Note: After the writing of this blogpost, the Russian Air Force bombed the outskirts of Kafranbel. See postscript at the end.
Anyone who follows Syria on social media will be familiar with the Kafranbel facebook/twitter accounts and their continuous anti-government banner and poster campaign. The group, which operates under the name Kafranbel Media Center (KMC), was founded in 2011 by Raed Fares. Their main activity is staging small “protests” every Friday involving a maximum of 30-40 people and often less than that, who are filmed and photographed carrying banners and posters with anti-government slogans and messages that are uploaded on the internet for propaganda purposes.
Along with the usual anti-Assad slogans that are popular with the opposition in Syria, they put out English language slogans and messages that are directed at the United States. These come in two categories.The first constitutes messages berating Obama and the US government for not doing enough to help the “rebels” overthrow Assad. The second is a bizarre collection of slogans in which they incorporate American celebrities and US current events that are not in any way related to Syria. The idea behind those is to have average Americans identify and sympathize with the “revolution”. It is not clear who writes the English language slogans for them. Raed Fares’ command of English is minimal. Not that the people who write them for him are much better. Some of the grammatical and spelling mistakes found in them are embarrassing to no end.
Before we get into the content of the above mentioned slogans, it is important that we talk about where the KMC stands politically. Fares has always claimed that his group is secular and democratic. And he has been accused by ISIS of being an agent of the United States. That’s actually not far from the truth. According to an article in the New York Times, in 2012, he crossed the border into Turkey where he met with an American government official. As a result he got the US State department to finance his own radio station, Radio Fresh. His banners caught the attention of the former US ambassador Robert Ford who apparently wanted him to travel to Geneva and protest at the Conference on Syria. While he was on a visit to the United States in December 2013, ISIS attacked his offices in Kafranbel, tore up his banners and destroyed the property. In January 2014, he survived an attempt on his life reportedly by ISIS in which he sustained two bullet wounds.
In 2014, he took a second trip to the US in which he met with Syrian Americans as well as US lawmakers. ISIS continue to send him death threats and say they will get him one day. He has also had problems with Jabhat al-Nusra who have a large presence in Idlib. In December 2014, they kidnapped Fares and a colleague also accusing them of being agents of the US but released them soon after. Initially, there was no comment about the kidnapping from him or the KMC. According to some local activists, this was because he did not want to provoke them by making a big deal about it – Kafranbel was the only town in the Idlib countryside that had not been attacked by Nusra.
In an article that appeared on March 6th, 2013 in the pro-opposition news site “Syria Deeply” Fares is quoted as saying: “Jabhat Al Nusra was gaining followers because it’s organized, and has an established hierarchy that holds its members accountable, unlike the disorganized civilian activists and the Free Syrian Army. Nusra also has access to weapons, and is delivering much needed humanitarian aid, which the secular opposition can’t match due to a lack of resources. He goes on to say “Nusra hasn’t replicated the Syrian military’s brutal tactics, occupying towns, burning homes and killing civilians“. At the very least, this indicates that he has quite a bit of admiration for the Al-Qaeda affiliated Jihadi group.
If that isn’t enough, Raed Fares and the KMC have always had a close relationship with the other Al-Qaeda tied group Ahrar al-Sham. The Syrian propagandist/”journalist” Hadi al-Abdallah who is always embedded with Ahrar fighters when they take over a new town is very close to Fares and can be seen in countless photos and videos in the front lines of the “protesters” carrying the banners/posters. In a recent tweet on his twitter account Fares wrote: “Ahrar Al Sham Movement seems to be very close to the people movement”. The accompanying photo shows a dozen protesters holding a banner that says in Arabic: “Ahrar al-Sham movement, you will feel the warmth of the people’s embrace, your path is their path and it seems you are on your way to them”.
Embracing an Al-Qaeda tied extremist Jihadi group like Ahrar al-Sham does not sound to me like something a moderate who believes in a secular and democratic Syria would do. Could his flirtations with the United States have been motivated by the need to receive financial backing? His beloved Ahrar al-Sham have in recent months tried to portray themselves as being moderate with two op-eds in the Washington Post and the Telegraph in the hope of gaining Western governments’ support in their fight against Assad. One of the constant themes in Fares’ banners is the establishment of a no-fly-zone over Northern Syria that will prevent the Syrian Air Force from targeting “rebel”forces. In a tweet dated March 15, 2015 Raed Fares posts a photo of his usual gang of villagers holding a banner with an appeal to Samantha Power for the establishment of a no-fly-zone. Notice the familiar face of Hadi al-Abdallah in the center holding the banner with both hands:
Which brings us to the ridiculous slogans that have appeared on Fares’ banners during the last few years. Most of the ones I will list here exploit either tragic events or celebrities in an attempt to appeal to the average American to influence the US’s Syria policy.
