US Air Force personnel testing chemical weapons (Photo: Robin Cresswell. Source: Wikicommons)
According to the White House and Western mainstream media, on the morning of April 4, 2017, the Syrian ‘regime’ of Bashar Al-Assad carried out a sarin gas airstrike on the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Although no proper investigation was carried out, the event resulted in the US launching a barrage of Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military airbase two days later. Two months have now passed, and there remains no proof that the Syrian government carried out this attack. In fact, none of the evidence supports that version of events.
21WIRE has been intensely scrutinizing this incident since the beginning. From the very day it occurred, problems with the Western narrative began to appear. As usual, the sources for this story were ‘opposition activists’ with an incentive to blame the Syrian government and draw the West into a military conflict with the Syria. (Assad, on the other hand, has no incentive to cross the West’s chemical weapons ‘red line’.) Photos of insufficiently protected first responders forced people to question whether sarin was even present. But as usual, mainstream media outlets such as BBC, CNN, and the New York Times jumped on board, cheerleading the West to the brink of war.
The incident, or at least the reporting that followed it, was eerily reminiscent of the 2013 sarin attack on the town of Ghouta – which the West similarly tried to pin on Assad, though that story was soon debunked and the incident proven to be a false flag attack. The Khan Sheikhoun incident follows the same pattern as Ghouta, with the West’s version of events failing to hold up under scrutiny and numerous indications that this was another false flag. Readers can find some of 21WIRE’s previous reporting on Khan Sheikhoun here, here, here and here.
A key critic of the Western narrative is Dr Theodore Postol, a scientist, professor and missile researcher with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose criticism of both the 2013 Ghouta attack and the recent Khan Sheikhoun incident 21WIRE has covered at length. Dr Postol’s approach is purely forensic, analysing factors such as wind direction and weather conditions, all available photographic evidence, the munitions supposedly used, and the dynamics of the gas’s dispersal into the air. Within a day of the White House releasing its intelligence report on the incident, Dr Postol declared that it could not possibly be correct. Now, he has moved beyond that initial analysis and recently applied his forensic skills to a New York Times video, which is based almost exclusively on social media from terrorist-controlled areas.
Keep in mind that both the author of the following article, Robert Parry, and Dr Postol – the principal source for it – are heavyweight critical thinkers who are weighing in on this supposed sarin event.
Parry proved his worth as a journalist in the 1980s by being the one to break much of the Iran-Contra affair, among other stories. In the following article and others, Parry demonstrates a highly sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the situation in Syria, and as an independent thinker is explicitly critical of Western pundits’ and establishment figures’ tendency to suffer from groupthink and confirmation bias. (The word ‘groupthink’ is a misnomer, as the phenomenon is actually devoid of much thought; it would be more appropriate to call it ‘group non-think’.)
As for his part, Dr Postol is also an extremely credible source. Not only is he a scientist affiliated with a top university, but both his experience and his areas of study qualify him to speak up on matters such as this. Aside from his post at MIT, he has previously been a missile researcher for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and a scientific adviser to the Chief of Naval Operations, and he won the Norbert Wiener award for “uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses.” It is also noteworthy that Dr Postol’s late former partner, Dr Richard Lloyd, was previously a UN weapons inspector.
Unfortunately, various forms of evidence are often misinterpreted, spun, and woven into narratives which suit a foreign policy outcome. This appears to be the case with the ‘trio’ of the New York Times, Bellingcat and Human Rights Watch, and their analysis of the alleged ‘chemical attack.’
Or, as Dr Postol wrote, the term “‘fake news‘… comes perilously close to actually describing what is happening.”
More on this story from Consortium News…
Former US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov negotiate a chemical weapons agreement in 2013 (Photo: US Department of State. Source: Wikicommons)
For U.S. mainstream journalists and government analysts, their erroneous “groupthinks” often have a shady accomplice called “confirmation bias,” that is, the expectation that some “enemy” must be guilty and thus the tendency to twist any fact in that direction.
We have seen this pair contribute to fallacious reasoning more and more in recent years as the mainstream U.S. media and the U.S. government approach international conflicts as if the “pro-U.S. side” is surely innocent and the “anti-U.S. side” is presumed guilty.
That was the case in assessing whether Iraq was hiding WMD in 2002-2003; it was repeated regarding alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria during that six-year conflict; and it surfaces as well in the New Cold War in which Russia is always the villain.
