A “Syrian Rebels” forum on Reddit has chosen to once again host a question and answer session with a “journalist” who worked for an extremist television channel in the United Kingdom and has been accused by mainstream media reporters of being an Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The subreddit r/SyrianRebels had previously faced criticism after an investigation by Disobedient Media revealed that they had been planning to host an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session with Shaykh Abu Sulayman, (real name Mostafa Muhammed) who has been described as the most senior Australian member of Al-Qaeda by the press and is labeled a terrorist by the United States Department of the Treasury. r/SyrianRebels cancelled the planned AMA in the aftermath of Disobedient Media’s report. Reddit’s administration team declined to take action against the subreddit at the time, saying that it did not violate Reddit’s site rules. On May 10th, 2017, r/SyrianRebels announced that it planned to host an AMA session with Bilal Abdul Kareem, a journalist working in Syria who has a history of ties to Islamic extremism and terror. The AMA was scheduled to begin May 19th at 1:00 PM PST and is underway at the time of this report.
Bilal Abdul Kareem’s website states that he is a New York born American citizen who converted to Islam in the late 1990’s, before moving to Egypt where he studied Arabic and began working for the Saudi supported Huda TV. In 2012, Bilal went to Syria to cover the civil war after meeting “respectable Islamic fighters calling for Islamic Law” operating out of Libya in the power vacuum created by the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi. Bilal’s biography on his website fails to mention that he also spent time working for an extremist television channel in the United Kingdom.
A June 14, 2013 report by Channel 4 News revealed that Bilal had previously worked as a presenter for the Islam Channel. In 2008, London Mayor Sadiq Khan was widely criticized after he was filmed delivering a speech at the Global Peace and Unity festival in 2008 organised by the Islam Channel where members of the audience during Khan’s speech were openly waving the black flag of jihad and sporting headbands with extremist slogans written on them. The Islam Channel was found guilty by the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) of extremism both before and after the MP’s appearance. Ofcom specifically criticised the Islam Channel for comments it made labeling women who wore perfume as prostitutes as well as for advocating marital rape and violence against women. In 2010, the channel’s head, Mohamed Ali Harrath was arrested on terror charges in South Africa after he was sought by Interpol and Tunisia due to his involvement with a militant group there.
Since entering Syria to cover the civil war, Bilal has actively participated in creating and disseminating anti-regime media content. A report by CNN highlighting the fall of Aleppo to government forces in December 2016 revealed that Bilal was actively involved with pushing a campaign of “goodby messages” from residents of the city, created with the intent to give readers and impression that they were fearful that the Syrian government would commit war crimes once they had captured the city. Bilal subsequently failed to give any attention to reports which emerged disclosing that rebel groups had left behind mass graves full of bodies which bore signs of mutilation and torture, or that Christians in Aleppo were finally able to celebrate Christmas after being forbidden from doing so by jihadist factions among rebel groups for four years.
Additionally, Bilal Abdul Kareem has unusually free access to senior figures in Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. Disobedient Media has obtained footage showing Bilal conducting an interview with Dr. Abdullah al-Muhaysini, a Saudi cleric designated as a terrorist by the United States Department of the Treasury due to his affiliation with Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat Al-Nusra. In the interview, Bilal allowed al-Muhaysini to deliver a pro-jihad propaganda message highlighting the calls of mujahideen groups in Syria for more recruits, painting the civil war as an ethnic conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims rather than a struggle for democracy.
Bilal’s willingness to act as a mouthpiece for jihadist groups in Syria appears to come from more than just a desire to report the facts on the ground in rebel held parts of Syria. Journalists working directly for mainstream media outlets on the ground in Syria have accused Bilal Abdul Kareem of being an active member of Al-Qaeda. On January 14, 2017, the BBC’s James Longman held a question and answer session on Facebook highlighting the complicated and tragic reality of the Syrian civil war and how press outlets reporting on the conflict were misrepresenting it where he directly accused Bilal Abdul Kareem of working with Al-Qaeda.
In March 2017, the New York Times reported that Bilal and another journalist in Syria were suing President Donald Trump and members of his administration for allegedly placing them on a classified “kill list” meant for terrorists, which once included the now deceased Al-Qaeda member Anwar al-Awlaki. The men’s association with members of Al Qaeda and other militant groups was listed as the reason for their alleged inclusion to the “kill list.”
Bilal Abdul Kareem’s past association with the Islam Channel indicates a history of involvement with groups marked by violence towards women and ties to terrorism. His work in Syria to promote anti-regime propaganda, his willingness to offer Al-Qaeda and other jihadist figures a forum to spread messages of extremism and accusations of active coordination with terror groups all indicate that this pattern of this pattern of radicalization has only continued.
The decision of r/SyrianRebels to offer Bilal a forum additionally indicates that they continue to support Islamic terror organizations operating in rebel held areas of Syria. In the aftermath of their ill-concieved decision to host an AMA with Al-Qaeda’s media relations manager in Syria, the continued support for advocates of extremism shows that the subreddit serves as little more than a media outlet which attempts to normalize radical terror groups.
More broadly, r/SyrianRebel’s actions raise questions about whether or not Reddit’s administration team might be liable for their open facilitation of pro-terror propaganda. In November 2016, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman admitted to editing comments made by other users on the website which annoyed him. The legal website Associate’s Mind noted that Huffman’s actions has exposed Reddit to liability for the actions of their users under 47 U.S.C. § 230 of the Communication Decency Act. A member of Reddit’s administration team previously declined to take action against r/SyrianRebels when notified by users that their activities might be supporting terror groups.