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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Did Liwa al-Dawoud Kidnap James Foley?

May 5/6, 2018
(rough, incomplete)

We all know the harrowing video released by Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) showing the beheading of American freelance journalist James Foley, by a London ISIS Jihadist, in Syria. This was one of the signature moments announcing, to a befuddled global public, the emergence of an ugly new threat.

But before he was killed, he was kidnapped, a separate crime that occurred late in 2012, before ISIS existed (formally, only in April, 2013). And over five years later, there's still no clear answer as to who first took away Foley's liberty and eventually handed him over to ISIS.

Here's quite a conspiracy theory posed as the answer to just my question: Before James Foley Was Killed, He Was Kidnapped. Who Did It And Why?  Melik Kaylan, contributed, Forbes.com, Aug 28, 2014. This hears Foley was first arrested near Binnish, Idlib province (see map below) on Thanksgiving day, Nov. 22, 2012.  An apparent "jihadi" of foreign origin (unusually dark skin) among others in a Hyundai van forced them to stop, hauled them away. He remained imprisoned from that point until his death 21 months later. Kaylan explains rebel groups were "not known" at the time to do kidnappings, but the Syrian government was definitely known for it, and did it regularly. But as background:
A checkerwork of rebel militias ran various chunks of Idlib at the time, and many areas of Binnish itself were under the control of a relatively moderate militia affiliated with the FSA entitled Liwaa Dawud. They, Liwaa Dawud, later defected to ISIS in 2014 with some 1000 fighters, along with trucks and tanks. Rebel alignments have kept chopping and changing according to who deploys the most force and funds but experts will tell you that Liwaa Dawud’s changeover of allegiance came suddenly and unexpectedly probably as a result of ISIS’s inexorable power surge.
So this Liwa al-Dawoud is "relatively moderate," the kind of guys who join ISIS, but only under pressure of the group's undeniable "power surge." They're not evil people to suspect, and Kaylan doesn't suspect them.

He thinks a rogue group, someone outside LD's control, must have snuck this kidnapping in under their noses. Rival Sunni Islamists? Hardly ... He also thinks Foley and Stephen Sotloff had been transported by ISIS to Iraq before their killings, which he thinks is unlikely unless Syrian government checkpoints were complicit. That's not remotely true, and most believe they remained and died in Syria, in the ISIS capitol of Raqqah (I think). But either way, Kaylan deduces the taxi was tagged on its murky second visit to the internet cafĂ© (because the driver forgot his phone there?). Then as it headed north a second time, 
Either the car was tagged with a bug or the taxi driver’s celphone was tracked. This kind of co-ordinated electronic surveillance was, and probably still is, beyond the capability of Syria’s rebel groups or even of ISIS. It is, however, exactly what Iran-Syria-Hezbollah is known to do very effectively.
So it might be the Syrian regime, or the Iranians. Some kind of Shi'ites, Alawites, secularists, atheists, Jews (non-Israeli), Illuminati / Freemasons, Christians, Buddhists for sure, lukewarm Sunnis, traitors... 99.5% of the world's population are all agents of Satan ultimately, to the type of Islamists running the Binnish area. They tend to lodge sectarian-based claims a lot like Kaylan's here, as we'll see.

Others have placed great confidence in claims to the same effect, using more local intermediaries: the mythical "Shabiha" militias, really Popular Committees soon re-formed as the more capable Syrian Defense Forces: armed block watch for citizens to defend themselves against Sunni terrorists - or Alawite death squads, depending who you ask.

US reporter believed held by Syrian intelligence
Dave Clark, AFP News, 3 May 2013

Foley was on assignment for GlobalPost.
"The co-founder and CEO of the online news network, Phil Balboni, said his company had hired the international security firm Kroll to investigate. “With a high degree of confidence, we now believe that Jim was most likely abducted by a pro-regime militia group, commonly referred to as the Shabiha, and subsequently turned over to Syrian government forces,” Balboni said.
“We have obtained multiple independent reports from very credible confidential sources (WOW!) who have both indirect and direct access that confirm our assessment that Jim is now being held by the Syrian government.”
Balboni added the place they think Foley was remained in government hands, in Damascus, and run by the notorious Air Force Intelligence. He vowed GlobalPost would pressure the government for his release.

But later, he was in ISIS hands up in Raqqah. To some, of course, this proves Addad-ISIS collaboration. Case in point: Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 19, 2014
"This strongly suggests that the Assad regime handed Foley and the other hostages over to ISIS. Both the Syrian government and ISIS view journalists as a threat."

