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Syria hardliners release American held in Idlib: monitor

Bilal Abdul Kareem (2nd R) has been held without charge for six months. [Twitter]

Date of publication: 17 February, 2021

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Bilal Abdul Kareem has been released by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham after being held for six months.


Syria, Idlib, HTS
A hardline militant group running Syria's last major opposition bastion released on Wednesday an American self-described journalist accused of having ties to jihadists, a war monitor said.

"The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance has released Bilal Abdul Kareem, who has American nationality," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

HTS in August detained Abdul Kareem in Idlib province after the self-styled journalist published an interview with a woman who accused the group of torturing her husband in detention, the Observatory said. 

The jihadist-led alliance had sentenced Abdul Kareem to a year and a half in detention but agreed to an early release after receiving "guarantees" from local leaders who petitioned HTS to drop charges, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

Born Darrell Lamont Phelps, Abdul Kareem converted to Islam before moving to the Middle East in 2002. 

He arrived in Syria in 2012 from Libya, curious about the rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces in a conflict which at that point was just a year old.

He has reported from shrinking rebel territory in Syria's north, filming the aftermath of air strikes, interviewing hardline fighters, even meeting Al-Qaeda members.

His contacts in the jihadist-led HTS alliance have granted him extensive access at a time when the risk of abduction makes much of Syria too dangerous for journalists from mainstream news outlets.

Read more: Syria Weekly: Few options to end catastrophe in Idlib

But it has also prompted allegations that Abdul Kareem is a "jihadist propagandist" and would not have survived in the area had he been an impartial journalist -- particularly given HTS's history of harsh crackdowns against perceived foes.

The jihadist group and its allies now control roughly half of the northwestern province of Idlib and slivers of adjacent governorates.

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