunmen, who forced several of the passengers to dismount at gunpoint. The militants instructed one of the passengers to go to the local police station, report the ambush and inform police officers of a desire to swap the hostages for two individuals being held by police.
Following much global media coverage, it was alleged by supporters and apologists of armed groups that the hostages were “members of Hezbollah”, a predictable accusation, echoing countless war crimes in which the victims are accused of being somehow linked to the Syrian government. Usually, the victims are of a minority sect, underlining the overt sectarianism espoused by the thousand or so militant groups operating in Syria. Victims of the ambush say that they were never accused of being members of Hezbollah, but rather, that because they are Shia Muslims, they could be used as leverage to negotiate with the Syrian government. The same militant group, kidnapped Lebanese journalist Fidaa Itani in late 2012.
In total, eleven men were kidnapped by the militant groups in Azzaz. The hostages have been regularly referred to as “the Forgotten” as they are still being held in captivity.
Daniel Shoueib, a relative of one of the hostages, who was reading the news of McCain’s surprise and unexpected visit, was shocked to see the photo which showed men he recognised as the kidnappers on May 22, 2012. Daniel went on to criticise American policy, specifically the sponsoring and support of terror groups who are responsible for acts such as sectarian kidnappings. .. points to the sign in the larger version of the photo which among other words printed, says “New Syria”.
Another relative, Hayat Aouali, spoke of the United States with its influence over armed militant groups, challenging its decision-makers to use the influence to bring about the release of the hostages, who are said to be held in circumstances involving maltreatment.
Significantly, Turkey’s support for armed groups in Syria, especially for the organisation with which McCain visited in Syria, paints a bleak picture of regional positions toward Syria. Indeed, it appears to vindicate the Syrian government’s position that the insurgency and violence are a result of foreign intervention.
Reporters from Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV met militants from the Asifat al-Shamal Brigade at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing, as did John McCain on Monday. In a screenshot of Al-Jadeed TV’s report, a man identified as Muahmmad Noor can be seen – a member of the militant brigade.
In the images of McCain’s visit, the same man can be seen.
The man behind McCain’s right shoulder is Abu Youssef. He stamped the passports of the Al-Jadeed TV staff when they visited Syria through the Bab al-Salameh border crossing. The following images show Abu Youssef in both a screenshot from the Al-Jadeed report and him posing with McCain during his visit.
The following is the report from Al-Jadeed TV. The clip was translated by Arabi Souri.
Abu Youssef is spotted in a CNN report on McCain’s visit. Note that the man being interviewed is present in all of the photos of the senators visit – highlighting the mainstream media’s reliance on what it usually refers to as peaceful “activists”, despite there oftentimes active involvement in armed and usually sectarian militant organisations.
Thanks to Arabi Souri and Mustafa who helped with the translation of material.
Thanks also to Luke for editing.