The trend also requires insulting any Western journalist or analyst who deviates from the groupthinks or questions the confirmation bias. The dissidents are called “stooges”; “apologists”; “conspiracy theorists”; or “purveyors of fake news.” It doesn’t really matter how reasonable the doubts are. The mocking insults carry the day.
In addition, there is almost no accountability in those rare cases when the mainstream media and government propagandists must admit that they were demonstrably wrong. For every Iraq WMD confession – which resulted in almost no punishments for the “groupthinkers” – there are dozens of cases when the Big Boys just hunker down, admit nothing and count on their privileged status to protect them.
It doesn’t even seem to matter how well-credentialed the skeptic is or how obvious the failings of the mainstream analysis are. So, you even have weapons experts, such as Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who are ignored when their judgments conflict with the conventional wisdom.
The Syrian Case
For instance, in a little-noticed May 29, 2017 report on the April 4, 2017 chemical weapons incident at Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria, Postol takes apart the blame-the-Syrian-government conclusions of The New York Times, Human Rights Watch and the Establishment’s favorite Internet site, Bellingcat.
Postol’s analysis focused on a New York Times video report, entitled “How Syria And Russia Spun A Chemical Strike,” which followed Bellingcat research that was derived from social media. Postol concluded that “NONE of the forensic evidence in the New York Times video and a follow-on Times news article supports the conclusions reported by the New York Times.” [Emphasis in original.]
The basic weakness of the NYT/Bellingcat analysis was a reliance on social media from the Al Qaeda-controlled area of Idlib province and thus a dependence on “evidence” from the jihadists and their “civil defense” collaborators, known as the White Helmets.
The jihadists and their media teams have become very sophisticated in the production of propaganda videos that are distributed through social media and credulously picked up by major Western news outlets. (A Netflix infomercial for the White Helmets even won an Academy Award earlier this year.)
Postol zeroes in on the Times report’s use of a video taken by anti-government photographer Mohamad Salom Alabd, purporting to show three conventional bombs striking Khan Sheikhoun early in the morning of April 4.
The Times report extrapolated from that video where the bombs would have struck and then accepted that a fourth bomb – not seen in the video – delivered a sarin canister that struck a road and released sarin gas that blew westward into a heavily populated area supposedly killing dozens.
The incident led President Trump, on April 6, to order a major retaliatory strike with 59 Tomahawk missiles hitting a Syrian government airfield and, according to Syrian media reports, killing several soldiers at the base and nine civilians, including four children, in nearby neighborhoods. It also risked inflicting death on Russians stationed at the base.
A Wind Problem
But the Times video analysis – uploaded on April 26 – contained serious forensic problems, Postol said, including showing the wind carrying the smoke from the three bombs in an easterly direction whereas the weather reports from that day – and the presumed direction of the sarin gas – had the wind going to the west.
Indeed, if the wind were blowing toward the east – and if the alleged location of the sarin release was correct – the wind would have carried the sarin away from the nearby populated area and likely would have caused few if any casualties, Postol wrote.
Postol also pointed out that the Times’ location of the three bombing strikes didn’t match up with the supposed damage that the Times claimed to have detected from satellite photos of where the bombs purportedly struck. Rather than buildings being leveled by powerful bombs, the photos showed little or no apparent damage.
The Times also relied on before-and-after satellite photos that had a gap of 44 days, from Feb. 21, 2017, to April 6, 2017, so whatever damage might have occurred couldn’t be tied to whatever might have happened on April 4.
Nor could the hole in the road where the crushed “sarin” canister was found be attributed to an April 4 bombing raid. Al Qaeda jihadists could have excavated the hole the night before as part of a staged provocation. Other images of activists climbing into the supposedly sarin-saturated hole with minimal protective gear should have raised other doubts, Postol noted in earlier reports.
There’s also the question of motive. The April 4 incident immediately followed the Trump administration’s announcement that it was no longer seeking “regime change” in Syria, giving the jihadists and their regional allies a motive to create a chemical-weapons incident to reverse the new U.S. stand. By contrast, the Syrian government seemed to have no logical motive to provoke U.S. outrage.
In other words, Al Qaeda and its propagandists could have posted video from an earlier bombing raid and used it to provide “proof” of an early-morning airstrike that corresponded to the staged release of sarin or some similar poison gas on April 4. Though that is just one possible alternative, it’s certainly true that Al Qaeda does not show very much humanitarian concern about the lives of civilians.