But ...
Erin Banco reported for IB Times just after Foley's killing

Although GlobalPost’s investigation at one point led us to believe that James was being held by the Syrian government, we later were given strong reason to believe he was being held by Islamic militants in Syria," Philip Balboni, GlobalPost CEO and co-founder, said Tuesday."
(we'll return to this report)

In fact they reported the false story, putting as many leading words as possible behind it. They didn't just receive bogus intel, they reported it as emphatically apparent fact, backed with action and pressure against a bad guy regime. But ... when it turns out it was Islamists opponents of Assad instead, they take a different approach, "We withheld this information at the request of the family and on the advice of authorities cooperating in the effort to protect Jim. GlobalPost, working with a private security company, has amassed an enormous amount of information that has not been made public.”
Is this Kroll? They were happy to make a Damascus link to the government public. Now they don't want to say, quite likely because it was a foreign-sponsored "moderate" Islamist faction instead. 

Foley, who had previously been detained in Libya, was abducted on November 22, 2012 near the city of Binnish in Syria's Idlib province, as he and his colleagues made their way toward the Turkish border.
In November 2013, Foley's family received its first email message from the journalist's captors" The group is not identified in the article, but implicitly ISIS. So it's suggested, if not certain, he was in their hands by this time.
Phil Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, the Boston-based online news publication that employed Foley, said that early on there were strong indications Foley had been transferred to the Syrian capital Damascus. That information later proved incorrect.
He said the first solid information about Foley's condition came nearly a year after his abduction, from a returning European jihadist, or Islamic fighter, who had been with the American journalist in the city of Aleppo.
This person provided confirmation Foley was alive, as well as first-hand details of his captivity and his captors.
Balboni said Foley was moved a number of times and passed through the hands of various captors.

None of those, apparently, was Syrian government, Iranian, Shabiha, or Hezbollah, but Sunni extremists instead.

One might be skeptical of such a conspiracy theories with clear political flavor and that later fall apart on scrutiny - (a related one is considered below). But someone kidnapped James Foley before ISIS even existed. Alternate versions to those failed Assad-handover theories remain under-developed. My summary research on the subject yields exactly one clear suspect group, and no one else in particular. 

Liwa Al-Dawoud?
The guys running the area, whose defenses were pentrated by the forces of Satan... let's come back to them. They're suspects here.

Liwa al-Dawoud, or Dawoud (David) Brigade (logo at right). Basics to be expanded a bit...

Based in: Sarmin, Idlib province. Wikipedia entry. Affiliated with Suqour al-Sham and Liwa Siyoof al-Haq, member of Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, in its 2012-2013 form (WP). This was basically all Islamists not listed by the US as terrorists. Some were under consideration, but only ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra were listed and thus excluded. They branded themselves as moderate alternatives to those blacklisted groups, fit for funding by foreign governments. (I'm not clear on how well this worked, and how much support they received)

Dawoud Brigade's leader in 2013 was Sarmin native Hassan Aboud, a double-amputee following a rocket accident in late 2012. Aboud is seen here on al jazeera , speaking about a joint operation with Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups (in which The SAA lost Taftanaz military airport) Jan. 11, 2013 - not long after he lost his lower legs, almost two months after Foley was kidnapped, three months before ISIS would exist (so his not allying with them this early means nothing). Backdrop: Dawoud logo, that of the Islamic Front, in Saudi Arabian green.

Liwa al-Dawoud is more ISIS-leaning than perhaps any other local group comprising the more "moderate" Islamist Suqour al-Sham (SaS) coalition. SaS leadership vowed early to oppose ISIS, in January 2014 (as early as anyone - they were only called a crisis this late). But Suqour al-Sham’s top religious leader, Abu Abderrahman al-Sarmini (from Sarmin) defected to ISIS in protest. Whole groups in the coalition split off: Sarmin-based Liwa al-Dawoud, and Liwa Siyoof al-Haq, among others, defected. A weakened Suqour al-Sham soon agreed to a cease-fire, after ISIS pounded the hell out of them in February.

The Suqour split-offs initially formed a new coalition called Jaysh al-Sham, not joining or fighting ISIS. But then, "In July 2014, the Liwa Dawud unit defected from Jaysh al-Sham to ISIS, bringing with them 1000 men and 10 tanks. Jaysh al-Sham claimed that it had expelled them.[3] The group was disbanded on 28 July 2014, giving the remaining affiliated groups the option to join other groups.[2]"

Did Abbas just have more foresight? Or was he destined for the ISIS track from the start? Was he already gifting James Foley to them before November, 2013?

