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FAKE NEWS: reports of ‘scores of Russians’ killed in Syria false

Russia denies reports of ‘scores’ or ‘hundreds’ of Russians killed in US air raid east of Euphrates

Alexander Mercouris

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Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, has vigorously denied widespread Western media reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of deaths of Russian mercenaries supposedly killed in the recent US air strike in Syria against pro-Syrian government tribal fighters east of the Euphrates river.

These reports have appeared in Bloomberg, The New York Times, and The Guardian.  They have been followed up by a further report by Agence France-Presse and in The Guardian, sourced to the pro-Jihadi British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that another fifteen Russian mercenaries were recently killed as a result of an explosion at their base in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province.

Zakharova’s denial does not touch on the explosion at the base, but does respond in detail to the claims of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of deaths of Russian mercenaries as a result of the earlier US air strike

Reports about the death of dozens and even hundreds of Russian nationals are a classic example of disinformation. There were not 400, 200, 100 or even ten (who died), according to preliminary information, in a clash the cause of which is being investigated. Five people, who allegedly were Russian citizens, may have been killed. Several people suffered wounds but it requires verification, particularly as to whether all of them are Russian nationals.

Zakharova went on to say that the Russians who were killed in the US air strike were private civilian contractors (ie. mercenaries) who had no connection to the Russian military and whose movements in Syria were not coordinated with the Russian military and were not therefore fully known to the Russian authorities

I would like to stress that they are not military servicemen.  The Russian presidential administration and Defence Ministry have promptly clarified that there were no Russian military servicemen in the area targeted by the US-led coalition…..

There is a large number of people from all over the globe in conflict zones, including from Russia and CIS member states.  They have various reasons to be there, including participating in military activities. They do not turn to state agencies when they head off to conflict zones, and use illegal routes. It is difficult to figure out who is doing what there but the Russian Foreign Ministry together with other state agencies has been looking into every such case because one of our goals is to protect Russian nationals abroad

As to who was responsible for spreading the story of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in the US air strike, Zakharova pointed the finger at ‘Syrian militants’ (ie. Al-Qaeda or ISIS) whilst also blaming the US authorities and the Western media for spreading the stories.

Syrian militants fighting against the government [had been the first to start] spreading this disinformation through their channels.  God knows why they used a picture of the Martian landscape, adding a photo of destroyed military hardware, which could be Ukrainian (a probe is underway) that dates back to June 2014.  We can understand the reason why international terrorists spread such rumours, as well as why US media outlets do that. This information campaign was stoked by Washington, which has been accusing Moscow of interfering in the US presidential election.

The report of the fifteen Russian mercenaries killed in the explosion in Deir Ezzor unquestionably originates from Jihadi sources, as shown by the fact that it is sourced to the pro Jihadi Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fact that the reports both of the air strike and of the explosion at the base concern events in eastern Syria, an area where Al-Qaeda has no significant presence, suggests that the people who are behind these reports are from ISIS, which is known to operate a sophisticated propaganda and disinformation operation, and whose heartland area eastern Syria is.

As I have previously pointed out, a false report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights of the death of the ISIS leader Ibrahim Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi confirms that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has contacts with ISIS, though this does not seem to worry the Western media outlets which republish its reports

This tends to corroborate Zakharova’s claim that what we are looking at is a Jihadi orchestrated disinformation campaign about Russian casualties in eastern Syria, with the likelihood being that is being carried out by ISIS.

Sadly there is no doubt that members of Russia’s ‘non-system’ liberal opposition have also played a role in spreading and giving credence to this story.  Bloomberg’s report of the story unfortunately makes that all too clear.

The reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of dead Russians in Syria – both as a result of the US air strike and because of the explosion in Deir Ezzor – in fact have all the obvious hallmarks of a disinformation operation.

Firstly, though there is no doubt that there are many Russian mercenaries in Syria, it is scarcely credible that ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of them would be gathered together in one place.

Beyond that, for a single air strike to kill ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of people – especially soldiers dispersed over a wide area and taking cover – would be unusual.

Syrian reports in fact said that the total number of fighters  – Syrian and Russian – killed by the US air strike was 25, and this still seems to be the most plausible and reliable figure.

