New CNN SHAME: Look who they hired to cover the Middle East

We’ve been treated to an embarrassing amount of fake news from CNN of late, not to mention outright blackmail over a spoof video, but one would hope they’d hit the bottom of the barrel. Apparently not. Would you believe…CNN actually contracted an al-Qaeda propagandist to assist with their reporting?

American Muslim Bilal Abdul Kareem presents himself as a “journalist & documentary filmmaker,” who is reporting directly out of Syria. He publishes his own reports on his social media, and even boasts a verified Twitter account. He also runs the YouTube channel “On the Ground News.”

A closer look at Kareem’s work however reveals him to be more of a propagandist than journalist, reporting from al-Qaeda controlled areas, and always presenting a one-sided perspective against the Syrian government. He also harshly criticizes ISIS (which is at war with al-Qaeda and their affiliates), while featuring extensive interviews with members of al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian afiliate.

For some unknown reason, Western outlets that feature Bilal’s reporting (and interview him) always fail to mention the concern over where his alliances lie. CNN even went so far as to hire him for an award-winning documentary on Syria – and it was the far-Left journalists over at AlterNet who caught CNN in the act of trying to cover up their tracks.

As Max Blumenthal documented, on June 16, Bilal sat down before a camera to vent his frustration with a former employer. Bilal Abdul Kareem described how he and his online outlet, On the Ground News, had been contracted by CNN to film the documentary Undercover in Syria.“This was with CNN and their correspondent Clarissa Ward, which I have big-time respect for, big-time respect as a journalist, as a person,” Abdul Kareem remarked.

With a sardonic grin, Abdul Kareem described how he was slighted: “This Undercover in Syria, you can Google it — it won the prestigious Peabody Award, and it won the prestigious Overseas Press Club Award, which are basically the highest awards in journalism for international reporting. Now, [CNN] barely mentioned my name! I’m telling you, somehow CNN must have forgotten that I was the one that filmed it, I guess they forgot that.”

Indeed, Abdul Kareem’s name was a mere footnote in the Peabody Awards press release on its honoring of CNN.

Contrary to Abdul Kareem’s claim that CNN had simply “forgotten” him, the network may have had reason to airbrush him out of its public relations material. The man Ward contracted to take her into rebel-controlled territory was well established as one of the top English-language propagandists for al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, along with other extremist groups fighting the Syrian government.

In fact, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on June 7 that Abdul Kareem officially joined al-Nusra in 2012.

Abdul Kareem denied this accusation in a Facebook video response. “I am not, nor have I ever been, nor do I need to be a part of al-Qaeda. I don’t have any need for that,” he said, noting that he is considering legal action against Al Arabiya for its report.

However, one of Abdul Kareem’s closest colleagues has also been accused of membership in Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise. Akif Razaq, an employee of Abdul Kareem’s online media group, On the Ground News, was recently stripped of British citizenship for his alleged involvement with al-Nusra. A notice presented by British authorities to Razaq’s family in Birmingham accused him of being “aligned with an al-Qaeda-aligned group” and declared that he “presents a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom.”

During Abdul Kareem’s Facebook video response to the Al Arabiya report, he was seated beside Razap. Razaq has also co-hosted On the Ground News segments with him.

While Abdul Kareem insisted there was “no proof” of his membership in the Salafi-jihadist organization, rebels inside Syria tell a different story.

AlterNet contacted Abdullah Abu Azzam, an activist affiliated with the rebel group Kataib Thawar al-Sham. Abu Azzam, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym out of fear of retaliation by al-Nusra, is one of many opposition activists who have come into contact with Abdul Kareem and his colleagues. Speaking to AlterNet by Whatsapp, he said Abdul Kareem was not only a propagandist for al-Nusra, but well known as a member of the group.

Fighters in Thawar al-Sham, according to Abu Azzam, refer to Abdul Kareem as the “American mujahid” (mujahid is Arabic for jihadist).

Well this certainly takes fake news to a whole new level, doesn’t it?

[Note: This post was written by Matt Palumbo. He is a co-author of the new book A Paradoxical Alliance: Islam and the Left, and can be found on Twitter @MattPalumbo12]

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