Critics of the White Helmets have identified the photographer of the airstrike, Mohamad Salom Alabd, as a jihadist who appears to have claimed responsibility for killing a Syrian military officer. But the Times described him in a companion article to the video report only as “a journalist or activist who lived in the town.”
Mocking the Russian/Syrian Account
For their part, the Syrian government and the Russians said Syrian planes conducted no airstrike early in the morning but did attack the area around noon. They speculated that the noontime attack may have struck chemical weapons stored by the jihadists, causing an accidental release of poisonous gas.
The Times jumped on the discrepancy between the reports of an early-morning attack and the Syrian-Russian account of a noontime strike to show that the Syrians and Russians were lying.
In response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asking, “How can you verify the video?” the Times narration by Malachy Browne smugly says: “Well, here’s how. Let’s take a look at videos, satellite photos and open source material of that day. They show that Assad and Russia are telling a story that contradicts the facts.”
Yet, the Times’ point about the Syrians and Russians lying about the time element makes little sense because the Syrians and Russians aren’t denying that an airstrike occurred. They acknowledged that there was an airstrike, albeit later in the day, and they speculate that the attack might have accidentally released chemicals stored by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. In other words, they gained no advantage by putting the time at noon instead of early in the morning.
There could have been honest confusion on the part of the Syrians and Russians as they struggled to understand what had occurred and how – or the noontime airstrike and the morning chemical release could have been unrelated, i.e., the jihadists and/or their foreign allies could have staged the early-morning poison-gas “attack” and the Syrian bombing raid could have followed several hours later but could have been unrelated to the poison-gas release.
However, for the Times and others to pounce on a seemingly meaningless time discrepancy, further shows how “confirmation bias” works. The “enemy” must be shown to be guilty, so any comment – no matter how innocent or irrelevant – can be cited to “prove” a point.
Double Standard on Trust
The Times also has displayed a bizarre bias when Syrians speak from government-controlled areas. Then, the Times always inserts language suggesting that the interviewees may be under coercion. Yet the Times assumes that “witnesses” inside Al Qaeda-controlled territory are commenting honestly, freely and without fear of contradicting the jihadists.
The Times’ double standard is particularly curious because United Nations investigators don’t even dare enter these jihadist zones because the jihadists have a history of beheading journalists and other civilians who get in the way.
An example of this bias was on display in Wednesday’s Times in an article about the family of Omran, the boy made famous by a photo of him in an ambulance. The article discussed the family’s ordeal and mentioned the father’s vocal support for the Assad government.
However, because the family backed Assad, the Times inserted this caveat: “Syrians appearing on state television or on channels associated with the Assad government are not able to speak freely. The government exerts tight control over all information broadcast about the war, including interviews with civilians, who can be coerced and threatened with arrest if they criticize the government.”
Yet, the Times treats interviews with people inside jihadist-controlled territory as inherently truthful with the interview subjects described in favorable or neutral terms, such as “rescue workers,” “journalists,” “eyewitnesses” or sometimes “activists.” There is rarely any suggestion that Al Qaeda might either be controlling these messages or intimidating the interviewees, who are usually denouncing Assad, what the Times and other mainstream news outlets want to hear.
This gullibility has continued despite evidence that the jihadists do generate sophisticated propaganda to promote their cause, including staging “false-flag” chemical weapons attacks. For instance, U.N. investigators who examined one alleged chlorine-gas attack by the Syrian government against Al-Tamanah on the night of April 29-30, 2014, heard multiple testimonies from townspeople that the event had been staged by rebels and played up by activists on social media.
“Seven witnesses stated that frequent alerts [about an imminent chlorine weapons attack by the government] had been issued, but in fact no incidents with chemicals took place,” the U.N. report stated. “While people sought safety after the warnings, their homes were looted and rumours spread that the events were being staged. … [T]hey [these witnesses] had come forward to contest the wide-spread false media reports.”
Accounts from other people, who did allege that there had been a government chemical attack on Al-Tamanah, provided suspect evidence, including data from questionable sources, according to the U.N. report.
The report said, “Three witnesses, who did not give any description of the incident on 29-30 April 2014, provided material of unknown source. One witness had second-hand knowledge of two of the five incidents in Al-Tamanah, but did not remember the exact dates. Later that witness provided a USB-stick with information of unknown origin, which was saved in separate folders according to the dates of all the five incidents mentioned by the FFM [the U.N.’s Fact-Finding Mission].
