The journalist-combatants of Baba Amr

Is the crackdown on Baba Amr the biggest political masquerade since 9/11? This is what Thierry Meyssan sets out to prove in a exclusive serialized account published by Voltaire Network. In this first installment, he focuses on the alleged escape of Western journalists and demonstrates that some of them were embedded with the Free “Syrian” Army.


Member States of NATO and the GCC were unable to launch a conventional attack against Syria. However, for ten months they have been laying the groundwork by waging a low intensity war coupled with an economic and media assault. The city of Homs became the symbol of the conflict. The Free “Syrian” Army seized the neighborhoods of Baba Amr and Inchaat and proclaimed an Islamic Emirate that heralds its political program.

With the backing of Russia – still traumatized by her experience with the Islamic Emirate of Ichkeria – and China – eager to see the Syrian government protect its citizens -, the Syrian National Army stormed the stronghold on 9 February after all mediation attempts had failed. Defeated, the Free “Syrian” Army soon entrenched itself in an area of approximately 40 hectares, which was immediately sealed off by loyalist forces; it steadily withered and eventually fell on 1 March. In retaliation, the remaining armed elements of the Emirate massacred the Christians in the two villages they ripped through on their way to exile in Lebanon.

Satellite view of the independent Islamic Emirate of Baba Amr. The Atlanticist media interpret the smoke billowing from the neighborhood as proof of bombings

Throughout this period, major media have served to veil the sordid and cruel reality of this Emirate, and to replace it with a made-up story of revolution and repression. A special effort was made to create the impression that thousands of civilians were being shelled by the Syrian military artillery or the air force. At the heart of this propaganda construct, we find a press center used by the satellite channels of the Coalition: Al-Jazeera (Qatar), Al-Arabiya (Saudi Arabia), France24 (France), BBC (UK) and CNN (USA) under the coordination of Israeli journalists.

Between the antagonistic versions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Gulf Cooperation Council on the one side, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on the other, public opinion in the West and in the Gulf may well wonder which to believe. We will try to provide key elements, enabling people to decipher and determine the truth on their own. We will base ourselves on the videos broadcast by Western and Gulf TV channels, the testimonies of survivors recorded by the Voltaire Network office in Syria, and the documents which were found in the Emirate’s press center.

The two faces of Western reporters

The Western journalists trapped inside the Emirate posted distress call videos on the Internet. Two of them seem to be wounded, while the third one appears to be in good health. Their respective governments made of their retrieval a matter of principle. France dispatched an official to negotiate with the rebels. Several other states, including Russia, keen to cool tensions in the Levant, offered their good offices.

I took part in this collective effort. In actual fact, a French journalist declined the first opportunity to get out with the help of the International Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent. Suspecting a trap, she refused to accept the extended hand. My mission was two-fold. In the first place, to establish contact with my compatriots, brief them about the political and military context, and facilitate their hand over to a French official to be placed under diplomatic protection. Secondly, I had to report to those who are working for peace in this region regarding the exact sequence of events and assess the good will of the actors.

As we know, the negotiations failed. The intelligence service agents, representing the various states involved, were in a position to observe that the Syrian authorities and aid agencies had done their utmost and that the hindrance was solely attributable to the Free “Syrian” Army.

What a surprise then – genuine or feigned – for the various mediators when they suddenly learned that the three journalists whom they had tried to extract from Homs, plus a fourth who had turned down our help, were able to break through Free “Syrian” Army lines plus those of the Syrian national Army and make their way to Lebanon.

After a moment of confusion and verifying that Russia’s parallel efforts were no more advanced than ours, it became obvious that a commando armed by a major Western nation had spirited out the four journalists, and possibly more, while we had put our lives at risk unnecessarily. In such circumstances, there is no reason for me to keep silent on the underside of this affair. I will only omit from this article any reference to the officials and personalities involved, in order to preserve their ability to continue to act for peace, although mentioning certain details would have been of educational value for our readers.

There is no doubt in my mind that the survivors of Baba Amr will shape their version of events to strengthen the Atlanticist propaganda. They will continue to lie as they have lied all along. That is why, I am eager to put on record what I have seen in an effort to forestall the fabric of disinformation that is relentlessly being woven.

