The British graffiti artist who goes by the pseudonym Banksy has delved into the world of Middle Eastern politics, posting a video on his website that spoofs both the Syrian rebels and a beloved animated Disney character.
The fabricated video, which features the Al Jazeera logo on the bottom left, shows a Syrian "rebel" firing a rocket in the air at a distant target, to chants of "Allahu Akbar" from his comrades. The stricken UFO subsequently falls to the ground, and turns out to be the cartoon elephant Dumbo, who expires before our very eyes. While the adult Syrian rebels seem pleased with their accomplishment - one even climbs atop Dumbo, cheering - a child rebel appears angry, kicking one of his adult comrades in the shins. The incident reportedly occurred in the northern governorate of Aleppo.
The video, which has been up for one day, has already been viewed 1.4 million times. By comparison, one of the most-watched videos of the actual chemical weapons attack in Damascus on Aug. 21 has been watched roughly 375,000 times.
CAIRO, Egypt -- "We will begin kidnapping Americans wherever they are found in Libya, God willing."
For the United States, the capture of al Qaeda leader Nazih al-Ruqai, a longtime operative of the terror organization, was an unvarnished victory. In Libya, however, not everyone sees the raid as such a ringing success: A Facebook group called "We Are All Nazih al-Ruqai, Oh America" was created shortly after the raid and already has over 4,000 "likes." The message above is just one of dozens of posts by jihadi sympathizers that threaten retaliatory violence against the United States and the Libyan government. Some Libyans have raised fears that the assault will weaken the already shaky central government in Tripoli, by convincing people that it is unable to protect Libyans or defend the country's borders.
ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images
It's the story that launched 1,000 headlines. And it's not hard to see why: Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou announced last week that Tunisian women were traveling to Syria to wage "sex jihad," where they were having sex with "20, 30, [or] 100" militants, before returning pregnant to Tunisia.
There's only one problem: There's no evidence it's true. The Tunisian Interior Ministry has so far failed to provide any further information on the phenomenon, and human rights activists and journalists have been unable to find any Tunisian woman who went to Syria for this purpose.
"Everything I've heard were very broad allegations that didn't really have all the features of a serious reporting about the case," said Amna Guellali, the Tunisia researcher for Human Rights Watch. "All I have is very sparse, very little information, and I think that's true for a lot of people working in the human rights community, in addition to reporters."
According to Guellali, the political context of the statement could shed light on why the interior minister chose to make this accusation now. The Tunisian government has been under fire for allegedly asking adult women for authorization from their husbands or fathers before they travel to certain countries in the Middle East -- Ben Jeddou was justifying any restrictions by saying that the government was attempting to prevent women from embarking on "sex jihad" in Syria. The interior minister has also made the fight against extremist Salafi groups a centerpiece of his term in office. Suggesting that Tunisian Salafi women are sleeping with dozens of Syrian rebels could be another way to discredit them.
Reports of Tunisian women engaging in "sex jihad" in Syria have ping-ponged around the media for months, though the interior minister's statement is the first time it has been given an official imprimatur. As journalist Sana Saeed catalogs, the first reports appeared on Lebanese new channel Al Jadeed and in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, which cited a fatwa by famed Saudi cleric Mohammed al-Arefe justifying the practice. Arefe, however, subsequently denied that he had done so, saying that "no sane person" would sanction such a thing.
Pro-Assad media have been only too eager to advance the idea of "sex jihad" as a way to tar their opponents. Syrian state television ran an interview with a 16-year-old girl named Rawan Kaddah in which she admitted to the practice. The Syrian opposition, however, denounced the program as staged and blasted the regime for exploiting children in such a way.
The only real evidence of women embarking on "sex jihad," comes not from Syria but from Tunisia's Chaambi Mountains, an area in the west of the country that has often been the site of clashes between the military and jihadists. Tunisian security forces there arrested several girls who were allegedly involved in the practice. Guellali said that she spoke to the mother of an 18-year-old female who was involved -- the mother said that a woman close to the Tunisian militant group Ansar al-Sharia got her daughter tangled up in a network of girls in the area.
But the scope of the problem -- and whether it is related to Syria in any way -- remains a complete mystery.
"It's a bit disturbing that we have these kind of declarations and then there is no follow-up," said Guellali. "[The authorities] threw out this information that they had several cases of women coming back pregnant, but there is no tracking of the cases either by the Ministry of Women or the Ministry of Interior. And they won't give any further information."
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Just a few months ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) didn't officially exist. Now, the al Qaeda affiliate known colloquially as al-Dawla -- simply "the state" -- has emerged as a clear and present danger to Syria's mainstream armed opposition.