“Another witness provided the dates of all five incidents reading it from a piece of paper, but did not provide any testimony on the incident on 29-30 April 2014. The latter also provided a video titled ‘site where second barrel containing toxic chlorine gas was dropped tamanaa 30 April 14’”
Some other “witnesses” alleging a Syrian government attack offered curious claims about detecting the chlorine-infused “barrel bombs” based on how the device sounded in its descent.
The U.N. report said, “The eyewitness, who stated to have been on the roof, said to have heard a helicopter and the ‘very loud’ sound of a falling barrel. Some interviewees had referred to a distinct whistling sound of barrels that contain chlorine as they fall. The witness statement could not be corroborated with any further information.”
The U.N. report might have added that there was no plausible explanation for someone detecting a chlorine canister in a “barrel bomb” based on its “distinct whistling sound.” The only logical conclusion is that the chlorine attack had been staged by the jihadists, and their supporters then lied to the U.N. team to enrage the world public against the Assad regime.
Another Dubious Case
In 2013, the work of Postol and his late partner, Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories, debunked claims from the same trio — Bellingcat, the Times and Human Rights Watch — blaming the Syrian government for the even more notorious sarin-gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, which killed hundreds.
Postol and Lloyd showed that the rocket carrying the sarin had only a fraction of the range that the trio had assumed in tracing its path back to a government base.
Since the much shorter range placed the likely launch point inside rebel-controlled territory, the incident appeared to have been another false-flag provocation, one that almost led President Obama to launch a major retaliatory strike against the Syrian military.
Although the Times grudgingly acknowledged the scientific problems with its analysis, it continued to blame the 2013 incident on the Syrian government. Similarly, Official Washington’s “groupthink” still holds that the Syrian government launched that sarin attack and that Obama chickened out on enforcing his “red line” against chemical weapons use.
Obama’s announcement of that “red line,” in effect, created a powerful incentive for Al Qaeda and other jihadists to stage chemical attacks assuming that they would be blamed on the government and thus draw in the U.S. military on the jihadist side. If Obama’s expected “retaliation” had devastated the Syrian military in 2013, Al Qaeda or its spinoff Islamic State might well have taken Damascus.
Yet, the 2013 “groupthink” of Syrian government guilt survives. After the April 4, 2017 incident, President Trump took some pleasure in mocking Obama’s weakness in contrast to his supposed toughness in quickly launching a “retaliatory” strike on April 6 (Washington time, although April 7 in Syria).
READ MORE SYRIA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire SYRIA Files
Washington’s “Jihadi Express”: Indonesia – Afghanistan – Syria – Philippines
21st Century Wire
It was late at night but the new Terminal 3 at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport outside Jakarta was still bustling with families and friends waiting for their loved ones returning from abroad.
My friend Noor Huda Ismail was just arriving from Singapore, and I decided to pick him up and discuss ‘certain issues’ with him in the car, on the way to the capital. Lately he and I were busy, awfully busy, and a one-hour journey seemed to be the most appropriate setting for the exchange of at least some essential ideas and information.
Huda could easily pass for the most knowledgeable Indonesian “expert on terrorism”; a Muslim man who grew up and was educated in the madrasahs that have produced some of the most notorious jihadi cadres in the country. Later he became the man who managed to ‘get away’ from the extremism, to study, and to finally become a respected filmmaker and a thinker.
For years, both of us have been studying a complex web produced by Western imperialism – a web, which has literally destroyed entire countries, while locking other ones ‘behind bars’, in virtual neo-colonialist slavery. All this done in the name of ‘freedom’ and democracy, naturally, and often using various religions as tools, even as weapons.
Inside the car we managed to quickly ‘compare notes’. Huda filled me in on his groundbreaking film ‘Jihad Selfie’, while I informed him about my political revolutionary novel ‘Aurora’, and my big work in progress, a book about Afghanistan. I also mentioned my future ‘Afghan’ film, a dark love story, a drama about betrayal, collaboration and the virtual collapse of one family; a film which I’m preparing to produce and direct sometime during the next year.
“Afghanistan,” he says, “that’s where the roots of so many things lie… You recall that in the 80’s, the U.S. was using some local, Indonesian, jihadi cadres, sending them to Afghanistan…”
I knew about it; I knew something, but not everything. The fact that both Indonesian and Malaysian citizens went to fight against the Soviet Union, Karmal, and then Mohammad Najibullah’s government in Afghanistan, was something that I have never yet addressed in my books or films. Now I suddenly felt that it was important, extremely important, to address this fact.