According to the current media rhetoric, a revolution was brutally quelled. One would think that Western journalists supposedly driven by their desire to inform, would normally have come on the spot to bear witness and report. The insurgents entrenched themselves progressively deeper into the Baba Amr district, where they survived for three weeks under a deluge of fire. Their press center was bombarded with GRAD missiles, coined “Stalin’s organs” by the Germans, on Wednesday, 22 February 2012. During this assault, Marie Colvin (Sunday Times) and Remi Ochlik (IP3 Press) were killed, while Edith Bouvier (Le Figaro Magazine) and Paul Conroy (Sunday Times) were wounded. William Daniels (ex-Figaro Magazine and Time Magazine) reportedly remained with them, while Javier Espinosa (El Mundo) allegedly split from the group.

The survivors posted four videos online that tell a strange story.

The deaths of Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik

The images of two dead journalists were seen on a video provided by the Free “Syrian” Army. Their bodies were found after the fall of the Emirate and were identified by the ambassadors of France and Poland (representing his United States counterpart).

Mary Colvin was known for her chic outfits and the contrast, that she used to juggle with, between the softness of her feminine attire and the hardness of the bandage covering her lost eye. The video, which only shows the back of the two bodies lying on the ground, is authentic and was validated by many of the media that have aired it. The two journalists are clad in battle dress. The question thus arises as to why this detail, which contravenes the non-combatant status of journalists in a battlefield, has been ignored by the public, and did not give rise to any outrage on the part of the profession.

Injured Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy at the clinic

On the second video, the Syrian Red Crescent representative working inside the Emirate, Dr. Ali – a neighborhood dentist who courageously looked after the wounded – introduces Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy who are lying on a bed in what appears be a kind of health center. Then, a Free “Syrian” Army soldier, calling himself “Doctor Mohammed” and donning a blue coat and a stethoscope, makes a revolutionary pronouncement.

Three things must be noted:
Edith Bouvier refuses to identify herself, although her name is revealed to the audience, and tries to conceal her face.
Paul Conroy rolls his eyes both anxiously and disapprovingly.
“Doctor Mohammed” is a star of Syrian opposition videos. He acts as a revolutionary doctor, while he is not a doctor. He expresses himself in a broken language, devoid of medical terms, but sprinkled with references Salafists.

Everything suggests that “Doctor Mohammed” took advantage of the situation to involve the real doctor and the two journalists in the staging of a grossly over dramatized situation.

New message by Paul Conroy from his room

In a third video, British photographer Paul Conroy is stretched out on a couch, after receiving care. He asks for help and takes pains to clarify that he is there as a guest and not as a prisoner.

He looks just as uneasy as in the first video and drops several hints to the audience. He calls on “global agencies” to intervene because “they are working towards the same objectives on the ground”. Who are these “global agencies” that supposedly have the power to pull him out of the Emirate? It can only be public agencies, be they intergovernmental like the UN, or national, such as intelligence agencies. What does “working towards the same objectives on the ground” mean? He cannot be referring to a UN activity, since they are not involved with journalism. The only possible interpretation is that he is sending a message to Allied intelligence agencies, hinting that he belongs to one of their British counterparts.

Unlike Mary Colvin, her photographer for her Sunday Times reporting assignments, Paul Conroy is not wearing a uniform on the battlefield, but he does not need one to be recognized.

“Doctor Mohammed” intervenes to give us his diagnosis. Paul Conroy was allegedly wounded in the leg the day before by a GRAD missile. He shows us an immaculate leg bandage. Despite the extreme seriousness and freshness of the wound, his leg is not swollen. “Doctor Mohammed” did not steal his title: With no medical training, he manages to perform medical miracles.

At the end of his speech, Paul Conroy butts in with a reassuring message for “his family and friends in England”: “I am perfectly well.” Though the hidden meaning may have escaped “Doctor Mohammed,” those who know that Paul Conroy is from Northern Ireland, and not from England, will have no trouble deciphering it. The “photographer” is speaking to the upper echelons of the British military agency he works for, and lets them know that this pantomime should not be taken seriously: He is OK.