South Front, whose analysis and reporting of the Syrian conflict is both reliable and outstanding, identified the reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in the air strike as an obvious case of a disinformation operation and said so even before Zakharova made her denial

On February 7 and on February 8, the English-speaking mainstream media, like Politico, Reuters, CNN, were spreading reports that over 100 pro-Assad fighters were killed in the US strikes. All the reports were based on anonymous sources and were mixed with statements from the Pentagon and the defense secretary to look more reliable. According to these reports, a group of 300-500 government fighters, backed up by battle tanks and artillery, were involved in the alleged attack on the SDF.

On February 8, some infamous figures and media outlets of the Russian media sphere started spreading reports that Russian PMCs had suffered mass casualties in the February 7 incident. The conflicting reports, also based on anonymous sources, included estimates such as “two truckloads of dead bodies”, 10-20 killed, 100, 200, 300, 600.

On February 10, the Russian telegram channel WarGonzo posted 5 audio recordings of an alleged conversation among 3 PMCs. One of the voices provides the number of 177 killed. These audio recordings had also been received by a number of Russian journalists since February 7 and were most likely a forgery.

By February 14, reports had settled at a general number of 10-600 dead PMCs.

Meanwhile, the analysis of open info, including reports from relatives and friends of the PMCs involved in the operation, allowed all the concerned sides to find out that 5 Russians reportedly died in the aforementioned period. However, no details are available.

Independent journalists also noted that no aircraft, which could have been involved in the transfer of the killed and injured PMCs, had been spotted at Khmeimim Air Base since February 7. SouthFront correspondents and sources in Damascus and Deir Ezzor can also not confirm information regarding the hundreds of killed PMCs.

SouthFront’s military experts aware of the situation say that the possible number of the casualties could be higher than 5, but not more than 15-20.

The entire story about mass casualties of Russian PMCs is based on unconfirmed and fake data, that includes a few real facts like the US strikes, some PMCs casualties and the participation of the ISIS Hunters in the incident. The rest is an orchestrated campaign in keeping with the best traditions of propaganda.

The goals of which would be that:

  • the US is able to fight back against the Russians in Syria;
  • Russia is not able to defend its interests;
  • the Kremlin is not concerned over killed Russian citizens or is not able to carry out any pay back

To which I would only add that in my opinion the primary motive of the Western media and of the members of the Russian ‘non-system’ liberal opposition giving credence to this disinformation is the third of the three cited by South Front: “the Kremlin is not concerned over killed Russian citizens or is not able to carry out any pay back”.

The first round of Russia’s Presidential elections is due to take place on 18th March 2018.  Spreading and giving credence to what looks to have been originally an ISIS disinformation campaign about ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in eastern Syria looks like an obvious attempt to create controversy within Russia about Russia’s intervention in Syria on the eve of the election.

Just consider for example what Bloomberg reports Vladimir Frolov – a columnist of the staunchly pro-liberal opposition Moscow Times – as saying about the story

This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute international crisis.  But Russia will pretend nothing happened.

Clearly a number of Russian mercenaries – or possibly volunteers – got caught up in the US air strike which took place east of the Euphrates, and a number of them were killed.

The number may be higher than the five reported by Zakharova.  She admitted that this number is based on early reports, and that the final total may be higher.

However it beggars belief that it comes anywhere close to the fantastic numbers which have been reported in the Western media.

That ISIS – or whichever Jihadi group is responsible for this disinformation – has greatly exaggerated the number of Russians killed in the air strike is not surprising.

It is hardly unusual in war for one side to exaggerate the number of casualties suffered by the other.  In the Syrian conflict that happens all the time.  All sides – including the US and Russian militaries – are guilty of it.

What is concerning is that this unverified and wildly implausible story of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russians killed in Syria has spread like wild fire through the Western media as if it were true.

One more example of how when it comes to news about Russia for the Western media anything goes.

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New Zealand enacts new weapons ban just six days after massacre

The American left is sure to pick this up and start screaming for an “assault weapons ban” because this supports their agenda so well.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Reuters reported on Thursday, March 21 that the Prime Minister of New Zealand enacted a sweeping change, banning weapons of the type that were used in the massacre of at least fifty Muslims, who were gunned down on livestream while in Friday prayer services in Christchurch last week. We quote from the Reuters piece below, with added emphasis:

New Zealand will ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws following the killing of 50 people in its worst mass shooting, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.

In the immediate aftermath of last Friday’s shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, Ardern labeled the attack as terrorism and said New Zealand’s gun laws would change.

“On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place,” Ardern told a news conference.

“All semi-automatic weapons used during the terrorist attack on Friday 15 March will be banned.”