“Huda,” I asked, as we were slowly progressing through perpetual traffic jam of Jakarta, “how many Indonesian men went to fight in Afghanistan, after the 1979 Soviet intervention?”
Huda didn’t hesitate. He always knows the numbers:
“Just from one group, there were 350 fighters. Indonesians fought in Afghanistan, and were based in a camp belonging to Ittehad-al-Islami (Islamic Union). Ustad Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf ran the camp. Of course Rab Rasul Sayyaf is Wahhabi, and the Wahhabis have been fully funded by the U.S. What we are seeing now, all those ‘terrorist threats’, is a blowback effect, of what the U.S. has done in the region, specifically in Afghanistan. And even the ISIS now: in 2003 they came to topple Saddam…”
Could I meet one of the Afghan ‘alumni’ here in Jakarta?
“Of course you can,” he nodded, “I’ll arrange it, while you are here.”
Before an encounter with an “Afghan” jihadi cadre, I travelled to the city of Bandung, where I met Iman Soleh, a professor at the Faculty of Social and Political Science (University of Padjadjaran – UNPAD). He is yet another renowned authority on ‘terrorism’. He came to my hotel, accompanied by his wife, Professor Antik Bintari, a conflict management expert who teaches at the same university.
For quite some time, professor Iman Soleh and I discussed the link between the ‘old guard’ Southeast Asian (mainly Indonesians and Malaysians) jihadi cadres, so-called ‘Afghan alumni’, and the vanguard, a ‘new wave’, that which is now trying to destabilize, even destroy both Syria and the Philippines.
While the name ‘jihad’ itself has been used habitually and ‘liberally’ all over the Western mainstream media, it was clear to all of us at the table that behind the brutal combat as well as most of the horrors unleashed in such places like Syria and Philippines, hidden are the geopolitical interests of the West in general and of the United States in particular.
Professor Soleh has explained the latest ‘dynamics’:
“Since World War Two, the U.S. was afraid of so-called ‘domino effects’. Among other things that are now happening in the Philippines under president Duterte, the government is curbing activities of the multi-national mining conglomerates, and the West cannot accept that. Philippines are putting its environmental concerns above the short-term profits! For the millions of left-wing activists here in Indonesia and all over Southeast Asia, Duterte is a role model.”
Therefore, following the imperialist logic, the Philippines have to be attacked and destabilized, as has already been done to Syria. Defiance is punishable by death. And how else other than through the most effective weapons which the West has been utilizing for years and decades: extremist religious terrorist groups. What better assembly of fighters to choose for that difficult task than the jihadists from the groups that had already proven to be so effective and lethal in places such as Afghanistan?
By now, almost nobody who is at least to some extent informed on the subject has any doubts that the West is mainly interested in maintaining ‘perpetual conflict’ in several regions of the world. As Professor Soleh observes:
“I think all this is not just to ‘destabilize’ the Philippines, but also because the country has conflict areas that could be ‘nurtured’. The best example is predominantly Muslim island of Mindanao, vs. the rest of the Philippines, which is predominantly a Catholic country. As we know, the Philippines is also involved in the South China Sea dispute with the PRC, and the U.S. is trying to fully dominate the region…”
And President Duterte is committing an ‘unpardonable crime’ in the eyes of Washington and London, by trying to resolve the territorial conflict with China, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
But back to the “Jihadi Express…” It is important to understand the background:
The Indonesian jihadi, Salafi group Darul Islam, fought for a caliphate and against the secular and socialist state headed by President Sukarno, in the 1950’s and well into the 1960’s. “Terror is halal”, they used to say.
Professor Saleh further clarifies:
“Eventually the Indonesian state dismantled ‘Darul Islam’, but there was an off-shoot of it created soon, ‘Komando Jihad’.”
Komando Jihad later transformed into a transnational Southeast Asian group Jamaah Islamiyah (with its spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir). The group has been maintaining active links and cooperation with al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, to name just two religious guerillas.
“Fighters from Komando Jihad then went to Afghanistan. Ideologically they were hard-core Salafis, but with the Western support. They received Western help to acquire weapons and other basics. According to my contacts in the Indonesian intelligence community, the U.S. was backing this infiltration of Afghanistan by ‘Komando Jihad’ and by others. I’m also in possession of a piece of information that the Indonesian army (TNI) commander in the 1980’s, General Moerdani, was supporting Indonesian and Afghan jihadists, by supplying them with the weapons (including the AK-47’s).”
