Journalist Pierre Piccinin da Prata with Syrian Arab Army. (Photo: Syria Times)
In its zealous pursuit to misinform western public opinion about Syria, MSM has canceled dozens of scheduled interviews with a war reporter after he has declared to Belgian RTL radio: “It wasn’t the government of Bashar al-Assad that used Sarin gas or any other gas in Ghouta”.
Pierre Piccinin da Prata, the Belgian War reporter and Editor-in-Chief of The Maghreb and Orient Courier, held hostage with Italian war reporter Domenico Quirico by Syrian ‘rebels’ for five months, eavesdropped a conversation through a closed door- between their jailers about the chemical weapon attack and saying that President al-Assad was not responsible for Ghouta Sarin gas attack.
“Syrian government had no interest in using the gas. Strategically, it was useless; and that could only ruin his image on the international level, with the risk of an American attack,” the reporter told the Syria Times e-newspaper, calling on western media outlets that have been wrong about Syria, about what has really happened since 2011 to recognize their errors and restore truth for their readers and listeners.
Piccinin, who was sold by the commander of the Katiba of the so-called the ‘Free Syria Army’ he was with al-Farouk for a few hundred dollars, posed the following question: what is the point of being a war reporter if it is not to tell the truth?
Following is the full text of the interview:
ST: Why and how were you taken hostage by the Farouk Brigade as you had been a fierce supporter of the so-called ‘Syrian Arab Army’?
Piccinin: I was kidnapped by al-Farouk Islamists in April 2013, in al-Qouseir, in the governorate of Homs.
I was doing an ’embedded’ report at the time, with the ‘rebels’ of the Free Syrian Army (FSA – when they still existed, before disappearing when the rebellion was completely Islamized).
At that time already (April 2013), the ‘non-Islamist’ rebels realized that they had lost the game. Many were returning home or fleeing to Lebanon or Turkey. Some joined the different Islamist groups. Jabhet al-Nusra, especially (al-Qaeda in Syria). But some groups of the FSA continued to occupy the land they still controlled. But they no longer fought the Syrian army: they behaved like bandits; they ransacked the population, under the pretext of taking money for the war effort. And some FSA chiefs started to kidnap people, to enrich themselves personally. That’s what happened to me: the commander of the katiba of the FSA I was with sold me at al-Farouk for a few hundred dollars.
ST: What is the lesson you have learned from the five months in captivity?
Piccinin: As a war reporter and specialist of Syria, and Islamist circles, this experience (although it was very painful nervously and physically) taught me a lot about the evolution of the conflict and also about the realities and internal functioning of these Islamist groups. On their behavior, their convictions, their vision of the world…
I have not been locked up for five months. I was moved very regularly as the conflict evolved. At this time, the fighting followed one another: the front lines moved a lot. In particular, I experienced the siege and the fall of al-Qouseir. The city was taken over by the Syrian government in early June 2013.
So I was able to observe what was happening, constantly moved between Damascus and Aleppo. And I was not attached, nor blinded. I could even talk to the fighters who held me, regularly and also to the people I met. I was very guarded, sometimes locked up, but very often free to communicate, with the Islamists and with the people who gravitated around them. I took my meals with them. We often slept in the same room. I was even present when they prayed or during their military meetings.
I hoped that someone (among the people I meet) would react and help me to free myself. But the Islamists terrorized the population. People were very afraid of Ammar al-Buqai, the al-Farouk chief, who held me. And nobody dared to defend me. One day (it was in Yabroud, near the Lebanese border), a man told me: “They (the Islamists) are a real problem for us. It’s dangerous to contradict them. They are very dangerous. We must pretend to obey them.”
It was a very hard and painful human experience (for my family, my parents in particular, they are old). But, professionally, I dare to say that it was a great enrichment.
On the human side, moral, I also learned a lot. I have seen what level of cruelty, violence, malice and cynicism the human being can reach…
ST: You have stated that it is not the Syrian government that used Sarin gas or any other gas in Ghouta. Have you tried to give your testimony to international investigation committee about the use of chemical weapons in Syria? And Why?
Piccinin : At the end of this period of detention (it was at the end of August 2013), the jihadists who held me spoke only about this: the events of Ghouta.
And, at that moment, I was transferred to a large building (it was in Bab al-Hawa, near the Turkish border). This building served as a common headquarters for al-Farouk and the Free Syrian Army. It was in this place that we caught a conversation that allowed us to know that, most likely, the gases were used in Ghouta by an Islamist group, to provoke a reaction from the United States of America (I say “we”, because I was kidnapped with an Italian journalist, who sometimes accompanied me to Syria, and we were detained together).
