White Helmets boss denies terror links, spreads whataboutism in contentious RT interview
Raed al-Saleh, the head of the White Helmets did his utmost to defend the controversial organization’s public image during a contentious talk with Afshin Rattansi, host of RT’s Going Underground show. Speaking via Skype from Istanbul, he set the tone for the entire interview, claiming 150,000 people were saved by the Western-funded organization “from under the rubble during the aerial bombing from Syrian regime and Russia.”
Al-Saleh and Rattansi spoke on the heels of reports that multiple White Helmets members were provided free passage from Jordan via Israel. Commenting on the news, he acknowledged “we currently have around 3,700 volunteers who are working in the areas that we are able to access,” but denied to disclose whereabouts of the evacuees, only briefly telling “they are still in Jordan.”
Meanwhile, controversies surround the White Helmets’ operations in Syria, with locals accusing the self-proclaimed civil defense group of running a terrorist support. At some point of the Syrian war, they have also been filmed helping a group of unidentified militants disposing the bodies of beheaded Syrian Army soldiers.
When repeatedly asked about alleged terrorist connections, al-Saleh avoided giving straightforward answers, saying: “When we established the organization, there were rules and regulations in relation to the international humanitarian law.” The White Helmets boss said, however, that “we saw no infiltrations [by terrorists].”
He then tried to pin the blame on Damascus and Moscow for targeting civilians, claiming again the White Helmets evolved into an “international humanitarian entity working for the service of the Syrian people and to save them from under the rubble after the shelling by Syrian regime and Russia.”
Some Syrians, however, are less sure about their role in safeguarding civilian lives. There have been numerous witness accounts suggesting the White Helmets collaborated with terrorist groups in Ghouta and other areas, and served as the terrorists’ backup.
In a subsequent comment, the White Helmets boss said: “There has been, in some areas and in certain occasions that we had to evacuate in a sudden and quick manner.” According to him, some clothing or equipment was left behind and “have been used by some groups to distort the reputation of civil defense.”
Proceeding with the vague whataboutist logic, he suggested “misuse of the photographs comes from groups that are active on social media and that are affiliated to Russia and the Syrian regime.” The mystery groups “are constantly working on ruining our reputation,” the man offered.
Notably, al-Saleh acknowledged the White Helmets do work with the so-called Free Syrian Police, a group which, in turn, is said to have links to Al-Nusra Front. This is according to a BBC Panorama investigation called ‘Jihadis you pay for’, in which they investigated the use of British aid money for terrorist purposes.
“I am surprised, but, perhaps, that explains the extent to which this group and its members and its leaders are considered to be protected by the intelligence agencies who are behind the funding of them in the UK, in the US and the EU member states,” Vanessa Beeley, a UK-based independent researcher and journalist, told Rattansi.
She then dismissed some of al-Saleh’s claims, saying they do not explain “mounting civilian testimony that I gathered in both East Aleppo and East Ghouta that fundamentally accuse the White Helmets of crimes against the Syrian people, of participating in numerous crimes committed by Al-Nusra Front and other extremist factions.”
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