“Al-Qaeda are good!” he told me, with a smile.
Aside from the obvious issues here, this story casts a light on just how major media outlets get their images and how little quality control is involved to prevent propaganda images from seeping through. We've seen it before with staged photos in Israel. But it takes place everywhere.
Reuters employed a teenage photographer who aspired to join Al Qaeda and has been killed.
But something had changed in Youssef. As we drove across Aleppo to find somewhere to buy kebab, he told me that he’d applied to join the Al-Nusra Front, the foreign Islamist group that declared its allegiance to Al-Qaeda just a few weeks ago. “Al-Qaeda are good!” he told me, with a smile and a double thumbs up. “I hope that they’ll accept me and that one day I can set off a suicide bomb in a regime area.”
As I looked at him in his Gucci polo shirt, jeans and modish haircut, I found it difficult to imagine him in the get up of an Islamic extremist. “Will you have to grow a beard?” I asked. “You know, I’m pretty sure they won’t accept me,” he replied. “I’m too liberal. But maybe they’ll think I’ll be useful to them, because I can still go into regime areas so I could transport weapons there for them.”
He described an application process that would not seem out of place at a corporate multinational. He had put his name down on a list through a Lebanese friend, to wait his turn for an interview with one of the Al-Nusra Front’s top men. In the mean time, the group had scrutinized his Facebook page. “They don’t accept just anyone,” he told me. “You have to be serious about religion.”
Instead he ended up taking photos for Reuters. Those photos involved Sunni fighters posing with weapons.
I have a few questions of my own:
To what extent did his Al-Qaida sympathies color his work for Reuters?
Was Reuters at least aware that Barakat sought to become a suicide bomber? If yes, why did it feel comfortable hiring him? If not, why not?
Are Western news services employing minors in Israel and the PA too? How difficult would it be to take advantage of an aspiring kid with a knack for camera work?
It's an open question as to who is taking advantage of whom, but it is rather obvious that Reuters and other media giants don't exercise any meaningful quality control over their product when their product is useful images that can be used to tell the one side of the story they prefer.