A thorough analysis of a video propagated widely on social media highlights the lengths the Kremlin is going to in trying to dupe Russians and Russian speakers of the conspiracy theory that the United States is supporting the "Islamic State" (IS).
The Kremlin-controlled website Russkaya Vesna (Russian Spring), which mostly covers the affairs of Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, posted a video on YouTube on September 6, purportedly showing an IS fighter in Syria admitting that the United States was supporting his group.
A host of details in the video casts serious doubt on the authenticity of the purported admissions.
Feeding answers to the captive
The 8-minute video shows a man tied up, blindfolded and kneeling before a group of unseen individuals.
A man in military fatigues speaking in Arabic with a Syrian accent conducts the "interview" with the alleged IS member Suhaib Izzedin al-Zoabi (aka Abu Omar al-Horani) of Deir al-Bukht, who also speaks with a Syrian accent.
The difference between the spoken Arabic and the Russian subtitles provided by Russkaya Vesna is striking. The subtitles not only misstate the answers but also hide the obvious coaching going on in the video.
At the very beginning, for instance, one can hear a someone speaking Russian, saying "Action!", indicating it was time for the video production to begin.
The interviewer begins with a series of simple questions -- "What’s your name?", "What’s your nom de guerre?", "Where are you from?" -- to which the captive mumbles his responses that the interviewer repeats.
The interviewer repeats his fourth question -- "What detachment were you in?" -- several times and in different ways as the captive does not appear to understand how to answer it.
First al-Zoabi says, "I was in IS". The interviewer responds, "Yes, IS, but which group exactly? Who was the leader of your group? Who was the emir of your group?"
"We were in the Black Stone [detachment]," the captive said, to which the interviewer repeats, "But who was your leader at Black Stone?"
The captive remains silent, then the interviewer, losing patience, says, "What’s wrong with you? Who’s the leader of your current group, who’s the emir?"
"The Iraqi [Abu] Bakr al-Baghdadi," al-Zoabi says, referring to the leader of IS.
"Who's the leader of your current group? The group you were in where we caught you?" the interviewer repeats once more.
Someone off camera feeds the answer to the detained man, who appears to finally give the answer the interviewer wants.
"The field commander of the 'Black Stone' detachment is Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi" -- whose name was transliterated in the subtitles as Abu Bakr al-Iraqi -- "The size of the group in [al-Suwayda desert area] is about 1,500 militants and the number of militants in my detachment is 250. The food and weapons were provided by American troops."
The repeated questions and answers fed to the captive are missing from the Russian text.
Russian transcript differs from reality
In the second series of questions, the Russian translation again differs from the Arabic.
The interviewer asks, "Where was the training held? How much did they pay you?"
In Arabic, the captive answers, "IS trained me in al-Rukban refugee camp."
The Russian subtitles, however, say, "American members of IS trained me in al-Rukban refugee camp."
Another discrepancy emerges in the next question.
The Russian subtitles say, "We’ve frequently seen children killing prisoners in the media, WhatsApp and Facebook. What do you know about these children, and where are they?"
In reality the interviewer says, "We’ve frequently seen children no more than 12 years old committing crimes, including killing and slaughter..."
Al-Zoabi says these children are "brainwashed so they know only one truth -- spill blood, kill people".
He says the children were also trained in al-Rukban camp and consents when the interviewer asks if they were trained to be suicide bombers.
"There was recently an IS attack on al-Suwayda," the interviewer presses. "What task did you perform during the attack?"
"Our group consisted of suicide bombers," al-Zoabi says. "We were supposed to carry out attacks from within and outside al-Suwayda simultaneously. One group was sent toward Idlib to shoot a provocative video of chemical attacks so that the Syrian Arab Army would be blamed."
This answer presents a frequent narrative used by the Kremlin to obscure blame for the regime's chemical attacks on the Syrian population. Another curiosity in his answer is that al-Suwayda, situated in southeastern Syria near the Jordanian border, is more than 400km from Idlib, located in northeastern Syria close to the border with Turkey.
In addition to the above discrepancies and clear coaching from off camera, the captive, who admits to have joined IS due to financial motivations, is under visible distress.
He mumbles through most of the video and is visibly frightened. One can only assume he is being coerced into saying things on threat of injury or death by his Syrian and Russian army minders not seen in the video.
Social media users mock Kremlin's attempts
Arabic and Russian speakers mocked the video on various social media platforms.
On YouTube, many Russian speakers posted derogatory comments.
"What kind of staged production is this? At 1.11 the soldier asked a question and tells the prisoner what name to give," commented Abu Bublik.
"Another day of filming at Ostankino.... [Russian state TV's studio]," wrote Vova Kopeikin.
"This is only for the Russian [-speaking] audience, who does not understand what's behind the scene, how [someone] is suggesting in Arabic what [the prisoner] needs to say," added Ahmed Hasan.
"Half the translation is wrong. I wouldn't be surprised if this [video] is staged," wrote Ramil Gaifullin.
"The video doesn't look real at all. How on earth does he know who supplied him food and weapons?" asked Pristsilla Tabaki. "Are they bringing food to the militant camp on US trucks? ... This is blatant propaganda."
Arabic-speaking viewers had similar sentiments.
"Bad acting, idiot Shabihas [derogatory term for pro-Syrian government personnel]. The pig Russians learned lying from the regime and have expounded its lies," Muhammad Su said on Facebook.
"The captive did not mention what they [the Russians] used to brainwash him. The detective forgot to ask him, was it Persil or Ariel?" said Khaled Alsa, referring to laundry detergents.
"Damn, a three-dimensional lie," Abu al-Waleed Albukamali said on the same Facebook post. "An IS element who was trained in al-Rukban camp [near the Jordanian border] and who knows what the Free Syrian Army and Jabhat al-Nusra are planning in Idlib. Goodness."