Ardern said she expected the new laws to be in place by April 11 and a buy-back scheme costing up to NZ$200 million ($138 million) would be established for banned weapons.

All military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles would be banned, along with parts used to convert weapons into MSSAs and all high-capacity magazines.

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which 35 people were killed.

Ardern said that similar to Australia, the law would allow for strictly enforced exemptions for farmers for pest control and animal welfare.

“I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride.”

This is undoubtedly going to be real red meat (or perhaps real vegetables) for the anti-gun lobby in the United States. This is because New Zealand strongly resembled the US in terms of firearm rights and the penetration of numbers of guns in the populace of this remote island nation. Reuters continues, with statements that would probably surprise, even horrify some gun owners in the States, but which are doubtlessly useful for the application of pressure on such individuals:

New Zealand, a country of fewer than 5 million people, has an estimated 1.2-1.5 million firearms, about 13,500 of them MSSA-type weapons.

Most farmers own guns while hunting of deer, pigs and goats is popular. Gun clubs and shooting ranges dot the country.

That has created a powerful lobby that has thwarted previous attempts to tighten gun laws.

Federated Farmers, which represent thousands of farmers, said it supported the new laws.

“This will not be popular among some of our members but … we believe this is the only practicable solution,” a group spokesman, Miles Anderson, said in a statement.

The main opposition National Party, which draws strong support in rural areas, said it also supported the ban.

The changes exclude two general classes of firearms commonly used for hunting, pest control and stock management on farms.

“I have a military style weapon. But to be fair, I don’t really use it, I don’t really need it,” said Noel Womersley, who slaughters cpoliticalattle for small farmers around Christchurch.

“So I’m quite happy to hand mine over.”

To be absolutely fair, the attack on the mosques was an awful event, made the worse by the shooter’s deliberate attempts to politicize various aspects of what he was doing and what he “stood for” as an attack ostensibly against US President Donald Trump, some seven thousand miles away in the United States.

The immediate reaction of the people interviewed, some among them related or friends with the victims of the massacre, was to embrace the weapons reform laws:

Nada Tawfeek, who buried her father-in-law killed in the attacks, Hussein Moustafa, on Thursday, welcomed the ban.

“It’s a great reaction. I think other countries need to learn from her [Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern],” Tawfeek said.

Mohammed Faqih, a member of the Islamic clergy who flew in from California and attended the funerals for some victims on Thursday, said he was “extremely grateful” for the gun ban.

“I wish our leaders in the States would follow on her footsteps and do the same thing,” he said.

One can expect there to be quite the outcry among American liberals about gun control, especially if anything remotely resembling this event takes place or is thwarted in coming days in the US.

It may seem very cold and cruel to focus on the political angle of this story rather than the human tragedy that it is. However, in this situation we have seen signs that the most vile form of human tragedy has actually taken place – the murder of dozens of innocent people for a mere political point. Indeed this thought has been noted and vilified already, as Mr. R.X. Dentith, writing for the New Zealand website Spinoff here quoted:

American paleo-conservative Rush Limbaugh was one of the first to note: “There’s an ongoing theory that the shooter himself may, in fact, be a leftist who writes the manifesto and then goes out and performs the deed purposely to smear his political enemies, knowing he’s going to get shot in the process. You know you just can’t – you can’t immediately discount this. The left is this insane, they are this crazy. And then if that’s exactly what the guy is trying to do then he’s hit a home run, because right there on Fox News: ‘Shooter is an admitted white nationalist who hates immigrants.’”

…[P]eople like Limbaugh… can’t stomach the idea the terrorist action in Otautahi might be motivated by the kind of rhetoric Limbaugh helps disseminate – tend to think there is a culture war going on, and they are on the losing side.

This war has many names, and the enemy is easily identified: it is the battle against Cultural Marxism; the fight against Toxic Feminism; the resistance to Identity Politics; and the fear of the Great Replacement, the thesis at the heart of the terrorist’s own manifesto.

The Great Replacement thesis posits that the majority white European countries are being “invaded” by non-white, non-European peoples. Not just that, but due to declining birth rates in the West, this “invasion” constitutes a wholesale replacement of the white population over time.

Mr. Dentith tries further to knock down this notion of the Great Replacement. However, he misses a much more basic point.

Someone who goes and takes human lives and broadcasts them for any reason is not a mere political operative. The person who does this is a very sick, deranged human being indeed. Evil is certainly appropriately used here.