“Again, according to my Indonesian intelligence sources, the ‘departure’ itself of the Indonesian jihadists for Afghanistan was also directly helped by the U.S., under the cover of ‘Islamic study groups’ and other ‘communities’, and the route that was utilized was: Indonesia – Malaysia – Philippines – Afghanistan”.
These are not well-publicized facts, but they should not surprise anyone familiar with Indonesian history: after the brutal 1965 U.S.-sponsored military/religious coup, Indonesia rapidly transformed itself from an anti-imperialist, internationalist and progressive country into the closest Western ally in the entire Southeast Asia. The main ‘ideology’ of the new fascist pro-Western regime of General Suharto became “anti-Communism”. For months and years, the Communists as well as alleged ‘Communists’ were slaughtered all over the archipelago, while Communist ideology was banned, as were the Chinese language and culture, including dragons and cakes. The anti-Communist propaganda became the mainstay of the ‘intellectual’ diet. The fourth most populous country on Earth went through a total reset, became one of the most ‘religious’ places on Earth, and soon after collapsed both socially and intellectually.
Allegations of “atheism” against the Communists were used in Indonesia in order to stir and radicalize thousands of potential and already existing jihadi cadres. Anti-atheism, even anti-secularism, became the rallying cry of those who were ready to sacrifice their lives for the ultimate goal and dream – a caliphate.
The West in Afghanistan played the same ‘game’, during the “Soviet era”, as it did in Indonesia after 1965, and elsewhere. It is clear and obvious that the imperialist scheme designed in Washington and London has been interchangeable and successfully applicable in many different geographical locations.
In Kabul, in March 2017, a legendary Afghan intellectual, Dr. Omara Khan Masoudi, explained to me:
“The biggest mistake the Soviet Union made here was to attack religion outrightly. If they’d first stuck to equal rights, and slowly worked it up towards the contradictions of religion, it could perhaps have worked… But they began blaming religion for our backwardness, in fact for everything. Or at least this is how it was interpreted by the coalition of their enemies, and of course by the West.
Now, why is the present Western invasion so ‘successful’; why is there so little in terms of intellectual opposition? Look at the regime in Kabul… During its rule, the US convinced people that Western intervention was ‘positive’, ‘respectful of their religion and cultures’. They kept repeating ‘under this and that UN convention’, and again ‘as decided by the UN’… They used NATO, a huge group of countries, as an umbrella. There was a ‘brilliantly effective’ protocol that they developed… According to them, they never did anything unilaterally, always by ‘international consensus’ and in order to ‘help Afghan people’. On the other hand, the Soviet Union never had the slightest chance to explain itself. It was attacked immediately, and on all fronts.”
In reality, the West has always been using (and finally it has managed to divert) Islam. Some great Muslim scholars, including those that I met in Teheran, actually believe that Washington, London, Paris and other centers of the Western imperialism and neo-colonialism, actually succeeded, in many parts of the world, to create a totally new and (to many true and intellectual Muslims) unrecognizable religion.
Indonesian jihadi cadres hardened in Afghanistan and trained by the Pakistanis eventually returned to their country. There, they went to “work”, participating in such bloodlettings and killings as those in Ambon (Maluku) and Poso (Sulawesi). In Ambon the conflict continued from 1999 to 2002, and while it lasted, allegedly 8,000 people died, while thousands belonging to both sexes were involuntarily and brutally circumcised and genitally mutilated. In Ambon, I saw the jihadi cadres in action, hacking to death a young innocent boy, right in front of the eyes of a cheering crowd of onlookers. I later described the horror of this incident in my novel “Point of No Return”.
Little did I know, then, what I was really witnessing and trying to document. Only much later, in Bandung, in May 2017, a couple of professors, Iman Soleh and Antik Bintari, explained to me:
“Poso and Ambon, that’s the “Afghani Link”. During those massacres, there were still some ‘old jihadists’ from the Afghan days, participating in the actual fighting. However, there were also some ‘fresh’ fighters there, many of them undergoing exercises with the Indonesian ‘Afghans’. Poso and Ambon conflicts were in fact serving as two training grounds. After that, a new generation of combatants had risen”.
