Emily Thornberry: BBC “must be vigilant” to ensure license fee does not fund Jihadi groups

Update: Emily Thornberry has responded further here.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry MP has written to BBC Panorama Editor Rachel Jupp over concerns that a Panorama team used members of an al-Qaeda and ISIS linked group as “security”.

Ms Thornberry’s letter to Ms Jupp included a copy of my email of 17 August 2013 [1] in which I pointed out that a vehicle in the convoy transporting reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway in the 2013 Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children bore the logo of jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham.

In her covering response to me Ms Thornberry writes:

Making programmes in a war-zone such as Syria is a very difficult task, but I agree that the BBC must be vigilant to ensure that licence fee payer money is never used to inadvertently fund the members of any Jihadi groups.

I hope that the Editor of Panorama will be able to shed further light on this issue and explain what action the BBC has taken to look into this matter and learn lessons for future programmes.

Ahrar al-Sham was co-founded [2] by Osama bin Laden’s “chief courier between Europe and Afghanistan” [3], who is suspected by Spanish authorities of having “delivered surveillance tapes of the World Trade Center and other American landmarks to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan in early 1998”. [4]

Just three weeks prior to Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s use of members of the group as security, Ahrar al-Sham had been, along with Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, one “the key fundraisers, organizers, planners, and executors” of attacks in the Latakia countryside in which at least 190 civilians – “including 57 women and at least 18 children and 14 elderly men” – were killed and over 200 – “the vast majority women and children” – were kidnapped. [5]

In numerous of its own reports the BBC has described Ahrar al-Sham as a “hardline Islamist” group. [6]

Ms Thornberry’s response to me and her letter to Panorama editor Rachel Jupp are reproduced below.


Our Ref: AP/STUA03006/031713320

03 October 2017

Dear Mr Stuart

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about the 2013 episode of Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children.’ I was interested to read your thoughts on this important matter and apologise for the delayed response.

I have written to the Editor of BBC Panorama to alert them to your complaint and asked them to investigate this matter. I have included a copy of this letter and will let you know when I receive a response.

I can appreciate why you are concerned about this issue nd [sic] it is clear that you have conducted extensive research to support your compliant [sic]. Making programmes in a war-zone such as Syria is a very difficult task, but I agree that the BBC must be vigilant to ensure that licence fee payer money is never used to inadvertently fund the members of any Jihadi groups.

I hope that the Editor of Panorama will be able to shed further light on this issue and explain what action the BBC has taken to look into this matter and learn lessons for future programmes.

Thank you once again for your email. If there are any further points that you would like to raise please do not hesitate to contact me in the future.

Best wishes,

Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury


Ms Rachel Jupp
Editor
BBC Panorama
Zone D, 4th Floor
BBC Broadcasting House
Portland Place
London
MIA I AA

Our Ref: AP/STUA03006/031713320
03 October 2017

Dear Ms Jupp

Re: Mr Robert Stuart [address provided]

One of my constituents has recently contacted me with their concerns about the BBC Panorama programme ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ which was first broadcast in 2013. I appreciate that this is now four years ago, but I hope that you will still be able to look into this matter for my constituent.

Mr Stuart has told me that he is worried that BBC reporters and their crew were transported in a convoy which included a vehicle that bore the logo of the Salafist Jihadi group ‘Ahrar al-Sham’. Mr Stuart is also concerned that the translator who was helping the BBC team may have been associated with members of this group who were alleged to have participated in an attack on civilians in the Latakia countryside in August 2013.

I have included a copy of my constituent’s email and would be grateful if you would be able to respond to the points that he has raised. Are you already aware of similar complaints against this programme? Have you taken any action to investigate these allegations?

I hope that you will appreciate that my constituent’s concern stems from the possibility that licence fee revenues may have been used to inadvertently fund the members of a Jihadi group in Syria.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Rt Hon Emily Thornberry
MP Islington South and Finsbury



Vehicle in convoy transporting BBC Panorama team of reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway on 26 August 2013 bears the logo of jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham. See this post for further discussion https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/bbc-panorama-team-embedded-with-islamic-state-partner-group/


Notes

[1] I sent a follow up email on 20 September

[2] “Abu Khalid al-Suri (Unknown to February 23, 2014): Suri, also known as Abu Omeir al-Shami, was one of Ahrar al-Sham’s co-founders.” Stanford University, Mapping Militants Project, http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/523

[3] “Mohamed Bahaia: aka Abu Khaled; described by Spanish as bin Laden’s chief courier between Europe and Afghanistan.” USA Today, 17 September 2003, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/2003-09-17-spain-alqaeda_x.htm

[4] Syrian rebel leader was bin Laden’s courier, now Zawahiri’s representative, Foundation for Defense of Democracies Long War Journal, 17 December 2013, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/12/aq_courier_rebel_leader_zawahiri.php

[5] “You Can Still See Their Blood” – Executions, Indiscriminate Shootings, and Hostage Taking by Opposition Forces in Latakia Countryside, Human Rights Watch, 10 October 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/10/10/you-can-still-see-their-blood/executions-indiscriminate-shootings-and-hostage

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/search?q=ahrar+al-sham+%22hardline+islamist%22&sa_f=search-product&scope= also http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38966601

Numerous BBC News reports describe Ahrar al-Sham as a “hardline Islamist” group.

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