Who in Russia cooperates with terrorists of ISIS, why do groups need information from journalists, how they use it, and what is the correspondent of the liberal “Novaya Gazeta” Denis Korotkov? Read the answers to these questions in the first part of the Federal News Agency (FAN) investigation into how Russians fight Islamic radicals and how an echo of terror from distant Syria reverberates on Russian streets.
Why we published this text
The journalists, correspondents, and stringers of the FAN have been working in Syria since virtually the first days of the military conflict in Syria and are following the developments. Over the years our media staff have been able to create an extensive agency network, establishing relations with local residents and officials and Syrian army commanders from units loyal to Bashar al-Assad.
Also, over the years we have followed the media, journalists, activists, and radicals who have been involved with ISIS and other terrorist groups, providing them with any assistance and support. A couple of years ago the focus of attention of the editorial office was the journalist of “Novaya Gazeta” Denis Korotkov. He became known for his articles on Syria. And, as it turned out, the correspondent of “Novaya Gazeta” is one of those who earns money from cooperation with ISIS.
But first things first. Over the past five months the FAN has been preparing a major investigation into the smuggling of oil stolen by terrorists and the US’ involvement in supporting terrorism. Dozens of local residents were interviewed, and significant evidence was found. We were preparing to start next year with this investigation. But Syria is a small country. And somewhere there was a leak of information, after which the people who the sources among the terrorists pointed out to us unexpectedly started to take active steps to “whitewash” their actions. Therefore, we cannot wait any longer and thus publish our investigation in five parts, each of which will appear immediately after the end of the information processing.
Why did we decide to start with a part dedicated to a journalist who Islamists themselves call “their Russian guy”? Firstly, it was difficult to get on his trail and we suspect that if he had guessed that his activities were being investigated, he would have started to actively cover his tracks. And law enforcement will need a full amount of evidence. Secondly, we believe that his actions are unacceptable not only from the point of view of journalists, but also of Russian citizens. Which means that he must be punished. That’s why you’re reading this text right now.
For the first time, rumours that a former journalist of the publication “fontanka.ru” and current special correspondent of “Novaya Gazeta” cooperated with ISIS terrorists appeared on September 10th 2017. Back then the “Directive 4” Telegram channel published a very unusual photo.
“Yesterday, on one of the corpses of ISIS militants killed in the Deir Ezzor area there was very interesting reading – a printout on an official form issued by ISIS bodies compromising the ‘Wagner group‘, published on ‘fontanka.ru’. Nearby were ISIS manuals on military medicine and other documents of the ‘diwan army’ (how locals call the ‘Ministry of Defence’), a children’s drawing, and a variety of stuff that was also found on the bodies of two killed Islamists,” said the channel.
Among the printouts Korotkov’s mobile number was unexpectedly found, which, according to the authors of the communication, may well be proof that the journalist is communicating with representatives of the terrorist group – at least to create his “sensational investigations” about the “Wagner group.”
We have repeatedly written about how Korotkov worked in favour of ISIS, showed the data of volunteers and information published in public access about the names and passports of Russian pilots who fought terrorists in Syria. But there was no direct evidence of his cooperation. Until September this year, when our correspondents managed to reach out through many intermediaries to one of the former members of the group.
A strong young man with a smoothly shaved face does not cause a special impression exactly until he starts to talk. Malif (name changed) has barely turned 18, and he has already illegally crossed the border, and not just once, participated in fights for Palmyra, retreated to Deir Ezzor, and escape from captivity. He now lives on the east bank of the Euphrates in one of the almost depopulated villages and tries to do so peacefully.
According to him, he was not in Syria of his own volition. He, his mother, and his two sisters were transported to the Middle East by his stepfather Ibrahim in 2014. The arrival in Syria was preceded by long trips to other countries – including Kazakhstan, Egypt, and Turkey.
In Egypt the future militant started to study the Quran and Arabic at the insistence of his stepfather.
“When we arrived at one place, Ibrahim met us there. Already in another car we left again – to Kazakhstan. For some time we constantly moved from one country to another. We were in many countries. And then we stopped in Egypt. There Ibrahim often took me to the mosque and helped me study the Quran. About three months later he gave me to a Hujra. It’s a place where there’s one house where young guys gather. There they are taught religion, Quran, Arabic. I didn’t understand why I was learning it all. I stayed there for 3-4 months. After a while, our whole family left for Turkey, from where we moved to the border with Syria. Later we fled the border and ended up in Syria, we ended up in the ‘Islamic State’. So I ended up in ISIS,” says the young terrorist.
