Jürgen Todenhöfer claims to have conducted an interview with an »al-Nusra commander«. His account of the events, as well as the interview itself pose questions that cast doubt on the authenticity of the interview.
Jürgen Todenhöfer's interview, that he claims to have conducted in a stone quarry near Aleppo, with an alleged commander of jihadist al-Nusra group named »Abu Al Ezz« generated quite a lot of attention. More than 770.000 people clicked it on Facebook, Russian media in particular reported, even Russia's foreign minister Sergej Lavrov mentioned it in a phone conversation with his US-American counterpart Kerry.
»Lavrov called Kerry’s attention to the media revelations of Jebhat al-Nusra’s field commanders about external support, including the receipt of U.S. weapons [...]«.
This is not unsurprising since the interview supports the narrative that Russia and her ally, the Syrian dictator Assad, are pushing according to which the USA and Israel are behind a plot to topple the Assad-regime with the help of jihadist forces. In addition, it is useful for the Russian side that the interview was published just a few days before the Joint Investigation Team published its findings on the shooting down of flight MH17 by the Russian Armed Forces operating out of Eastern Ukraine.
In Germany the Kölner Stadtanzeiger printed Todenhöfer's text, the »Focus« published a non-critical article.
Doubts as to the Authenticity of the Interview
Criticism with regard to content, media-strategy and inner-organisational issues of »Jabhat al-Fatah al-Sham« have in some respect already been addressed by MENA-watch and others. But question remain, such as: Why is this alleged commander »blowing the whistle« on his organsiation? What is his motivation? And what are the consequences of such an act of disloyalty against the leadership? Why would someone, that Todenhöfer himself described as a mercenary (»bezahlter Kriegsknecht«), risk it all, his job, his income, most probably even his life, by giving up the internals of his organsiation in an interview to a Westerner? And why does the »commander« refer to his group as »al-Nusra«, weeks after they re-branded as »Jabhat al-Fatah al-Sham«?
Todenhöfer was piqued. In a counterattack published on 28.09. he accused his critiques that they would »give more credibility to the political leadership of terrorists« than to him. This alone begs a new question of why »we« should not believe representatives of an organisation he obviously deems trustworthy. All the more since his counterpart is a mercenary, someone who puts his life and health in danger for monetary gain. It is a safe bet to assume that one, who risks his life for money, will happily lie for money, too. Who garanties that Todenhöfer or another interested third party did not pay »Abu Al Ezz« to say what he said, or that he is an agent of the Syrian secret service? For all we know, Todenhöfer maintains a great realtionship with the Assad-regime for years.
»In reality we shot the interview near Khan Tuman«
Inconsistencies with regard to content notwithstanding the biggest problem for Todenhöfer's account is the location where he claims the interview was conducted. In the text accompanying the video he mentions a »no man's land between the front lines«. Now, the man who pretended to know »practically everything« about his interview partner, seems to have trouble remembering where the interview took place in the first place. A couple of hours ago he quietly changed the text of his reply.
When a day before he, in contradiction to his interview guest, contended the interview was conducted in a stone quarry near Khan Tuman, he now claims that it is »at the moment uncertain« where exactly the quarry is located. The interview had been conducted in the »no man's land between the front lines«, but nevertheless »behind the lines of the Syrian army«.
How is that supposed to work? Either you are »between the front lines«, meaning in front of the respective lines and thus standing in no man's territory, or you are behind a line, in this case behind that of the Syrian army, thus you are standing within the territory controlled by the Assad-regime. So, Todenhöfer now admits to have conducted the interview in regime controlled territory.
He continues that this in any case would be completely irrelevant since at the time the interview was shot, which would be the 16. September (Todenhöfer published the video on Facebook on 26. September and wrote that it was shot 10 days before that, which means the 16. September), both stone quarries were »not within government controlled territory«. How he then figured out that he was in fact standing »behind the lines of the Syrian army« he does not say.
Abu Al Ezz: »We are here at the front observation post in the area of ›Sheikh Saeed‹ [...] Behind the houses and in al-Majbal are the regime soldiers.«
Well, such assertions on how the front line developed can be verified. There are contradictory statements on the stone quarry mentioned by Todenhöfer. One map sees it on 07. September in regime hands, another one, dated to the 08. September and made by a pro-Assad account, sees it narrowly in rebel territory. Whether this was also the case a week later on 16. September is hard to proof, exercising some goodwill you could say this qualifies as no man's land.
But since Todenhöfer back-pedals on Khan Tuman the attention turns to the second stone quarry in Sheikh Saeed. And about this quarry, the one that Todenhöfer's guest mentions in the interview and that is the one a Redditor identified during his geo-localisation, there are no contradictory statements (see picture below). This quarry concordantly was located on 16. September within the territory controlled by the Syrian regime and its allies.
When Todenhöfer now claims that both quarries were not located within an area controlled by Assad forces, this clearly is a false statement. Why he only became aware of his statement of place contradicting the account of his guest when scientist in Islamic studies and blogger Fabian Schmidmeier wrote about it, is yet another open question.
In the last sequence of the video the departure from the quarry is shown. The car drives over a dusty dirt road, with some characteristic buildings and something that resembles an antenna visible in the background. Both points, the dirt road and the structures, are only to be found near the stone quarry of Sheikh Saeed (see screenshots below, a close-up view here). The roads towards the quarry of Khan Tuman are tarmac roads, the aforementioned physical structures are missing completely.
The stone quarry in the area of Sheikh Saeed appears plausibel for another reason. Todenhöfer's interview partner explains gesticulating: »Behind the houses and in al-Majbal are the regime soldiers«. »Al-Majbal« is situated in the Aleppo's north, near the city's central prison. It seems illogical for a local fighter well acquainted with the area to point from a quarry located in the far south periphery of the city towards the area of the prison, just as though al-Majbal was near, while the Syrian regime and allied militias recently re-captured the substantially closer located suburb of Ramousah. Why is »Abu Al Ezz« not concerned with these areas, did he lose his orientation as well?
Todenhöfer is not Truthful
Todenhöfer is not truthful, and this time it is intentional. He had time to rethink and to review his previous statements, and to back them up as promised with further footage. But instead of countering the criticism, he gets caught up in contradictions, then goes on to attack his critics as »computer heros« who should move their »asses under great risks into war zones«, otherwise they were just »dilettantish and irresponsible«.
Why he does that, whether out of complicity with the Assad-regime or out of wounded vanity, because he does not want to admit that he was cheated, remains to be seen.
But when Todenhöfer himself lies about the circumstances and the venue of the interview, and all of a sudden suffers from memory loss, how trustworthy then is his informant?