Syrian Rebels Caught in ‘False-Flag’ Kidnapping

Exclusive: In August 2013, when the U.S. government almost went to war in Syria over a Sarin attack, suspicions that it was a rebel “false-flag” were ridiculed. But new disclosures about a rebel role in kidnapping NBC’s Richard Engel several months earlier show the rebels knew such propaganda tricks, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In December 2012, Syria’s U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels pulled off a false-flag kidnapping and “rescue” of NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his crew, getting the crime blamed on a militia tied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a propaganda scam that NBC played along with despite having evidence of the truth.

On Wednesday, Engel, who had blamed an Assad-linked Shiite militia in reports both for NBC and Vanity Fair, acknowledged that a new examination of the case persuaded him that “the group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia.” He added that the kidnappers “put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite shabiha militiamen.”

Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent.

Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent.

According to an account published by the New York Times on Thursday in its “Business Day” section NBC executives had evidence from the beginning that the actual kidnappers were part of “a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.”

The Free Syrian Army has been the principal rebel force supported by the U.S. government which, in April 2013, several months after Engel’s high-profile ordeal, earmarked $123 million in aid to the group to carry out its war against Assad’s government.

The other significance of the Syrian rebels’ successful false-flag kidnapping/rescue of Engel is that it may have encouraged them to sponsor other events that would be blamed on the Syrian government and excite the U.S. government and media to intervene militarily against Assad.

On Aug. 21, 2013, a mysterious Sarin gas attack outside Damascus killed several hundred people, causing U.S. officials, journalists and human rights activists to immediately leap to the conclusion that Assad was responsible and that he had crossed President Barack Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and thus deserved U.S. military retaliation.

Within days, this political-media hysteria brought the United States to the verge of a sustained bombing campaign against the Syrian military before contrary evidence began emerging suggesting that extremist elements of the Syrian rebel force may have deployed the Sarin as a false-flag event. Obama pulled back at the last moment, infuriating America’s influential neoconservatives who had long put “regime change” in Syria near the top of their to-do list.

In retrospect, the aborted U.S. bombing campaign, if carried out, might well have so devastated the Syrian military that the gates of Damascus would have fallen open to the two most powerful rebel armies, Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the hyper-brutal Islamic State, meaning that the black flag of Islamic terrorism might have been raised over one of the Mideast’s most important capitals.

Dangers of Bad Journalism

The revelations about Engel’s staged kidnapping/rescue also illuminate the dangers of biased mainstream U.S. journalism in which the big news organizations take sides in a conflict overseas and shed even the pretense of professional objectivity.

In the case of Syria, the major U.S. media put on blinders for many months to pretend that Assad was opposed by “moderate” rebels until it became impossible to deny that the dominant rebel forces were Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State. In late September 2013, many of the U.S.-backed, supposedly “moderate” rebels realigned themselves with Al-Qaeda’s affiliate.

In the case of Ukraine, U.S. journalists have put on their blinders again so as not to notice that the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev has relied on neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists to wage an “anti-terrorist operation” against ethnic Russians in the east who have resisted the overthrow of their elected President Viktor Yanukovych. When it comes to Ukraine, the more than 5,000 deaths mostly ethnic Russians in the east are all blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.”]

These biased storylines with the “U.S. side” wearing white hats and the other side wearing black hats are not only bad journalism but invite atrocities because the “U.S. side” knows that the U.S. mainstream media with reflexively blame any horrors on the black-hatted “bad guys.”

In the case of Engel’s staged kidnapping/rescue, the New York Times belatedly reexamined the case not in the context of a disinformation campaign designed to excite war against Syria’s Assad but as a follow-up to disclosures that NBC’s longtime anchor Brian Williams had exaggerated the danger he was in while covering the Iraq War in 2003 explaining the story’s placement in the business section where such media articles often go.

The most serious journalistic offense by NBC in this case appeared to be that it was aware of the behind-the-scenes reality that individuals associated with the U.S.-backed rebels were likely responsible but still let Engel go on the air to point the finger of blame in Assad’s direction.

