SYRIA

Syrian rebels satirise IS group propaganda

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The video opens with a scene that has become chillingly familiar: shackled prisoners in orange jumpsuits are being lined up by masked combatants. They’re in an isolated area and the soundtrack is haunting religious chants. But wait! Before you shield your eyes, you should know that this video ends differently.

That’s because it wasn’t made by the Islamic State (IS) group – it was made by a group of Syrian rebels. They decided to imitate IS group propaganda videos to prove a point: that you can fight the Syrian regime without committing atrocities.

Al-Jabha al-Shamiya (also known as the Levant Front or the Shamiya Front) is a Syrian rebel group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (or FSA). For the past few months, the FSA has been engaged in combat with the IS group in the northern part of the province of Aleppo.

On Monday, Al-Jabha al-Shamiya published this video and started sharing it online. The video shows real-life IS group combatants who were captured by the FSA. Everything about the video – from the staging to the special effects to the high-resolution images to the fast pacing – imitates the techniques used in the IS group’s propaganda videos.

The beginning of the film shows the captured IS group prisoners in orange jumpsuits. They are first led down the dark hallways of a prison, then brought to a dark room for interrogation. Just like in the IS group’s videos, the prisoners sit in front of a dark backdrop as they are interrogated facing the camera.

Each of the four prisoners confesses to one crime or another on film. The first IS group prisoner to go before the camera is described as a 19-year-old from Deir Ezzor. He says that he dug numerous mass graves in the Shaitat region. The second prisoner is described as a 17-year-old named Mohamed Ali Al-Kalaf. He says he worked as a guard in front of the IS group headquarters in Manbij, a town in the province of Aleppo. He also says that the emir who led his military unit sold petrol in government-controlled areas. A third man described as Abderrahmane Mabsout, a 27-year-old Moroccan from Casablanca, says he "didn’t know that the fighters from the Free Syrian Army were Muslim”. The fourth prisoner interrogated is described as being only 15 and named Idris Al-Khaled. He says he infiltrated the ranks of the Free Syrian Army and placed mines in their buildings.

After the interrogation scene, the video cuts to another scene in which the chained prisoners are driven by masked men to an isolated location. Once there, the masked executioners grab guns lying on a nearby table. Close shots zoom in on the guns. Religious music plays. Then, at 4’39”, the prisoners are lined up in front a hill and forced to kneel. At 5’23”, the executioners raise their guns and take aim. But, instead of firing, they put down their weapons. A message appears across the screen: “Muslims are not criminals.”

The third and final scene shows an imam in a white abaya, a type of cloak, who is lecturing the prisoners.

He says: “We’ve decided to be just towards the lost. Those who received bad instruction, we will guide them. Those who lost their way, we will welcome them. As for those who killed, they must undergo the same punishment. But we will not make an exhibit [of the executions]. We will not film [them]. We will not brag about killing."

The imam’s sermon is interspersed with images showing mass executions carried out by the IS group.

Then, at 6’30”, the imam turns towards the camera and speaks directly to members of the IS group.

"If black clothes and ski masks are your symbols – well, we’ve chosen the colour white and light. If your religion means cutting off people’s heads, well, then our religion consists of repairing them". This time, his speech is interspersed with images of another imam giving a class on Islam to a group of young people.

The video was produced by al-Kifah (“the fight”), a production company with close ties to Al-Jabha Al-Shamiya. To find out more about the making of this video, we decided to contact the company.

“We wanted to show the difference between the moderate fighters and the extremists”

Mahmoud A. works for al-Kifah, the company that produced this video.

This video is actually our first production. We used basic equipment to film, including ordinary video cameras that activists often use to film protests. We don’t have anything close to the sophisticated means of production that the IS group has, but we were determined to come up with a strong, intelligent idea to show the difference between the moderate fighters and the extremists.

After the filming was wrapped up, we did edit the footage extensively – we added sound effects and touched up the colour. Videos made by the IS group get a lot of media coverage, so we wanted to use their methods of communication to get the public’s attention. Our idea was to trick viewers-- they would believe one thing during the video, then be surprised at the end to see the difference between resistance fighters, like those in our organisation, and criminals, like those in the IS group.

The prisoners in the video, who are all captured IS fighters, were captured less than a month ago when the FSA liberated the village of Dalha in northern Aleppo.

"Unfortunately, the opposition doesn’t communicate much about its fight against the IS group"

Rami Jarah is an activist who lives in Aleppo.

“Despite the shaky Internet connection that we have in Aleppo, this video made the rounds amongst residents. But we are interested to see what kind of effect videos like this have elsewhere in the world, especially in Western countries.

In Syria, many different factions of the FSA are fighting the Islamic State group. Unfortunately, this fight gets little media coverage. Worse yet, people abroad often seem to lump opposition fighters in with the IS group and consider them terrorists.

An imam often accompanies fighters from Al-Jabha al-Shamiya when they go to battle against the IS group. On the frontlines, the imams often give sermons to the soldiers, telling them that sharia (or Islamic) law tells Muslims to fight against extremists like the IS jihadists.

There are videos of these sermons on YouTube, but they don’t get much exposure.

While the prisoners are spared in this propaganda video made by the rebel group, in reality, that is rarely the case. After they are captured by the rebels, fighters from the IS group are usually judged by an Islamic court made up of members from different factions of the FSA. We spoke to local sources, who told us that most prisoners from the IS group are then executed. However, unlike the Islamic State group, these rebels do not film the executions.