That same night – very late at night – after driving for hours on hopelessly congested highway that connects the cities of Bandung and Jakarta, I met Mr. Farihin, an active member of the outlawed “JI” (Jamaah Islamiyah), a man who personally met Osama bin Laden, a warrior who fought in Paktia and other provinces in Afghanistan, a former Mujahedeen, an unapologetic jihadist.
I was longing to know, to understand, how the old ‘Afghan alumni’ were thinking, how they saw the world, and what their goals were.
Mr. Farihin was actually an impressive human being: upright, strong, manly, proud, extremely polite, and totally brainwashed…
His hatred for Communism knew no boundaries; it was epic. He dreamed, he ‘saw’ Communists everywhere, all over the world: in Syria, in the present-day Russia, even in Karzai’s and Ghani’s Afghanistan. Anything remotely secular, anything that was not a caliphate, was “Communist” in his simple but determined mind of a combatant.
We began with Osama bin Laden:
“I met Osama fleetingly, in 1987 and 1988, but in those days he was not an ‘ulama’. He was funding Mujahedeen. He was a contractor in Paktia Province and he was based in the north of that province, in an Arab camp, helping Mujahedeen and also building the roads. After Soviets entered Afghanistan, Osama’s people made a ‘council’; it was like a shadow Mujahedeen government.”
Mr. Farihin came to Afghanistan in 1987. After his group NII (Negara Islam Indonesia – Islamic State of Indonesia) received ‘an invitation’ from Mujahedeen.
What prompted him to go to Afghanistan?
“There was news all over Indonesia, that a Muslim country was attacked by the Soviet Union. My initial desire was to fight the USSR. At the beginning I was not allowed to fight, and it was not Afghanistan where I was sent; it was Pakistan. I was ordered to study at Etihad Islami Military Academy there. At some point, all foreign jihadis had to leave Pakistan, so we were moved directly to Afghanistan. In Paktia Province they built an entire camp for us. We were attacked by the Soviets there, on several occasions; us, as well as the ‘Arab Camp’. MIG-21 jet fighters were used. But by then, Russians were already beginning their withdrawal. After the Soviets left, Afghanistan was still governed by a Communist government, so we fought it, too. I was ready to fight: first the Soviets, than that Communist Afghan governments. I saw Russian prisoners, pilots, shackled, in Pakistan. I was not affraid of them.”
I quickly noticed that Mr. Farihin was not proud of the support his group and Mujahedeen in general were receiving from the United States and the rest of the West. He kept repeating that he did not “see” any direct U.S. support, that supplies just kept coming from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Muslim countries. For him, it was essential that his fight in Afghanistan would be seen as a ‘pure’, pan-Islamic struggle.
I was not there to contradict him, I was there to listen.
He spoke about the fronts on which he had fought: Nangarhar, Jalalabad among others: “I was rotating between the fronts. The war, the battles were ‘orderly’”.
“But what was the goal?” I asked.
He didn’t hesitate one single moment.
“The goal was simple: in Afghanistan we wanted to prevent the Communist ideology from being accepted.”
How much did he know about the Communism?
“Actually, my knowledge about it was very shallow. That’s fine: we were war machines for Mujahedeen. What we were told was that the Communists don’t believe in God, and that they are professing secularism.”
I wondered whether they knew anything about the improving medical system, about the all of a sudden decent education, about public housing, transportation, and culture?
“Almost everything done by the Communists was good, I know… But because they believed in Communism and socialism, it was not right, it was ‘haram’. Our pledge to God was what really mattered. In terms of importance, God was Number 1, and only then came the world of humans.”
I asked him how he sees Afghanistan now.
“As long as their government is Communist, we’ll fight it… And I pray that Taliban wins.”
For a moment I thought that I had misunderstood: the Afghanistan government is Communist? Doesn’t he know anything about the U.S., about the Western occupation?
“Yes but the U.S. went to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, not Communism. The government is still Communist; a puppet regime of Russia.”
I quickly changed the subject, but things did not improve. I asked him about Syria, about Iraq. He replied politely:
“I train, we train volunteers who are ready to go and fight in Syria. It is because Syria is not only Communist, you know – Assad and Russians – but also it is Shi’a.”
Being Shi’a is an arch crime in today’s Indonesia. People are getting killed, ostracized, and intimidated for being Shi’a. I witnessed it once, on the island of Madura.
