John McCain Cuddles Up to Syrian Kidnappers


When Sen. John McCain went to Syria to meet with Syrian “rebel” commanders and call for sending them US arms, he snuck over the border with Turkey to the town of Azaz – the headquarters of the “Northern Storm Brigade,” and the site of a 2012 kidnapping by Syrian rebels of 11 Shi’ite pilgrims returning from a visit to a religious shrine. Never one to shy away from the camera, the Senator posed with rebel fighters in front of their headquarters, smiling as gun-toting jihadists smiled back. Did he know whom he was posing for pictures with? More importantly – did he even care?

What followed was a lesson in the perils of war propaganda. Because, as it turned out, two of the rebels in the photo have been positively identified as the 2012 kidnappers. What’s a warmongering US Senator to do? Answer: push back.

The original headline over the Buzzfeed story read: “McCain Didn’t Realize He Was Posing With Rebel Kidnappers” – but not for long. After a few hours on the site, the headline – magically – changed to: “McCain Wasn’t Posing With Rebel Kidnappers, Spokesman Says.” How’s that for spin? The only problem is that the headline – minus the “Spokesman Says” modifier – is a blatant falsehood. The sub-head now reads: “Regrettable, if true.”

What’s regrettable is Buzzfeed’s idea of journalism, and their amazingly cynical “explanation” for the magical changing headline, appended to the article in a note at the bottom: ” The headline has been clarified to reflect that there are conflicting claims over whether the men are kidnappers.” Yet the change reflects no such thing: the new headline flatly states a complete falsehood. Two of the men in the photo – Mohamed Nour, well-known as chief spokesman and photographer for the Northern Storm Brigade, and Abu Ibrahim – have been fingered by one of the abducted pilgrims, and the Lebanese media. As Lebanon’s Daily Star reports:

“US Senator John McCain was photographed with a known affiliate of the rebel group responsible for the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims one year ago, during a brief and highly publicized visit inside Syria this week.

“The pilgrims were kidnapped by armed rebels in Azaz, in Syria’s Aleppo province, in May last year as they were making their way back to Lebanon from Iran. Two of the kidnapped, Anwar Ibrahim and Hussein Ali Omar were released in August and September but intense negotiations are still underway for the remaining nine, believed to be in the custody of the ‘Northern Storm’ brigade, headed by rebel commander Ammar Al-Dadikhi, aka Abu Ibrahim. The Northern Storm Brigade also claimed responsibility for the kidnap of a Lebanese journalist in October.”

This report says the Lebanese hostages were “transferred” to the custody of an Islamist group, perhaps the al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front. These are the “moderates” Sen. McCain wants to arm.

Anwar Ibrahim, one of two hostages released by the Northern Storm Brigade, says: “I recognized [Mohamed Nour] immediately. He was the photographer who was brought in to take our photos. He works with the kidnappers. He knows them very well.”

Sen. McCain and his friends over at the “Syrian Emergency Task Force” are also working with the kidnappers, it seems: why else would the Senator and his entourage make their well-publicized appearance in Azaz, the headquarters of the Northern Storm gang – and with the gang’s “spokesman” on hand, no less.

And what a spokesman! Here is Mr. Nour, speaking to a Time reporter, boasting about how his group killed defecting Syrian army soldiers. The video also features an interview with one of Northern Storm’s fighters, a former teacher who proudly claims he also went to fight the Americans in Iraq. They are, the reporter says, “self-proclaimed jihadists.”

A United States Senator and self-proclaimed “freedom fighter” stands beside self-proclaimed jihadists who boast about how many Americans they killed in Iraq. Does it get any more bizarre than that? Welcome to Bizarro World, where up is down, Islamist fanatics are fighters for “democracy,” and a prominent public figure argues we ought to give arms to people who not only want to kill Americans but have already killed a number of them.

The next move for the McCain-Buzzfeed spin machine is to claim the Northern Storm gang is a “rogue” element, not really part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the group McCain and the War Party are so eager to outfit with the latest American weaponry. But that won’t fly, either: this news account identifies the Northern Stormers as not only an integral part of the FSA, but as the architects of the FSA’s “mini-state” being created in the rebel-held northern part of the country.

“[T]he Free Syrian army is quietly carving out its own ‘mini state’ from the towns and strategic areas it now controls. Since capturing the crucial border town of Azaz six weeks ago, the FSA has even reopened the adjoining Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey, allowing foreign journalists, politicians and financiers supportive of its cause to cross over into Syria.