During the interview, the young man did not even try to hide his face. He doesn’t consider himself a terrorist. He says it’s the circumstances. And the fact that he was prepared to die for the sake of ISIS he perceives only as a passing episode in his life.
According to the respondent of the publication, in Syria all those who fled were first collected in a separate house, and the next day were taken by bus to Raqqa. Malifa was sent to a military training school commanded by Abu Haidar Tunis. There ordinary children were turned into real animals – they were taught to kill and make bombs.
“I’ve been in the camp for about four months. What were they preparing for?.. There they were taught to shoot, to prepare explosives, spoke about Allah, about religion. They explained how to use the exploding shahid belt. Like kafirs (non-believers), like Salamehs (i.e. ‘crusaders’) to kill, you know?” said Malif, sharing his memories.
After completion of his training, the friend of the FAN was distributed to a kind of tactical school in Tabqah for further “advanced training”. There he was commanded by Abu Jafar Dagostani. Additional training was carried out by Abu Muhammad Dagostani and Abdul Gafar Dagostani. According to Malif, “Dagostani” means “a man from Dagestan”.
After retraining, the newly made militant was sent to a battalion commanded by Abudujan Dagostani. A little later – to Palmyra. According to the interlocutor of the publication, he did not take part in the hostilities. All the time he was in a fortified area and was involved in radio surveillance and wiretapping, including telephone conversations.
As a “communications expert”, Malif did not participate in the fighting, but sat deep in the rear and wiretapped radio and phones while at the HQ. There the “signalman” also met Americans for the first time.
“Everyone was shocked. They were escorted everywhere by Abudujan Dagostani and Abu Umar, one of the local commanders. The Americans brought good equipment, some phones and guns and taught us. I don’t know very much about weapons, but the phones were special – I hadn’t seen such ones before,” recalls Malif.
The new “friends” not only brought weapons and gadgets, but also actively contacted Malif. After the appearance of special equipment yesterday’s “signalman” became what is called a “media activist”. I.e., a propagandist and recruiter.
“We needed to explain that we are not terrorists but people with their faith, knowledge, and religion,” says the former terrorist.
Work was carried out in this way in several directions at once. Neophytes and “sofa jihadists” became acquainted with a kind of “field reports”, and warring militants received their share of fame (more often – posthumously, becoming “shahids”).
“I was talking with and texting people. There were contacts from Russia. In Russian. I wrote to them about our feats and where the Russian positions are. About the feats our brothers did, what places they captures, about the use of shahid belts and shahid mobiles. I had to write about it. I explained everything about it. About our feats. Then we exchanged information. They wrote to me what was going on with the Russians in Syria. I read it out loud to the brothers to lift their fighting spirit,” says the young man with pride.
But one of Malif’s contacts stood out sharply against the background of semi-literate ISIS supporters. A journalist from Russia spoke to a terrorist, sharing a variety of information with him. However, Malif was only able to understand that he was communicating with a journalist when his interlocutor, hunting for sensation, started to ask about perished Russians.
“It became clear later. When one Russian soldier was killed near Palmyra [This is most likely referring to Aleksandr Prokhorenko, Hero of Russia – ed], he started writing and asking for details. I realised then that he is a journalist from Russia,” stated Malif.
He even managed to read some of the journalist’s material based on the information he provided. Now they have been carefully removed, but Malif remembers the name of the interviewer.
“Yes, yes, I remember reading it repeatedly… Now I will remember… his name is Denis Korotkov. He worked for those Americans who brought us phones. And since he worked for them, he also worked for us. It turns out we were colleagues,” said Malif.
Korotkov, ISIS, and a Russian oligarch
It would seem that it’s a fiction, because why does a Russian journalist need to work closely with ISIS? But Malif’s next words gave us an explanation of why Korotkov cooperated with ISIS. He was just fulfilling his sponsor’s order. Along with other Russian correspondents.
“There were many groups of journalists. Once I was a half-day translator for two young guys who spoke Russian. At one point, one of them said that some Russian oligarch Mikhail paid for the trip to Syria. Then I approached my superiors and asked: who is the Russian oligarch Mikhail? But they immediately shut my mouth, banning me from recalling it and telling anyone,” said the guy.