This time it is Paul Conroy who seems to have taken advantage of “Doctor Mohammed”’s theatrics to get his message across, while immobilized by his injury.

New message by Edith Bouvier and her companion

In a fourth video, filmed and broadcast the same day, Edith Bouvier, supine in in her bed of misfortune, calls for help. She requests (1) “the establishment of a cease-fire” and (2) a “medicalized car to drive her to Lebanon,” so that she may be treated quickly.

Since the requirements expressed are those of a truce that allow for the circulation of an ambulance and transportation to a hospital for treatment, such claims are totally incongruous.
(1) A cease-fire is an agreement to suspend all hostilities between the parties in the context of political negotiations, while a truce is a military draw, in a specific area and during a specified time frame, to permit the movement of persons or humanitarian supplies.
(2) Moreover, being taken to Lebanon would first require an amnesty for the crime of illegal immigration, Edith Bouvier having been smuggled into Syria to be with the rebels.

Although these two requirements are not elaborated on, they correspond to the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” in the sense intended by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé.

Alain Juppe is unfortunately known for his ability to reverse roles and his use of “humanitarian corridors.” In 1994 he had obtained from the UN Security Council a resolution authorizing Operation Turquoise, which is to say the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” to prevent the Hutu population of Rwanda from being slaughtered in turn in the wake of the crimes committed mainly by the Hutu Power against the Tutsi population. We now know that this corridor was more than just humanitarian. It allowed France to smuggle out the genocide perpetrators intermingled with the civilians, thus exempting them from having to answer for their crimes. Alain Juppé has sought this time to smuggle out armed groups responsible for killings in Syria.

It should be noted that Edith Bouvier is not voicing her own needs; her requirements correspond to the interests of the Free “Syrian” Army, as defended by France.

It is not surprising that the journalist should act as Alain Juppé’s spokesperson. She was hired to work for Le Figaro by Georges Malbrunot. According to the Syrian authorities, in the 80’s the latter was the DGSE officer in charge of liaising with the Muslim Brotherhood. He was arrested in Hama, then handed over to the French authorities at the urging of President François Mitterrand.

In the next sequence, “Dr. Mohammed” explains the situation, while Bouvier’s companion, photographer William Daniels (freelance at Le Figaro-Magazine, then for Time Magazine) underscores its urgency. The statements in Arabic are translated into English by a fourth character that cannot be seen on the screen. Finally a fifth participant, young Khaled Abu Saleh, ends the video on a revolutionary note.

While in the first videos both Edith and Paul clearly refused to cooperate with “Doctor Mohammed,” this time she willingly tags along.

Young Khaled Abu Saleh is the head of the Free “Syrian” Army press center. According to journalists who have used this facility, the Center, located in a dilapidated building, was equipped with all the necessary hi-tech material. Journalists could do their film editing, and had satellite equipment for live broadcasts. Some ironically compared the level of the computer center to that of the Syrian National Army, which continues to use antiquated transmission systems.

There is no mention of the generous sponsors who supplied this state-of-the-art installation. But Khaled Abu Saleh’s professional activities could give us a clue. The young revolutionary was himself a journalist. He is permanent correspondent for Al-Jazeera, which features his blog on its website, and freelances for France24, where he is listed as collaborator on the “Observers” column. These two satellite TV stations are spearheading NATO and GCC propaganda to justify regime change in Syria, as they did to justify the one in Libya.

As an example of the ethics practiced by the French public station, on 7 June 2011, France24 had broadcast live a very moving telephone speech by Syria’s ambassador to France, Lamia Shakkour, announcing her resignation in protest against the massacres in her country. Immediately the French diplomatic machine started to put pressure on all the Syrian ambassadors in the world to follow this good example. Alas! Although Renée Kaplan, the deputy editor-in-chief of France24, swore that the voice on the phone belonged to the Ambassador, whom she knew well, it was actually that of journalist Fahd Alargha-Almasri’s wife. The intoxication fizzled out [1].