Some portion of the Dawoud brigade didn't go to Raqqah with ISIS, or they later moved back to the Sarmin area and operated as Jund al-Aqsa. Jund al-Aqsa members freely filmed themselves executing two captured Syrian soldiers in 2016, with White Helmets hero Muawiya Agha Hassan smiling at their pre-murder harassment. image source: Wrongkinfofgreen

C.J. Chivers, in a NYT article about the Dawoud brigade and Aboud notes:  
The brigade has also been accused, without public evidence, of assassinating the leadership of Ahrar al-Sham, and of holding the abducted journalist James Foley before turning him over to ISIS. ...Claims of a Dawood Brigade role in his detention, made in news reports and echoed on social media, do not align with facts known of his case." 
Chivers doesn't explain here which facts those are. The supposed Damascus transfers? So far, I don't see any facts to block this suspicion. (we'll return to this report)

James Foley Allegedly Used As Token Of Allegiance By Group That Joined ISIS
By Erin Banco @ErinBanco
08/20/14 AT 4:33 PM
According to Syrian sources who have worked previously to locate and rescue kidnapped journalists in Syria, American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by Islamic State in a video the militant group made public on Tuesday, was most likely used by another guerrilla group as a token of allegiance to ISIS.  
According to those sources, Foley was in the hands of the Dawood Bridgade, a group that was originally aligned with relatively moderate opposition groups such as the Free Syrian Army, but recently pledged allegiance to ISIS.
This sounds like a guess, based on something. they surmise he was given over as a goodwill gesture from Dawoud as they asked to come under the ISIS umbrella. And it doesn't sound that kidnapping was an isolated incident for them.
The Dawood Brigade, which used to be called Jaysh al-Mujahedin (Mujahedin Army), but changed its name in late 2012, was originally under the direction of Abu Mohammed al-Shami al-Absi. The group was rumored to have been responsible for the kidnapping of John Cantlie and Jeroen Oerlemans, who went missing in Syria in 2012, according to the Syrian sources. The two journalists were rescued by another rebel faction, and escaped."
Implicitly: they were kindapped on Dawoud's turf, or there's some other reason to suspect the same kind of "Shabiha" who kidnapped Foley.

This will take some more research, but it seems like we may have hit the nerve center of journalist kidnappings in Syria. I'll have to review where Sotloff was arrested (not here - see below). And John Cantlie, once detained and released by Dawoud, as people suspect - I didn't know this or forgot it, but his second and final arrest was alongside James Foley on November 22 (in fact, they were working on a film about Cantlie's first arrest). Cantlie was apparently handed over to ISIS as well, and has been reported killed, but his fate remains unclear. He was for a while put forth as an ISIS spokesman, giving their version of things in propaganda videos, ostensibly of his own free will as a converted Muslim.  (Wikipedia). This all came after he was handed over to ISIS, apparently after his second arrest by Liwa al-Dawoud, before ISIS even existed.

Banco, IBTimes continued:

"After their release from captivity, the two journalists (Cantlie and Oerlemans) described their captors, saying that many of them had British accents -- like the man who was seen in the ISIS video killing Foley."  

Now compare to this:
fellow captive Francois said he had little doubt Foley was under the control of IS or its affiliates the entire time.
"The guy who killed him is the guy who took him from the start," Francois said.

Literally? Was "Jihadi John" included in the original kidnapping? That seems hard to be so sure about, even if the witness suspects it. But ... When did he join ISIS and from who? He didn't come in with these guys, did he? Little clue in the big blank spot in the Wikipedia article for the current likely guy (though others identities have been proposed): Mohammed Emwazi, entered Syria to engage in jihad in 2012 ("after January"), and was then recognized on videos in 2015 as quite likely that guy. He has a strange record prior to that, and the between part is quite vague. Is that just an article needing fill-in, or is the story that unclear? 

Journalist kidnapping nerve center? Oerlemans, Cantlie, Foley, Cantlie (but not Sotloff). Anyone else?

Recall GlobalPost's pressure on Syria's government to release Foley, and consider the same kind of thing was probably done for kidnapped NBC reporter Richard Engel. They might have kept getting denials that just increased their "confidence" the regime had nabbed him. Engel was arrested by - it seems - Sunni extremists  who knew he spoke Arabic. They had him captured alongside some escorting rebels, and then rescued by others of that same group. The folks in between ... they put on a play about being genocidal Shi'ite "Shabiha," praising Assad, planning massacres of Sunnis, raping their women, with crude sectarian graffiti all over the walls - all acting like they thought he didn't know. Engel was soon released and first reported the play's implications as true, but later had the story exposed and admitted it did seem phony. (Huffington Post for one source) This is such a well-known case, called Engelgate by some - that I didn't bother following it closely.

Engel was kidnapped in December, 2012, within weeks at most of Foley's kidnapping, and in the same area: He was led to believe he was in Maarrat Misrin, and was to be moved to the heart of darkness, the Shi'ite village of Foua. (see map) Where they really were seems to be as unknown as who held them.
"The captors attempted to move Engel’s crew from Maarrat Misrin to Foua, a town that was surrounded by Syrian rebels but still receiving supplies by air from the Assad government. Engel described Foua as a Hezbollah stronghold and said he feared the journalists could end up spending years in captivity, perhaps being “helicoptered from there to Beirut or Tehran or Damascus.”