The jihadist organization seized the northern Syrian town of Azaz on Thursday, driving out Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated rebel groups. The clashes were reportedly sparked after ISIS fighters grew suspicious of German doctors working at a field hospital in the area, and the FSA brigades protected the physicians from potential retribution. The town is now reportedly quiet, as mediators attempt to negotiate a ceasefire deal that would see ISIS withdraw from its positions. For the moment, however, ISIS's presence in Azaz gives al Qaeda a presence on the border with Turkey, a NATO ally. However the conflict plays out, it will represent the most serious confrontation yet between jihadists and non-Islamist rebels fighting the Syrian regime.
Some of the FSA's advocates in Washington, however, see a silver lining to the rebel infighting. The United States has hesitated to provide military aid to Syria's armed opposition out of fear that such assistance could find its way into the hands of extremist groups -- a possibility that would presumably be eliminated if the FSA and jihadi groups are in open conflict.
Guillaume Briquet/AFP/Getty Images
BEIRUT, Lebanon — At the end of the press conference unveiling their deal over Syria's chemical weapons program, a smiling Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to exchange a joke before walking offstage. Some of America's allies in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad, however, weren't laughing.
Even as a Syrian official hailed the Sept. 14 plan as a "victory" for the Assad regime, the reaction from U.S. partners in the Middle East ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. Turkey, which has been at the forefront of the anti-Assad cause, said it welcomed the initiative -- but expressed doubts that the Syrian regime would comply with its terms. Officials in Ankara warned that the deal does nothing to resolve the Syrian crisis and said that more must be done to pressure Assad to relinquish power.
"The Syrian crisis is not only about use of chemical weapons -- up until now, more than 100,000 people have died, not because of the chemical weapons, but because of increasing and indiscriminate violence perpetrated by the regime," said a Turkish official. "This is the root problem in Syria. This is what constitutes a clear and present danger to the region and international security."
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
Even before President Barack Obama put his plans to strike the Syrian regime on hold, he was losing the battle of public opinion about military intervention. Part of the credit, no doubt, goes to a successful media blitz by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and its supporters. In an interview aired on Monday night, Assad himself advanced his government's case to Charlie Rose, saying that the United States had not presented "a single shred of evidence" proving the Syrian military had used chemical weapons.
Assad has always been able to skillfully parry Western journalists' criticisms of his regime -- and, at times, it has won him positive international coverage. Before the uprising, the U.S. media often described the Assad family as Westernized leaders who were trying to bring their country into the 21st century. The most infamous example was Vogue's profile of Asma al-Assad, which described Syria's first lady as "a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind ... [with] a killer IQ." But even experts in the field went along: Middle East historian David Lesch wrote a biography of Bashar describing the president as a modernizer, before changing his mind during the uprising.
The carnage over the past two and a half years put an end to much of this praise -- but now pro-Assad media outlets have found a new way to influence the American debate. Assad supporters' claims have repeatedly been republished unquestioningly by right-wing commentators in the United States, who share their hostility toward both Sunni Islamists and the Obama administration. It's a strange alliance between American conservatives and a regime that was one of America's first designated state sponsors of terror, and continues to work closely with Iran and Hezbollah.
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
As Congress debates whether to authorize a military strike on Syria, the French government has released its declassified intelligence report on the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the eastern Damascus suburbs.
France, the United States' only remaining potential partner for military intervention in Syria, agrees in broad strokes with the White House's view of the attack. Both governments present evidence that the Syrian regime launched chemical weapons on rebel-held neighborhoods, likely killing over 1,000 people. But in terms of its level of detail, the French report puts the U.S. intelligence assessment to shame.
While the American report focuses solely on the most recent attack, the French provide a comprehensive look at the nature of the Syrian chemical weapons program. The report includes a breakdown of the toxic agents that President Bashar al-Assad's regime is believed to have obtained: hundreds of tons of mustard gas, tens of tons of VX gas, and several hundred tons of sarin gas.
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"I just want them to attack sooo much, because I want them to make this huge mistake of beginning something that they don't know the end of it."
Those just may be the words of Bashar al-Assad's 11-year-old son, Hafez. A Facebook account claiming to belong to Hafez posted a rambling, defiant message about what appears to be an imminent U.S. strike on Syria. The Syrian president has three children -- Hafez, Zein, and Karim -- of which Hafez is the oldest.
First, some serious caveats are in order. It is impossible to confirm with any certainty that Hafez wrote these words. There is nothing official about the Facebook page -- and indeed, the owner of the account claims to be a soccer player for FC Barcelona and to have graduated from the University of Oxford. But such fantasies would, of course, not be out of place on the Facebook page of any 11-year-old.
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