The Times reported that the kidnapping “group, known as the North Idlib Falcons Brigade, was led by two men, Azzo Qassab and Shukri Ajouj, who had a history of smuggling and other crimes. NBC executives were informed of Mr. Ajouj and Mr. Qassab’s possible involvement during and after Mr. Engels’s captivity, according to current and former NBC employees and others who helped search for Mr. Engel, including political activists and security professionals.

“Still, the network moved quickly to put Mr. Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events. NBC’s own assessment during the kidnapping had focused on Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj, according to a half-dozen people involved in the recovery effort.

“NBC had received GPS data from the team’s emergency beacon that showed it had been held early in the abduction at a chicken farm widely known by local residents and other rebels to be controlled by the Sunni criminal group.

“NBC had sent an Arab envoy into Syria to drive past the farm, according to three people involved in the efforts to locate Mr. Engel, and engaged in outreach to local commanders for help in obtaining the team’s release. These three people declined to be identified, citing safety considerations.

“Ali Bakran, a rebel commander who assisted in the search, said in an interview that when he confronted Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj with the GPS map, ‘Azzo and Shukri both acknowledged having the NBC reporters.’ Several rebels and others with detailed knowledge of the episode said that the safe release of NBC’s team was staged after consultation with rebel leaders when it became clear that holding them might imperil the rebel efforts to court Western support.

“Abu Hassan, a local medic who is close to the rebel movement, and who was involved in seeking the team’s release, said that when the kidnappers realized that all the other rebels in the area were working to get the captives out, they decided to create a ruse to free them and blame the kidnapping on the Assad regime. ‘It was there that the play was completed,’ he said, speaking of the section of road Mr. Engel and the team were freed on.

“Thaer al-Sheib, another local man connected with the rebel movement who sought the NBC team, said that on the day of the release ‘we heard some random shots for less than a minute coming from the direction of the farm.’ He said that Abu Ayman, the rebel commander credited with freeing the team, is related by marriage to Mr. Ajouj, and that he staged the rescue.”

The Sarin Mystery

While it’s impossible to determine whether the successful scam about Engel’s kidnapping/rescue influenced the thinking of other Syrian rebels to sponsor a false-flag attack using Sarin, some of the same propaganda factors applied with the U.S. news media jumping to conclusions about Assad’s responsibility for the Sarin deaths and then ridiculing any doubters.

Yet, like the Engel kidnapping affair, there were immediate reasons to doubt the “group think” on the Sarin attack, especially since Assad had just invited United Nations inspectors to Syria to investigate what he claimed was an earlier use of chemical weapons by the rebels. As the inspectors were unpacking their bags in Damascus, the Sarin attack occurred in a Damascus suburb, a provocation that quickly forced the inspectors to address the new incident instead.

The inspectors were under extraordinary U.S. pressure to implicate Assad — especially after Secretary of State John Kerry described a massive Sarin attack using multiple rockets that he said could only have come from a Syrian military base. But the inspectors only found one crudely made Sarin-laden rocket and when rocket experts examined it, they estimated that it could only travel a couple of kilometers, meaning it was likely fired from rebel-controlled territory. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

Even as the evidence implicating the Syrian government evaporated, the mainstream U.S. news media and many wannabe important bloggers continued to defend the earlier “group think” on the Sarin attack and reject the possibility that the sainted rebels had done it. But the false-flag Engel kidnapping/rescue shows that such propaganda stunts were in the rebels’ bag of tricks.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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15 comments for “Syrian Rebels Caught in ‘False-Flag’ Kidnapping

  1. Joe L.
    April 16, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you again for the article Mr. Parry. I still remember when our media and governments, I am Canadian, kept saying that Assad must go meanwhile that only Assad could be responsible for the Sarin Gas attacks. Now I don’t believe that Assad is some great leader but I see him as the lesser of two evils. I found it interesting that around the same time that the Sarin Gas attacks happened that the Al Nusra front was caught in Turkey with 2 kg of Sarin Gas. Also, I think alarm bells should have been going off when Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, Seymour Hersh, wrote “Whose Sarin?” and “The Red Line and the Rat Line”. Of course all of this was ignored in the mainstream media, also at the time I was watching the Young Turks who I believed were fair in their reporting but they also put all the blame on Assad and either did not know about the 2 kg of Sarin Gas in Turkey along with Seymour Hersh OR they chose to ignore this information meanwhile simply going along to get along with the US State Department line.