But some of the rebels besieging the town luckily intercepted them and foiled the Shabiha plan. They "rescued" Engel and set him free, as is their way, so he could tell this story. Foley, unable to pull that trick (or did he also understand Arabic?) was not so lucky. But the kidnappers were quite possibly the same exact group some call "Shabiha."

Behind the Black Flag: The Recruitment of an ISIS Killer, By C. J. Chivers. Dec. 20, 2015

Even as he vaguely dismissed their hand in James Foley's kidnapping, C.J. Chivers provides plenty of reasons in his article to suspect them anyway. Aboud is introduced as a emancing ISIS member, threatening and killing off former allies who weren't Islamic enough. The article notes:
Aboud and one of his brothers fought U.S. forces (in Iraq) in 2004 and 2005, several townspeople said. Some suggested that the pair returned to Syria as a sleeper cell tied to al-Qaida in Iraq, which was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and after his death in 2006 eventually became the Islamic State.
Foley's brother was in the US Air Force, serving in Iraq, which was said to make his captors single him out for especially rough treatment.

After fighting in Iraq, the jihad broke out back home in Syria. After that, but before there was an ISIS to join:
"As Mr. Aboud gained power his activities sometimes turned sinister. Mr. Aasi said he became involved in the abductions of Alawites, and sought ransoms for their release. Other rebel leaders once intervened to stop the Dawood Brigade from executing civilians near Fuoa, a government-controlled town, Mr. Aasi said; among the detainees were women and a child. “He had a criminal tendency,” he said. “He became a dictator even before we had an ISIS.”"
Just when these incidents happened is unclear, but it's as Aboud and Liwa al-Dawoud "gained power." Someone called "Shabiha" kept abducting journalists on Aboud's turf, at about the time he was considered powerful enough to have on Al-Jazeera touting his recent victories and expanding turf...

Sotloff: apparently not nabbed by Dawoud, being far from their turf. Apparently ISIS took him directly. Sotloff was likely betrayed by his paid fixer, Yosef Abobaker. That's my opinion. CNN didn't think so and aired Abobaker's story, which it's said the FBI never asked him for in the course of its probe (but then, Islamists lie sometimes). CNN, Sept. 16 2014: They heard AboBakr met Sotlof a year earlier, and Sotloff gave him a camera as a birthday present on this last meeting. They crossed from Turkey, headed towards Aleppo. "Then came the real surprise for the two men: about 15 masked ISIS gunmen jumped out of three cars and took them captive." At least one would be surprised.
(add: from Wikipedia: "Sotloff was kidnapped along with his fixer and the fixer's brother and cousins on August 4, 2013, near Aleppo, after crossing the Syrian border from Turkey. The fixer and his family members were released 15 days later.")
To CNN, AboBakr blames Turkish border guards for tipping ISIS off, which is plausible enough. He says he had a gun and tried to pull it, but realized they were outgunned. He (and his relatives) were released, he says, only when ISIS saw that he had been a jihadist fighter in a group they had no beef with (so probably "moderate," right?).
"Abobaker had also been a rebel fighting for four or five months in Syria with the Tawheed brigade, a moderate Islamist faction. He even got married in his combat fatigues in Aleppo, with comrades firing their weapons in celebration, in February 2013. That was six months before his ill-fated encounter with ISIS."
Upon release, he says he was told "You are spy and work with America and CIA and FBI, but we leave you now because you work with (Tawheed), because I have papers.... But if we hear you work with journalist again, we will kill you for sure."

As for moderate: The same day they were arrested, August 4, 2013, Tawhid and ISIS were jointly launching their 2013 Latakia offensive a ways to the west, massacring and kidnapping Alawite civilians in several villages they overran with Turkish assistance (Al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Farouk brigade, and others, some calling themselves FSA, were involved). About 30 soldiers and over 100 men and older boys were executed, along with some women and children who tried to flee, or some women who were raped and killed. About 200 women and children taken prisoner, openly shown on videos as the Islamists' "guests." In fact, as HRW reported, from involved parties: ''Abu Jaafar al-Libi from Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar [a short-lived ISIS twin] was the leader of the operation and that his deputies were Abu Jaafar from ISIS and Sheikh Qahtan from al-Tawhid.” Qahtan is separately described as “a deputy commander of the operation,” and Abu Jaafar was "identified as the first deputy commander of the operation.”  Oddly, Tawhid's leader Qahtan was killed on day 1 of the Latakia offensive, August 4, and had the brigade immediately re-named for him, just as their (former?) member AboBakr was getting arrested by ISIS over near Aleppo.

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