“After passing Turkish immigration and walking down a long, blisteringly hot tarmac road, lined on either side by minefields and open sewage, visitors come to a gate which stands ajar. They are are greeted by an overhead banner announcing their arrival at the “Free Syria” customs point. Once inside, FSA soldiers stamp their passports with a date of entry to the ‘Arab Republic of Syria.’

“Before the war, this was a busy crossing point for trade between Turkey and Syria, but these days journalists make up the vast majority of arrivals. Once inside Syrian territory, they are politely ushered into a yellow-brick building, divided by wooden panels into three rooms that serve as the press office for ‘The Northern Storm Brigade,‘a chapter of the FSA which controls the border area, the medieval city of Azaz and territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo…. The Northern Storm Brigade has divided itself into a number of areas of responsibility by setting up offices for military and security, political, revolutionary command, financial, relief, medical and press. Logos have even been produced for several departments.”

That Irish Times report goes on to cite one Nader Azaz, identified as a rebel “press officer,” who says: “The media is very important to us. We want to show the world what we are doing and be seen as a credible little state.” But they don’t want to show the world everything they are doing: now that they have recruited a US Senator to the jihadist ranks, kidnappings are to be kept strictly under wraps, to say nothing of summary executions. Oh, but we’re just like a government, the Northern Stormers insist – “‘It’s not like a government, it is a government,’ said the head of the military office, Capt Ahmed Abu Rashid, as he fiddled with his Kalashnikov” – and so they are, albeit not in the way they mean it.

They have departments, and even logos! One can only imagine the logo for the Department of Kidnapping.

Expecting McCain to man up and acknowledge his mistake – if it was a mistake – is like expecting him to acknowledge how wrong he’s been about practically everything that comes out of his mouth when it comes to foreign policy. But what about Buzzfeed, and its “reporter,” one Rosie Gray? Do they have even less integrity than the Senate’s number one warmongering blowhard? Apparently Rosie is much too busy tweeting Justin Bieber’s long night out – “hitting three of the most horrible clubs in New York”! – to bother with such mundane matters as accuracy or journalistic integrity. That’s for the rubes out in the cornfields.

As Northern Storm “press officer” Nader Azaz put it: “The media is very important to us.” As indeed they are. The American people have not the slightest interest in charging into Syria to help the jihadists overthrow Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. But in the concrete canyons of New York City, where the “mainstream” media lives and parties, and the cobbled thoroughfares of Washington’s fashionable Georgetown district, where the governing elite gambol, it’s a different story altogether.

The “rebel” cause has had its main support not in Syria, but in the Western media, where the pronouncements of the jihadists have been reported as fact. How many “massacres” have turned out to be completely invented? I’ve lost count. And then there was the “chemical weapons” story, which also turned out to be phony – and, indeed, as the debunking progressed, what evidence there was of chemical weapons pointed in the direction of the rebels rather than the regime.

Buzzfeed’s obfuscation of the key role played by the Northern Storm Brigade during McCain’s visit is just a particularly egregious example of the thoroughly pernicious part played by the media in ginning up yet another US intervention in the Middle East. Just as they did in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the Rosie Grays and Buzzfeeds of this world are hopping on the War Party’s bandwagon – changing headlines to suit their spin, distorting the facts, and hiding the truth about the America-hating savages who are fighting to bring down Syria’s repressive Ba’athist regime. With the Northern Storm Brigade slated to play the role of the Iraqi National Congress, and the rebel commanders doing their imitation of Ahmed Chalabi, we are in for a replay of the worst military-diplomatic disaster in modern American history.


Which brings me to one of my favorite subjects: the utter corruption of the “mainstream” media and its complete prostration before the War Party. My longtime readers are no doubt familiar with this story line, but I’ll run it up the flagpole one more time just as a timely reminder. The American media is peddling an elaborate lie about Syria, covering up for our meddling rulers and the preening politicians who love to grandstand about their great love of “freedom” – while posing for pictures with lung-eating monsters.

There’s just one way to get around this, and that is by – literally – going around the “mainstream” media and getting the real lowdown here, from one of the oldest alternative news sites on the internet. We’ve been debunking the War Party’s lies – and exposing the “mainstream” media’s complicity in the deception – since 1995. That’s a long time to be in the trenches – and, believe you me, it hasn’t been easy. Indeed, right now, at this particular moment, it’s exceedingly hard. Because, you see, we’re out of money, and soon to be dead broke.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].