Obama had promised that he would attack Syria if the government used gas. And it was a time when the rebels were losing the war. Everywhere! So… I guess if the rebels did that, it was to try to drag the United States into the conflict, hoping to reverse the military situation.
The Syrian government had no interest in using the gas. Strategically, it was useless; and that could only ruin his image on the international level, with the risk of an American attack.
My testimony was published by some media and I developed this question in several conferences.
But, no … Never the UN institutions have asked me to testify.
It must also be said that very few European media have published this testimony…
To tell you the truth, when I came back to Europe, I was contacted by dozens of media outlets, who wanted to interview me, and a lot of Belgian and French media of course. But when I gave the first interviews on Belgian radio in the morning, the day of my come back … I obviously talked about this issue of gas in Ghouta … Just after, the phone immediately began to ring: the media that had programmed my intervention in their broadcasts (radio and television) called me to tell me that the interview was no longer possible … For various absurd pretexts … The interviews were cancelled! Indeed, all Western media had accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of using the gas and had claimed that he was guilty. And a reporter who has been on the ground for five months was coming to testify to the contrary … That did not suit them …
Even my Italian colleague has preferred to keep quiet … I never asked him directly why, because I would not like to embarrass him … But I’m sure it was his editor-in-chief who told him not to talk about that …
Anyway. I should have shut up too. It is certain that my professional career has suffered a lot because of this revelation.
But, honestly, I ask myself the question: what is the point of being a war reporter if it is not to tell the truth?
ST: Have you visited Syria after your release? Would you like to visit Ghouta after its liberation from terrorist groups?
Piccinin: I have been to Syria many times since 2013. For example, I covered the battle of Raqqa, against the Islamic State …
But mainly with the Kurdish rebels. Never again with the Free Syrian Army (it does not exist anymore besides… apart some groups, manipulated by Erdogan’s Turkey, in the north of Aleppo). And not with the Syrian regular army.
Of course, I would very much appreciate being allowed to go back to Syria, with the government’s agreement to see Damascus again … and Aleppo.
I had an ambitious project… To ask President Al-Assad for a series of long interviews, for a book.
ST: As you have been in Syria during the war, why President Bashar al-Assad is standing strong after 8 years of terror war on the country?
Piccinin: Already in July 2011 (including in the Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique), I analyzed the situation in Syria and announced that the Baathist government would remain at the head of the country…
I explained the reasons, complex, for which the president Assad was strong enough to break the ‘rebels’.
Of course, we must mention the complexity of the conflict that President al -Assad had to face. I mean: the complexity of alliances and actors. Syria had to count on faithful and solid allies: Hezbollah party, Iran and, of course, Russia.
But, more than all that, certainly, it is the cohesion of the Syrian army which allowed the victory and the incredible sacrifices of the Syrian soldiers. It is a fact. The Western media have never talked about those boys who gave their lives to defeat the Islamists.
I met them in Syria. They were citizens, young men doing their military service. No monsters, as the media in the West have presented.
More, President Al-Assad had the support of communities, ethnic and faith-based minorities, who have always been protected in Syria and have been able to live in peace in the country (this is not the case in other Arab countries); moreover, President Al-Assad also had a lot of support of the Sunni majority, and particularly in the middle class, who appreciated his policy of economic development and openness.
But, above all, it is obvious that the majority of Syrians have been scared by Islamist fanatics: Syria is a secular country, where the level of education is high, and where there is also a form of social security which ensures the inhabitants of rather good living conditions (in comparison with other countries of the Middle East).
When it became clear that the “revolution” had turned into a fanatic, jihadist, Islamist insurgency, only the regular army could protect the people from the creation of an “Islamic state”. And the vast majority of Syrians supported the government and the army in their efforts to save the country.
ST: Would you like to add anything?
Piccinin: Only one word, for Western media…
It is time for all those who were wrong about Syria, about what has really happened since 2011 … All those who have not understood anything about this conflict … Time to let themselves question… To recognize their errors and restore truth for their readers and listeners.
Unfortunately, the Western press is not as free as it claims … And I doubt that such a questioning will ever take place.
Especially when I read the analyzes produced today: Western journalists have not remembered anything, learned nothing from the mistakes they made.
The consequence is that Western public opinion is very badly informed (or even “misinformed”) about Syria. And on this issue, citizens, especially in Europe, have the impression of “knowing”, but it is a “virtual” knowledge, and they live in a “virtual” reality, far removed from the truth.
Interviewed by: Basma Qaddour
READ MORE SYRIA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Syria Files
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Journalist taken hostage by Farouk Brigade 2013 – ‘Syrian government didnt use chemical weapons in Ghouta’
Journalist Pierre Piccinin da Prata with Syrian Arab Army. (Photo: Syria Times)