Just a few words about the slogans in the above photos. It is deceptive and outright dishonest to exploit tragedies like the Boston bombing, the Charleston shootings, the murder of Trayvon Martin and the events of 9/11 in an attempt to win sympathy for the so-called revolution which, in fact, is a war on Syria using Islamic terrorists who are armed, trained and funded by the West, Turkey and the GCC countries. It is especially hypocritical in the case of 9/11 where the same people who were behind the attacks are leading the fight against the Syrian government. A hollywood sex symbol like Angelina Jolie would be either killed or sold as a sex slave to the highest bidder if any of Fares’ Jihadist friends got their hands on her, yet the message on their banner calls her “the most beautiful angel on earth”. It is common knowledge that these groups execute gays, let alone someone who has undergone a sex change like Caitlyn Jenner has. Something doesn’t sound right here.
It is very clear that the villagers you see in the photos have no knowledge of the English language and have no idea what the slogans on the banners they are holding mean. Another thing that stands out in the hundreds of photos they have posted is that you don’t see a single woman in any of them.The men of Kafranbel, having embraced groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, are the kind who keep their wives,sisters and daughters hidden away from the eyes of other men. They would also require them to adhere to a very strict Islamic dress code and so allowing them to participate in the “protests” would reveal to Western admirers the fact that they are neither secular nor moderate.
The initial number of “peaceful” protesters in Syria in March 2011 did not exceed a few thousand people who, inspired by the so-called Arab Spring, organized demonstrations to express some genuine grievances that they had. Unfortunately, as we now know, the peaceful nature of the protests did not last beyond a few weeks. Foreign fighters, funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and using Turkey as a passage way, began crossing the border into Syria long before the “Free Syrian Army” was formed. As a result, large numbers of Syrian army soldiers got killed in the first months of the crisis. By 2013, the Syrian opposition was made up of the FSA, Jabhat al-Nusra,ISIS,Ahrar al-Sham and literally hundreds of other factions. Far from being united, none of them could be classified as “moderate” and all were power hungry. In order to get the support of the Americans, Syrian rebels desperately needed to prove to the US that there were moderate elements among them. That’s where organizations like the KMC came in. Under the leadership of Raed Fares,the town of Kafranbel became a symbol of the Syrian “revolution” in the eyes of the Western world. Using what the Western press called “witty” English language messages, Fares and his group were posing as moderate democratic Syrians who looked to the US for sympathy and support, when in reality they were nothing more than a pro-Islamist propaganda banner assembly line whose slogans were designed to fool naive Americans into thinking that the Syrian Revolution was a moderate one.
I would like to leave you with one final tweet that was posted by Raed Fares on May 9 2015 during the siege of Jisr al-Shughour hospital. It contains a photo of his gang with a banner in Arabic. I couldn’t resist including it here because it shows what standard of human beings these people actually are. In his tweet, Fares, describing what the “rebels” will do to the hospital, says to Assad: “It’s as if the hymen of your virginity is in Jisr al-Shughour hospital and will get torn causing your blood to flow down on Hassan Nasrallah’s face”.
On October 1, 2015 Russia, in it’s second day of airstrikes on terrorists in Syria, reportedly targeted bases of Ahrar al-Sham and Forsan al-Haq on the outskirts of Kafranbel. While there is no evidence of there being any truth to it, Raed Fares was quick to claim on twitter that the Russians bombed a UN Heritage site from Roman times that is located next to the town. Always on hand when it comes to Kafranbel, Ahrar apologist Hadi al-Abdallah posted a video on youtube that shows explosions in the distance. It’s starts with someone behind the camera saying Allahu Akbar a couple of times then Abdallah himself appears on the screen and says: “This is the Russian Air Force bombing the outskirts of Kafranbel. Notice that the explosions look very different than those we are used to seeing when the Assad regime bombs. The Russian Air Force continues to hover over the area. So Russia is now officially targeting civilians and their homes and the world doesn’t see or care”.
On Saturday October 3, Raed Fares and Hadi al-Abdallah took to twitter and posted photos of two propaganda banners accusing the Russian air campaign of targeting civilians and non-ISIS targets (FSA):