“’Afghan alumni’ are training fighters that are ready to go abroad, both ideologically and militarily. Whether the government knows, I’m not sure. Perhaps intelligence knows. During Suharto era, the fight against Communism was supported. I saw Indonesian intelligence operating in the Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar, Pakistan. We were told by the Pakistani intelligence that the Indonesian intelligence was deployed in the region. Indonesia was then supporting Mujahedeen, and we were receiving some Indonesian supplies, including food. Indonesia and Pakistan were then very good friends; Pakistani intellegence made our life very easy: we were going back and forth, freely, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, across the border, while civilians were not allowed…”
And what was their fee? Certainly jihad is not fought for free?
The lowest pay was then US$150 per month, a lot of money in poor Indonesia, in the late 1980’s. Between US$300 and US$400 for the officers.
Before we parted, we talked about Afghanistan, the country. He remembered it fondly:
“I like the country, it is beautiful. I liked religious life there. Afghans were very kind to us, treated us like guests… We were offered their women, too, to marry, but the dowry was too high. Some had blue eyes, and we wanted to marry them, badly, but really: we couldn’t afford their women with our modest ‘salaries’.”
Does he miss Afghanistan?
“Me, too,” I nodded. “But I’m going back, soon.”
We didn’t embrace. By then he sensed that we belonged to the opposite sides of the barricade, and that most likely we were arch enemies. But until we parted, both of us remained polite, excessively polite: the Afghan way.
“Jihad in Indonesia – against the Western imperialism? Oh no, no way…” smiles Dina Y. Sulaeman, an Indonesian political analyst, an author of the book “Salju Di Aleppo” (Snow of Aleppo):
“Jihad in which Indonesians want to participate is based on hate… In my book, I explain that the Indonesian fighters in Syria are mainly affiliated with several groups: ‘Ikhwanul Muslimin’, ‘Hizbut Tahrir’ and Al Qaeda/ISIS. Unfortunately these groups have supporters in Indonesia. They keep spreading fake photos and videos about Syria, to ignite sympathy, even anger of Indonesian people, so they give donations or even join jihad. It’s a good deal for them. They are waging ‘holy war’, they’ll go to heaven, and plus they get paid. They accuse president Assad of being ‘infidel’. That’s their rallying cry.”
“Indonesian mass media ‘coverage’ is only directly translating what is said by the Western media: the CNN, the BBC and others…. If not those, then at least Al-Jazeera which is often even worse… As a result, Indonesians are ‘very concerned’ about Syria.’ Of course, in my books I’m trying to correct the misconceptions, but the propaganda apparatus is so powerful.”
“Like in Afghanistan,” I add.
Earlier I asked Noor Huda Ismail: “But the Afghan ‘alumni’ and the ISIS do not necessarily like each other, do they?”
Huda nods, but then he adds:
“Al-Qaida and ISIS do not get along well. In the context, most of the fighters, those who support ISIS, they have been gathering in the same mosque. They are using social media. Maybe the Afghan ‘alumni’ and the ISIS supporters do not like each other, but they share the same ideology; the root, the matter is the same, which is toppling and challenging the secular systems.”
“Including the one in Indonesia?”
“Yes, including the one here.”
Jihadi Express is now rolling, gaining speed. One country after another is being ripped to pieces under its merciless wheels.
Those who think that it is “all about oil” are mistaken. The West is of course trying to control, fully and brutally, all that moves in the Middle East, North Africa and as far as Iran and Afghanistan. But that’s definitely not all: jihadi groups, created by the West and its allies in the Gulf, have been used to destabilize the two greatest adversaries of the West: Russia and China.
Soviet Union was tricked into Afghanistan in 1979, and then brutally destroyed. Afghanistan itself was ‘sacrificed’ in the process, its social structures broken, and all hope its people were enjoying, choked. China is now also greatly suffering from the operations of several Muslim terrorist groups, as well as from other religious implants, which are without exception supported by the West.
The Philippines is most likely the next ‘front’. It has been for years and decades, in Sulu and elsewhere, but as this report goes to print, things are deteriorating, getting more and more desperate there.
To fight terrorism in such places like Syria and Afghanistan, has been and will be increasingly, one of the main foreign policy goals of both Moscow and Beijing; in order to help those countries under siege, but also in order to prevent them from becoming the training grounds of the ‘anti-Communist’ and anti-secularist terrorist armies.
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are revolutionary novel “Aurora” and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. View his other books here. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo. After having lived in Latin America, Africa and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.