    The same misleading reporting can be seen about Ukraine as well. When I saw that US media, and western media, reported about what Victoria Nuland said meanwhile they focused on her saying “F*** the EU” – with no investigation into this proving a US-backed coup (plus all of the information since has just been one-sided mainly relying on “social media” or photos from 2008 etc.). Overall, in both cases, it shows us how careful we need to be when we watch the news and what information they are relaying to us. Sadly, too many people ignore history otherwise it would not be so easy for our governments or media to propagandize us for their own benefit.

    • April 20, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      I do not believe the Jewish controlled news media. I know that in Canada you can not mention the word JEW and their atrocities they commit with the Palestinians but in the regular news papers you will never see any thing that is against Israel. Every thing is controlled by these creatures and we are navigating in a sea of lies and deceptions.

  2. Antiwar7
    April 16, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    The same false flag tactics, with immediate buy-in by the US and mainstream Western media, occurred throughout the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s.

  3. a reader not a follower
    April 16, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    As and avid reader of news from around the world it baffles me over and over again how false the Western press is in their evaluations of current, and past events. One not pertinent to the above article is how the poison attacks were reported in other countries.

    In the Jerusalem Post it was reported by a chemical weapons ‘expert’ that the attack was obviously Sarin (because of yellow secretions from the months of these children. His field analysis and testing was done by a video he had watched in Israel. I believe this ways a lot about the theories many people want to believe with a modicum of on-site analysis. I hope he didn’t watch it in black and white as well.

    If a expert can make a determination miles away by looking at a video, it is a sign of the anti-medical views of so many of our leaders. Unfortunately this happens from the ‘experts’ too often to think they have any credibility in both the medical world and the policies which ‘drive the bus’ they all want to hop onto. Sadly, public opinion often ‘knee-jerks’ around the same misinformation.

    For example, if the MSM actually showed the sad Maiden square massacre and amplified the perps and made available the calibers used in the atrocities (like the doctor who was there) s many people in the US would be shocked, so that is why video is often hidden. If there were more videos of the Sarin attacks, the knowledgable could point out the inconsistencies in the human bodys’ reaction to such a chemical and the entry/exit wounds. Hence the news is squashed until it is doctored, or re-edited for public consumption, editing out the right sectors’ involvement, neo-nazies and the like.

    This is the same with the terribly sad Sarin, and it was often reported how unusual it would be have so many children in one spot without parents nearby or adults around. These views are often left the the sad few who know it is highly unlikely for such an event to occur especially within that culture.

  4. Rubicon
    April 16, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Thank you, Robert Parry, for your honest reporting.
    None of this report should surprise those of us who do *not* rely on “news” from the corporate media. They regularly lie, and fail to report the real facts about US hegemony & Pals in the Middle East. Same aggressiveness is found in the Ukraine, within the “secret” TTP deal, and in the Asian Pivot.
    Frankly, we rarely watch anymore than the first two minutes of corporate headline news then we reach for our laptops to read/watch:
    KPFA in Berkely, CA Dennis Bernstein
    PaulCraigRoberts.org
    Zerohedge.com
    Consortium News
    Counterpunch.org
    RT (Russia Times)
    Pepe Escobar at Asia Times
    Goofynomics -Italian professor on EU economics in Italy
    and so many others.

    • Stefan
      April 17, 2015 at 8:07 am

      Indeed, and those are great sources.