However, evil is often quite cunning, and despite the intellectual arguments about the reality or non-reality of any particular manifesto statement, in this case, the killer played the media with infernal intelligence, and they took the bait. It is possible that Prime Minister Ardern also took the bait, in this most awful of bad situations, and to give her credit, she took swift actions to try to “correct” what was wrong.

But the problem here was not the type of weapons used. The problem is the fact that they were used by a person who thought these fifty people’s lives were worth nothing more than a bit of policy change. One of the worst examples of human evil in recent times, this incident shouts to the world that there is a problem, but the problem remains unsolved, even though many people will hand over their firearms out of a genuine wish for compassion to those lost and the hope that somehow this action will prevent a future incident.

But the logic of this emotional reaction is nil. And what is worse is that the American Left knows this, but does not care. The movers and shakers of liberalism will likely milk the actions of sincerely horrified New Zealanders for all they are worth to try at affecting change in American constitutional rights.

And the innocent dead will not rest in peace, because the real problem has not even been examined.

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Upstart Populist Party Shocks In Dutch Election Upset, 2 Days After Utrecht Attack

International reports have described the FvD as receiving “a surge of last-minute support” in the days following the Utrecht attack.

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Via Zerohedge…


Dutch voters have sent shock waves through Europe at the polls on Wednesday in the wake of Monday’s deadly Utrecht terror shooting, in which a now detained 37-year old Turkish man went on a terrifying tram killing spree which left three dead and three injured.

Euroskeptic party, Forum for Democracy (FvD), has emerged victorious in key provincial elections this week, paving the way to making it one of the two largest groups in the Dutch Senate, and representing growing Dutch frustration with the recent unprecedented refugee influx in Europe.

Newcomer Forum for Democracy party is led by 36-year-old Thierry Baudet, who is a critic of the EU and of the Netherlands’ immigration policies, via EPA

International reports have described the FvD as receiving “a surge of last-minute support” in the days following the Utrecht attack, which investigators have since described as having a “terror motive” based on a letter found in shooter Gokmen Tanis’ possession.

Forum for Democracy party leader Thierry Baudet had immediately placed ultimate blame  for the incident on the government’s “lax immigration policies” and provocatively stated a day before the elections (referencing his political rival)

If people want more deadly shootings like the one in Utrecht, then they have to vote for the VVD.

Baudet, riding a wave of renewed Euroskeptic sentiment, and whose party also wants to see more military spending, green initiatives, and an easing on income tax while greatly restricting the borders, said in the aftermath of Wednesday’s vote: “The voters in the Netherlands have spread their wings and shown their true power.”

Referencing the Utrecht attack and other deadly terror incidents on European soil, he added: “We have been called to the front because we have to. Because the country needs us.”

Three were killed and several injured in Monday’s Dutch tram terror attack, which raised the country’s emergency threat level to five as it was unfolding, its highest level.

Interestingly, the 36-year old Baudet and his party continued campaigning down to the last moments even as others stopped in the wake of Monday’s attack which rocked the Netherlands. According to Al Jazeera:

Following the lead of US President Donald Trump, Baudet opposes immigration and emphasises “Dutch first” cultural and economic themes. He opposes the euro and thinks the Netherlands should leave the European Union.

Baudet had continued campaigning when other parties stopped after Monday’s attack in Utrecht, in which a gunman shot three people dead on a tram. The populist leader blamed the incident on the government’s lax immigration policies.

The FvD is now set to take 12 seats in the upper house of parliament, which is equal to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD Party, a scenario before this week considered unlikely according to many observers.

The FvD slightly outscoring the VVD means Rutte’s government has lost its majority for the 75-seat Senate ahead of upcoming May elections.

In a post-election speech on Wednesday, Baudet described further that what’s now being described in international media as “an upstart populist party [that has] shocked the Dutch political establishment” as punishing the arrogance of elites.

In his pro-Western civilization themed remarks, Baudet added, “We are standing in the rubble of what was once the most beautiful civilization in the world.”

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Will The Trump White House finally punish Facebook for censorship?

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 113.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at US President Trump’s tweet where he has said that he would be “looking into” a report that his social media chief, Dan Scavino Jr. has been censored by Facebook.

Are we finally about to see the Trump White House move to punish social media outlets for their blatant and bias censorship of alternative narratives that dare to stray from globalist neo-liberal and radical left ideology?

