Shadow Foreign Secretary backs down over BBC Panorama links to al-Qaeda and ISIS

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has retreated from pursuing concerns that BBC licence fee revenue may have been paid to al-Qaeda and ISIS linked jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham.

On 19 August I emailed Ms Thornberry observing that BBC reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway had apparently employed Ahrar al-Sham militants as security during the filming of the 2013 Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children.

As noted in my recent presentation for Frome Stop War (from 15:18 below), Ahrar al-Sham was co-founded by “one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted couriers”, Mohamed Bahaiah. Bahaiah is suspected by Spanish investigators of delivering surveillance tapes of the World Trade Centre to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan in 1998.

Less than three weeks before filming on Saving Syria’s Children began Ahrar al-Sham were, along with ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, among “the key fundraisers, organizers, planners, and executors” of attacks in which at least 190 civilians were killed and over 200 mostly women and children were kidnapped. The BBC’s own news reports describe Ahrar al-Sham as a “hardline Islamist” group.

On 3 October Thornberry responded stating:

Making programmes in a war-zone such as Syria is a very difficult task, but I agree that the BBC must be vigilant to ensure that licence fee payer money is never used to inadvertently fund the members of any Jihadi groups.

I hope that the Editor of Panorama will be able to shed further light on this issue and explain what action the BBC has taken to look into this matter and learn lessons for future programmes.

However, in her latest reply (reproduced below) Thornberry’s ardour to discover whether BBC license fee payer money was paid to the “hardline Islamist” Ahrar al-Sham has vanished:

I was unaware of your longstanding correspondence with the BBC when I first raised your complaint but after reading their response I am confident that they have investigated your complaint extensively and I now consider this matter to be closed.

The response referred to by Thornberry, from BBC News Senior Editorial Adviser Jeremy Hayes (also reproduced below), dwells almost entirely on the 2013/14 correspondence between myself and the corporation over the possible fabrication of scenes in the documentary. The fresh observations about Pannell and Conway’s association with the ISIS and al-Qaeda linked Ahrar al-Sham are waved away in the final paragraph:

I doubt that the detail supplied by Mr Stuart in his letter to you about the alleged presence in a convoy of a vehicle marked ‘Ahrar al-Sham’ would have a significant bearing on the accuracy of this programme but in any case the BBC is only obliged to consider complaints about its broadcast output within thirty days of transmission unless there are exceptional circumstances. Bearing in mind the considerable resources which have been expended by the BBC in considering and investigating Mr Stuart’s many other allegations about this programme , BBC News will not be examining this claim.

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