Speaking of the Russian oligarch Mikhail, it is likely that Malif speaks about the convicted in Russia Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And then the puzzle starts to take shape.
Denis Korotkov has a very long-standing sponsorship relationship with the fugitive oligarch who hates his own country and state. He goes to “Open Russia” forums every year and meets with Khodorkovsky in Berlin, Czech Republic, and Montenegro.
Here, for example, Korotkov is waiting for Khodorkovsky to appear at the elite Grandior Hotel Prague. According to sources, the fugitive oligarch sponsored Korotkov for tens of millions of rubles. What was that money for? Just for cooperation with the Islamic State and the release of materials about the actions of the Russian Defence Ministry in Syria and fakes about the “Wagner” PMC.
“Denis was constantly with money, although officially he earned a penny at ‘Fontanka’, and then at ‘Novaya Gazeta’. He goes to Europe for some forum and then calmly lives off his money for several months. Then everything repeats itself. Even his colleagues told him to stop several times. But his greed was stronger. And that he can cooperate with terrorists, I, of course, doubt, but Denis for the sake of money was always ready for anything. He always had little of it,” said one of Korotkov’s friends (a recording of the conversation is in the editorial office).
Exclusive from terrorists
And now let’s remember what unusual exclusives Korotkov received for his articles without even leaving St. Petersburg. Now it’s clear that he didn’t have to. What Malif said explains from where the correspondent of the “Novaya Gazeta” investigation department obtained videos and other materials for the production of articles, including fake ones. The Russian journalist cooperates with the United States and anti-Russian oligarchs paying for his expenses and work, as well as with ISIS. This explains how Korotkov got access to a video about an eliminated terrorist, the price of which is about $10,000, and published an article allegedly about the actions of “Wagner” PMC. The Telegram channel “Karaulny“, which he tried to sell the video, spoke about the cost of the video.
The video showing the elimination of a Syrian was offered not only to the authors on Telegram, but also to various media outlets. The file appeared on the Internet for bidding on the night of November 12th-13th. And there are two possibilities. The first: Korotkov simply bought the video after the journalist went to his sponsor Khodorkovsky in Berlin to receive a prize for the conference “Russia for Citizens”. The publication of the video in “Novaya Gazeta” took place just after the event.
The second possibility: Korotkov already had a video in his hands from ISIS or Khodorkovsky and simply tried to legalise it, through sale. The credibility of the video is also questionable. But this is already a separate reason for new material.
In addition, the provocation of the liberal publication surprisingly coincided with some requests that we sent a few days earlier to some friends of Korotkov. Most likely, it was this publication that the journalist cooperating with ISIS hoped to hide from our investigation. Otherwise, why would “Novaya Gazeta” publish his material at the most unusual time for them – 9 p.m. Thursday, and not even place it in the morning newspaper. Clearly the material was prepared in a hurry.
“He didn’t even have time to put on the layout. I don’t know what Korotkov promised Muratov, but he broke all possible internal rules to get this material out. There was not even a normal second opinion, although at ‘Novaya’ this is considered a mandatory aspect of each article. No one sent requests to the Defence Ministry either. That’s not how we work. But here the article was immediately published,” says one of the employees of the newspaper, who wished to remain anonymous.
However, this isn’t the first time “Novaya” has defended terrorists. At least two employees of the publication at different times openly admitted to having sympathy for the militants. For example, the columnist Irek Murtazin. In 2002, when the whole of Russia followed with a shudder the tragedy unfolding around the musical “North-Ost”, former chairman of VGTRK-Tatarstan Murtazin openly sympathised with terrorists. On October 24th 2002 he did a live broadcast where he referred to the militants as “Chechen rebels” and the terrorist act as an act of despair.
The second “sympathizer” – Olga Bobrov – last autumn published an interview with Sergey Trofimov, who is fighting in Syria on the side of Jabhat al-Nusra.
Once again, it is a full crime for us to cooperate with ISIS terrorists in order to assist them, even in the information space. The fact that Korotkov works with ISIS groups is no longer in any doubt. And we officially ask the law enforcement bodies to check all the information from this investigation and to check the journalist of “Novaya Gazeta” Denis Korotkov for rendering assistance to terrorists.
You will be able to read in the near future the next part of our investigation about ISIS and the Russian citizens cooperating with it.
Federal News Agency
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