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“Conservatives face a tough fight as Big Tech’s censorship expands”, authored by Donald Trump Jr., via The Hill…

As Big Tech’s censorship of conservatives becomes ever more flagrant and overt, the old arguments about protecting the sanctity of the modern public square are now invalid. Our right to freely engage in public discourse through speech is under sustained attack, necessitating a vigorous defense against the major social media and internet platforms.

From “shadowbans” on Facebook and Twitter, to demonetization of YouTube videos, to pulled ads for Republican candidates at the critical junctures of election campaigns, the list of violations against the online practices and speech of conservatives is long.

I certainly had my suspicions confirmed when Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, “accidentally” censored a post I made regarding the Jussie Smollett hoax, which consequently led to me hearing from hundreds of my followers about how they’ve been having problems seeing, liking or being able to interact with my posts. Many of them even claimed that they’ve had to repeatedly refollow me, as Instagram keeps unfollowing me on their accounts.

While nothing about Big Tech’s censorship of conservatives truly surprises me anymore, it’s still chilling to see the proof for yourself. If it can happen to me, the son of the president, with millions of followers on social media, just think about how bad it must be for conservatives with smaller followings and those who don’t have the soapbox or media reach to push back when they’re being targeted?

Thanks to a brave Facebook whistleblower who approached James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, we now know that Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant developed algorithms to “deboost” certain content, limiting its distribution and appearance in news feeds. As you probably guessed, this stealth censorship was specifically aimed at conservatives.

Facebook appears to have deliberately tailored its algorithm to recognize the syntax and style popular among conservatives in order to “deboost” that content. “Mainstream media,” “SJW” (Social Justice Warrior) and “red pill” — all terms that conservatives often use to express themselves — were listed as red flags, according to the former Facebook insider.

Facebook engineers even cited BlazeTV host Lauren Chen’s video criticizing the social justice movement as an example of the kind of “red pills” that users just aren’t allowed to drop anymore. Mainstream conservative content was strangled in real time, yet fringe leftists such as the Young Turks enjoy free rein on the social media platform.

Despite the occasional brave gesture, politicians have been far too sluggish in recognizing the extent of the problem. But the Republican Party and the conservative movement are becoming more vigilant against the suppression of our speech, as we saw at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Silicon Valley lobbyists have splashed millions of dollars all over the Washington swamp to play on conservatives’ innate faith in the free-market system and respect for private property. Even as Big Tech companies work to exclude us from the town square of the 21st century, they’ve been able to rely on misguided conservatives to carry water for them with irrelevant pedantry about whether the First Amendment applies in cases of social media censorship.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has been making a name for himself as a Republican prepared to stand up to Big Tech malfeasance since his time as Missouri’s attorney general. He delivered a tour de force interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel in front of the CPAC crowd, one that provided a clear-eyed assessment of the ongoing affront to the freedoms of conservative speech and expression.

Hawley demolished the absurd notion that “conservative principles” preclude taking action to ensure free debate online simply because Big Tech firms — the most powerful corporations in the world — are private companies.

Hawley pointed out that Big Tech companies already enjoy “sweetheart deals” under current regulations that make their malfeasance a matter of public concern. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for instance, allows them to avoid liability for the content that users post to their platforms. To address this problem, Hawley proposed adding a viewpoint neutrality requirement for platforms that benefit from Section 230’s protections, which were originally enacted to protect the internet as “a forum for a true diversity of political discourse.”

“Google and Facebook should not be a law unto themselves,” Hawley declared. “They should not be able to discriminate against conservatives. They should not be able to tell us we need to sit down and shut up!”

It’s high time other conservative politicians started heeding Hawley’s warnings, because the logical endpoint of Big Tech’s free rein is far more troubling than conservative meme warriors losing their Twitter accounts. As we’re already starting to see, what starts with social media censorship can quickly lead to banishment from such fundamental services as transportation, online payments and banking.

Left unchecked, Big Tech and liberal activists could construct a private “social credit” system — not unlike what the communists have nightmarishly implemented in China — that excludes outspoken conservatives from wide swaths of American life simply because their political views differ from those of tech executives.

There is no conservative principle that even remotely suggests we are obligated to adopt a laissez-faire attitude while the richest companies on earth abuse the power we give them to put a thumb on the scale for our political enemies.

If anything, our love of the free market dictates that we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that the free marketplace of ideas remains open to all.

Donald Trump Jr. is executive vice president at The Trump Organization.

 

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