ISIS Uses British Journalist John Cantlie to Present Web “Shows”

Sep 18, 2014 at 12:03 PM ET

A video posted to YouTube Thursday shows British journalist John Cantlie, who was captured by ISIS in Syria in 2012, cloaked in a bright orange shirt and reciting a message to the U.S. and Great Britain. The video is titled “Lend Me Your Ears—Messages From the British Detainee John Cantlie.”

Rather than a plea to be saved or a forced Muslim prayer, Cantlie delivers a stark warning to the West from ISIS not to enter into another “unwinnable” war in the Middle East.

“Seeing as I’ve been abandoned by my government, and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State, I have nothing to lose,” Cantlie says, staring blankly into the camera. “Maybe I will live and maybe I will die, but I want to take this opportunity to convey some facts that you can verify—facts that, if you can contemplate, might help preserving lives.”

The only fact he presents is that European countries have negotiated with ISIS, and in so doing, managed to return their prisoners—in contrast with the U.S. and U.K., which have not. “They negotiated with the Islamic State, and got their people home,” Cantlie says while a close-up frames the urgency of his statement. Germany, France, Italy and Spain have all paid ransoms to terrorist hostage-takers, but they have been accused of funding terrorism with their negotiations. Al Qaeda has made and estimated $125 million from ransom transactions since 2008, The New York Times reports.

The script, delivered calmly by Cantlie, promises further online programs in which he will present more “facts” about ISIS. “You might be surprised at what you learn,” he says.

There are hints within the script that show that the words are not Cantlie’s, and also, perhaps a sign that he knows his fate. Cantlie says: “Maybe I will live, and maybe I will die,” emphasising the last two words in a way that could suggest he is resigned to the fact that ISIS will kill him. Cantlie also refers to the Western media as “that organization,” a characterization of an industry that any Western journalist is unlikely to use, unbidden.

Cantlie reported from both Afghanistan and Syria, writing for the Telegraph and the Sunday Times, among others. He was taken hostage along with fellow photojournalist Jeroen Oerlemans in Syria back in July 2012, but escaped after a month with the help of the Free Syrian Army, having been shot in the arm. Cantlie said at the time that between 10 and 15 of his captors back then were British, and said he had been threatened that he would be beheaded. 

“The British were a mixed bunch,” said Cantlie, who added that British jihadis had told him that “we didn’t come here for this,” and were shocked at what they were witnessing.

The remainder of his captors, the first time round, were a mixed bag of nationalities. “They were not from Syria—they were from anywhere but Syria,” Cantlie told the BBC during a radio interview in August 2012. “Syrian people have an obvious look and a way about them,” he said. “They are a very gracious people. These people were anything but.”

Cantlie returned to Syria in November of the same year, and ISIS rebels captured him not long after he arrived.

The video marks a shift in media strategy for ISIS. Earlier this week, they released a trailer for a soon-to-be-released video entitled “Flames of War,” featuring battleground footage from Syria and Iraq cut together with some panache. Cantlie’s trailer, blank and informative, shows that ISIS has a multi-pronged approach to how the group intends to seed its message with Western audiences. Having grabbed global attention with shocking beheading videos, ISIS appears to be shifting gear, using its hostages as puppets to share the group’s propaganda, while targeting recruits with flashy images of ISIS conquests.

ISIS supporters also urged others to tag tweets promoting the video with some of the more popular British hashtags in order to seed it within online conversations in Cantlie’s home country. The below tweet urges: “Oh supporters, invade these tags with the message of the British captive.”