The media arm of Isis (Islamic State) released a new video today showing captive British journalist John Cantlie in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
It is the 12th video he has been featured in since mid-2014. Cantlie was kidnapped alongside American journalist James Foley in 2012 in Syria.
In the three-minute video, Cantlie stands in front of the near-pulverised remains of Mosul University, which the US military bombed in March on intelligence that it was being used as a headquarters by Isis. A video released by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria that shows the airstrike can be seen below.
Cantlie discusses the airstrike in the video, and, as in his earlier videos, is put forth as a prototypical presenter in a style seemingly modelled on documentary films. He espouses a pro-Isis agenda, mocking the logic of bombing the university. The sound of the drone used for filming the video buzzes in the background.
"Mosul University was the finest and biggest university in all of Iraq. Now if it was a military hub or if it was a weapons cache or if it was being used as a training ground by the mujahideen, perhaps you could understand," says a noticeably gaunt Cantlie. "But it was simply Mosul's and in fact Iraq's finest university, now reduced to a huge pile of rubble."
In the last of the three scenes in the video, all of which were shot recently in Mosul, Cantlie stands in a central business district while people go about shopping for Eid, the festival at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. If that timing is to be believed, then the video would have been shot in the past week.
The most recent video prior to today's was also purportedly shot in Mosul. In that video, Cantlie derides the bombing of a kiosk which he says "took US$50 to build". His tone is similarly mocking, as it is in the articles attributed to him in the magazine Dabiq, also published by Isis.
One of those articles came out in April. Titled "Blood of Shame," it is largely used to condemn the United States' and Britain's policies of not paying ransoms for hostages. Britain, where Cantlie is from, follows a strict no-ransom policy.
Taken together, the videos and articles are stark examples of how Isis' surreal propaganda machine works. A Washington Post investigation last year detailed the group's vast army of media personnel.
It found that they can be paid as much as seven times as much as regular fighters, are exempted from taxation, and script videos of battle scenes and public beheadings so carefully that often multiple takes are required.
A man named Abu Hajer, who is in prison in Morocco and was a videographer for Isis, told Post reporters that he filmed Cantlie walking on Mosul's streets in 2014. Abu Hajer said, "I cannot tell you whether he was coerced or threatened. He was walking freely," an assertion at odds with what is known about Cantlie's captivity from others held with him who have since been released.
The others who have been released mostly hail from European nations whose governments pay ransoms for hostages. Official US government policy has been to refuse to pay ransom to hostage-takers on grounds that doing so would only encourage more hostage-taking and provide funds for other terrorist activities.