      It is really a waste of valuable time, to read any of the MSM news. I do not read or listen to any of them anymore, if I can avoid it. I may sometimes read some article here and there, for no other reason than to get a quick view of the current presstitute narrative.

      But really, spending more than half an hour on the MSM, is a very bad investment with time and resources – and even your mental health and sanity.

      • dahoit
        April 18, 2015 at 12:16 pm

        I peruse them daily(msm web sites)to see what the enemy is thinking.NYTs,and Wapo.

  5. Fred
    April 16, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    NBC introduces Richard Engel as a widely regarded and as one of America’s leading foreign correspondents for his coverage of wars, revolutions and political transitions around the world over the last 15 years.

    Why did NBC and Mr. Engel took three years to come up with the truth?

    Sad state of journalism in this country.

    Thanks Mr. Parry

    • Stefan
      April 17, 2015 at 8:04 am

      Washington orchestrated “Regime Change” and proxy wars usually have a shelf life. Once they last too long without reaching the ultimate goal (regime change) – the sting has reached the second most (maybe even the most important objective) important objective though, total chaos, death, social, economic and human destruction – then the facts start reaching out with greater momentum.

      This is usually fine once the objective has been completed – and the perpetrators can resort to plausible deniability and “it was a mistake”, it was “blowback”, all the while shedding crocodile tears that could end the water shortage in Africa.

      But once the operation has taken too long, journalists come out one by one, trying to do damage control, lest their reputation will be destroyed later, while other journalists cannibalise on the wasted liars of past proxy wars.

  6. Gregory Kruse
    April 16, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Please send this person some money. Some pizzeria in NJ gets $800,000 for refusing service to gay people, but Parry has trouble reaching a $35,000 goal in his spring fundraiser. Is there something wrong?

  7. Inshort
    April 16, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    In response to the call for support for Consortium News, I’m forwarding the site to friends on my email list — not that I have great hopes for an enthusiastic response because 95% of Americans are dimmed out. Moreover, this news is complicated. It requires prior knowledge and understanding and the PTB, the black hats (mostly US/us) behind the shameless Middle Eastern never-ending debacle, know this, even though and/or despite the fact that the large 2013 protests against Syrian intervention did shed some rays of hope… The NYT and the other false purveyors of honest news in America know how little is the chance that any serious critique of their shoddy reportage will arise — and if it does, they can just tell more lies.

    What I’m trying to understand is: How did it come to this? The sickness has seeped into every aspect of American life, including the universities. The universities! If we can not rely upon the educational system to provide an honest and enlightening foundation for responsible citizenship, then where are we?

    The answer is “nowhere.” We are nowhere. The future for America is very bleak. Yet heroic efforts are being made by people like Robert Parry to force our eyes to open, to make sense of the nonsense.

    Thanks, Mr. Parry.

  8. Stefan
    April 17, 2015 at 7:56 am

    It is interesting how many of the people respond to the daily information disseminating the previous lies. It usually goes like this:

    “I am no fan of Assad…but” (as though anyone expects you to be a “fan”)
    “While I am no fan of Putin…though”
    “but…he [the subject the Neocons have demonised] is the lesser of two evils”. (as though you are better than the man you just called a “lesser evil” – still based on lies you just cannot shake off)

    -Who are you to judge who is evil?
    -Why must you excuse yourself when admitting the truth? Always inserting reservations that you are no “fan”
    -Who are the greater “evil” ones anyway? Many would assert that they are exactly those who proclaim themselves to be “indispensable”, “exceptional” and “chosen”.

    The dissidents were trying to inform the uninformed and/or misinformed, that the narrative put out there from day one, by the talking heads of the Neocons and Washington (the msm, mainly in USA) was ~95 % bogus and full of cherry pickings and blatant omissions.

    Still we have people here parroting the dangerous “policy of the lesser evil” when trying to redeem themselves. It is exactly that policy that has proven devastative to the world, because it will allow you to make a pact with any nefarious forces, for any made up “evil” objective, based on any kind of lie, anytime.

