The report by John Cantlie, the British journalist held captive by Isis, from the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani on the Turkish border, is revealing about the Islamic militants’ plans.
Isis would not be sponsoring such a high-profile report claiming that it is in control of most of Kobani unless it intends to fight on until final victory in the five-week siege. Mr Cantlie says that the mujahedin or holy warriors “are just mopping up now, street to street and building to building”. He pours scorn on the idea that there is an all-out battle, saying: “It is nearly over. As you can hear, it is very quiet, just the occasional gunfire.”
Mr Cantlie is in a general sense speaking under duress, since he has been a prisoner of Isis since 2012 and two American journalists held captive, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, have been ritually murdered by the movement. But there is no doubt that the film was taken in Kobani, where Mr Cantlie is filmed in an open space and then on top of a building. There is a rattle of machine-gun fire in the background but no explosions or evidence of heavy fighting.
The film opens with a shot from the air, apparently from an Isis drone. The streets all appear empty and most of the town is intact, though some buildings look entirely shattered, as if by a US airstrike. “Hello, I am John Cantlie,” says the reporter, who is dressed in black, “and today we are in the city of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border. That is, in fact, Turkey right behind me.”
He mocks foreign journalists for not being present in the town, though this is a bit rich given Isis’s record of beheading them. He adds that media reports of what is happening in Kobani are drawn from accounts by the Kurds and the US administration, which is largely correct. He refers to The Independent reporting that, despite US air strikes, Isis forces were continuing to fight their way into Kobani. The YouTube video has now been removed and replaced with a note saying that this has been done “because its content violated YouTube’s terms of service”.
Despite the removal of the film clip, the use of Mr Cantlie as a forcibly embedded foreign correspondent covering the actions of Isis demonstrates once again the movement’s skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war. Whatever the degree of coercion under which Mr Cantlie is reporting, the video will have been seen by millions around the world and is convincing evidence that Isis, if it has not won the battle for Kobani, has not yet lost it. Mr Cantlie would not have been standing in the open or on the top of a building if he was in range of Kurdish fighters.
“Contrary to media reports, the fighting in Kobani is nearly over,” says Mr Cantlie. “Urban warfare is about as nasty and tough as it gets, and it’s something of a specialty of the mujahedin.”