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Takfiri-linked American journalist: Torture rife in HTS prisons in Syria

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Self-proclaimed US journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem, a Western media star with links to Takfiri groups in Syria

Self-proclaimed US journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem, a Western media star who has a history of links with Takfiri terrorists in Syria, has revealed rampant torture at prisons run by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib province.

Abdul Kareem, who had been reporting from militant-held areas of Syria since 2012, once enjoyed a close relationship with the HTS, but his ties with rival Takfiri outfits raised the suspicion of the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group which arrested and jailed him for months.

“Almost every day of every week, I had to listen to the screams of torture just a few metres away from me. Everyone in the prisons can always hear the torture,” he said on Friday in an interview with the Middle East Eye (MEE) news portal. 

Abdul Kareem, born Darrell Lamont Phelps, was released by his captors in February more than six months after his arrest. 

He was among many Takfiri sympathizers who flocked to Syria from the US, Europe, Australia and elsewhere without hindrance with the aim of helping a campaign run by the West, Israel, Turkey and Arab states oust the Syrian government.

In his interview with the MEE, Abdul Kareem said the HTS had become increasingly hostile to him since 2018. In August 2020, he said, he was arrested by the terrorist group and subjected to daily questioning.

Abdul Kareem accused HTS leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani of lying about conditions in the group's prisons after he denied in an interview on the US PBS network that detainees held by the group were being tortured.

The interview was another example of a Western media outlet working PR for the HTS after SKY News presented the terrorist group as morally superior to the Syrian government.

SKY News correspondent Alex Crawford entered Idlib in 2019 where she was embedded with the HTS, describing the group's members as “the rebels” and interviewing its fighters.

Crawford's piece also starred Abdul Kareem, who despite doing favorable coverage for the HTS, was kidnapped for criticizing the group.

He was subsequently sentenced to 12 months in prison on charges of “working with groups that harm public security” of his captors and "incitement" against HTS authorities. 

In the interview, Abdul Kareem noted that he was offered the prospect of an early release if he agreed to apologize. He was eventually released on February 17 following what the HTS described as a petition submitted by local leaders in Idlib. 

Back in March, a United Nations Human Rights Council report cited allegations of detention-related violations linked to the HTS and related groups in 2011.

It said the HTS had been “arbitrarily detaining civilians in a systematic effort to stifle dissent” and had established “punishment prisons” in which “torture and ill-treatment were widespread.”

Abdul Kareem said he had to leave the HTS-controlled territory after being told by terrorist ringleaders that he was considered a security threat.

“So I was forced to leave their territories. I could either just be quiet and open up a hot dog [stall] or a pizzeria. Or I could say I'm going to change my location and I'm going to continue to report,” he said.

Parts of Idlib and the countryside west of the city of Aleppo are the last terrorist-held stronghold after ten years of foreign-backed war on Syria.

Much of the Idlib province is run by the HTS. Turkish-backed militants also control several areas near the Turkish border.

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