  9. April 18, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    I wrote, almost three years ago, how Syrian rebels engaged in false flag attacks and fabricated propaganda.

    Syria: The First Casualty…
    http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/06/22/syria-the-first-casualty/

    The “Houla Massacre” was the first major false flag event to make news around the world, and was used as a pretext for western governments to kick out Syria’s ambassadors, in a staged farce.

    “Essentially, a small hamlet in Syria was invaded by “up to 700” insurgent fighters. They attacked three government check posts in a lengthy battle, where the army returned artillery fire. A contingent of these terrorists then went house to house seeking out political opponents and massacred the entire families of those who were still loyal to the government or who had converted from Sunni to Shiite Islam.

    “When the rebels seized the lower checkpoint in the center of town… they began to sweep all the families loyal to the authorities in neighboring houses, including the elderly, women and children. Several families of the Al-Sayed were killed, including 20 young children and the family of the Abdul Razak. Many of those killed were ‘guilty’ of the fact that they dared to change from Sunnis to Shiites.”

    They collected bodies and claimed that the victims were killed by army shelling, which was obviously not consistent with forensic analysis, nor with reality.

    The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) confirmed this Russian account of the Houla atrocities on June 7th. The murdered families are named and described in more detail.

    “Several dozen members of a family were slaughtered, which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. Members of the Shomaliya, an Alawi family, were also killed, as was the family of a Sunni member of the Syrian parliament who is regarded as a collaborator.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Abermals Massaker in Syrien, 6/7/2012; Translation)

    Previously German newspaper Der Spiegel published an interview with the Syrian rebels’ executioner and his death squad named the “burial brigade.”

    “According to Abu Rami, Hussein’s burial brigade has put between 200 and 250 traitors to death since the beginning of the uprising.” (Der Spiegel, An Executioner for Syria’s Rebels Tells His Story, 3/29/2012)”

  10. April 18, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    I wrote, almost three years ago, how Syrian rebels engaged in false flag attacks and fabricated propaganda.

    Syria: The First Casualty…
    http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/06/22/syria-the-first-casualty/

    The “Houla Massacre” was the first major false flag event to make news around the world, and was used as a pretext for western governments to kick out Syria’s ambassadors, in a staged farce.

    “Essentially, a small hamlet in Syria was invaded by “up to 700” insurgent fighters. They attacked three government check posts in a lengthy battle, where the army returned artillery fire. A contingent of these terrorists then went house to house seeking out political opponents and massacred the entire families of those who were still loyal to the government or who had converted from Sunni to Shiite Islam.

    “When the rebels seized the lower checkpoint in the center of town… they began to sweep all the families loyal to the authorities in neighboring houses, including the elderly, women and children. Several families of the Al-Sayed were killed, including 20 young children and the family of the Abdul Razak. Many of those killed were ‘guilty’ of the fact that they dared to change from Sunnis to Shiites.”

    They collected bodies and claimed that the victims were killed by army shelling, which was obviously not consistent with forensic analysis, nor with reality.

    The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) confirmed this Russian account of the Houla atrocities on June 7th. The murdered families are named and described in more detail.

    “Several dozen members of a family were slaughtered, which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. Members of the Shomaliya, an Alawi family, were also killed, as was the family of a Sunni member of the Syrian parliament who is regarded as a collaborator.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Abermals Massaker in Syrien, 6/7/2012; Translation)

    Previously German newspaper Der Spiegel published an interview with the Syrian rebels’ executioner and his death squad named the “burial brigade.”

    “According to Abu Rami, Hussein’s burial brigade has put between 200 and 250 traitors to death since the beginning of the uprising.” (Der Spiegel, An Executioner for Syria’s Rebels Tells His Story, 3/29/2012)”

  11. April 19, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Another puny false flag? Who is counting? After the success of the attribution of the Twin Towers’ destruction to Osama bin Laden’s fanatical hijackers while its live video broadcast makes their explosive controlled demolition evident, this is hardly worth noticing. The Syrian rebels have much to learn from the false flag Masters.

    Love,

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