Spurred by Alain de Pouzilhac and Christine Ockrent-Kouchner, France 24 and RFI have ceased to be news organizations to become instruments of the French military-diplomatic apparatus. Thus, on 5 July 2011, Alain de Pouzilhac, as CEO of the Société de l’audiovisuel extérieur de la France (AEF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Shammam Mahmoud, Information Minister of the Libyan rebels. He pledged to create anti-Gaddafi media and to train the necessary personnel to facilitate the overthrow of the Libyan “Guide.” The announcement drew the ire of France24 and RFI journalists, furious at being used for this propaganda enterprise. Everything suggests that similar provisions have been made to foster “citizen journalism” among “Syrian revolutionaries.” If this is the case, the role of Khaled Abu Saleh is not just limited to corresponding and freelancing; he is a key player in the fabrication of false information on behalf of the French military-diplomatic device.

As already seen, Edith Bouvier was at first reluctant to take part in the stage-acting. This time instead she collaborated with her colleague from France24, recording a call for help aimed at manipulating the sympathy of the public to justify the establishment of a “humanitarian corridor,” in line with Alain Juppé’s need to evacuate the mercenaries of the Free “Syrian” Army and the Western instructors.

First conclusions

At this stage of my video-based analysis, I have formulated ​several working hypotheses.
The team from the Sunday Times (Mary Colvin and Paul Conroy) was working for MI6, while Le Figaro Magazine correspondent (Edith Bouvier) was sent by the DGSE.
“Doctor Mohammed” seized the opportunity that the journalists were bedridden to record two more videos, but Paul Conroy, in turn, used it send a distress message to his allies.
Ultimately, the France24 freelance, Khaled Abou Saleh, created the scenario for Alain Juppe’s objective.

Negotiation breakdown or negotiation shift?

Throughout the negotiations, I was able to provide various insights that were taken into consideration. But whenever I broached the above aspects, I was told that it was not the right time. It was clear that the Free “Syrian” Army was refusing to release the journalists. The priority was therefore to save them. Their actual status would be dealt with later.

On Saturday evening, 25 February, the negotiations folded. To restore contact with the Takfirists, the Syrians sought a moderate sheikh with whom the group would agree to talk, but all the clergymen who were approached stepped back one after the other for fear of the consequences. Should we continue to camp on site waiting for discussions to resume as soon as a sheikh could be found? Or was it better to return to Damascus to rest in safety?

The answer came from the Syrian military authorities. We were asked to return and to remain on stand-by for a new opportunity to emerge. Back in the capital, an SMS informed us that negotiations had been suspended for 48 hours.

Suspended did not imply that we could enjoy ourselves on Sunday and Monday while our fellow countrymen were in danger of death, but that during those 48 hours another negotiation was underway. At that moment, I thought that our Russian friends had taken the relay.

On Tuesday morning I was awakened by a friend, a war reporter for a major French media outlet, who called to inform me of the arrival of Paul Conroy and, probably, other journalists in Beirut. I was shocked. In turn, I woke up a senior Syrian official, who shared my perplexity. From phone call to call, nobody in Damascus knew anything, or would not speak.

Ultimately, I discovered that an agreement had been worked out between General Assef Shawkat and a highly placed French personality, whom he knew as a friend, to find a political solution to the imbroglio. Loyalist forces opened their lines to allow the French military advisers and journalists to cross into Lebanon overnight. At daybreak, the Free “Syrian” Army discovered they were gone. Realizing that they had been left on their own, the mercenaries decided to give themselves up, leaving their arsenal behind, while the Islamists refused the heed the final warnings. General Assef Shawkat gave the final assault and took the Emirate within hours, delivering the trapped civilians from the tyranny of the Islamists.

From its headquarters abroad, the Free “Syrian” Army – now reduced to a shadow of itself – announced its “strategic withdrawal.” Since nature abhors a vacuum, the Syrian National Council, also based abroad, has meanwhile announced the creation of a Military Committee composed of Syrian and, especially, foreign experts. In four days, the military question has moved from the Syrian battlefield to posh lounges of the great Parisian hotels.

To be continued …

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