11:50 GMT +318 October 2018
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    Fashionably Late: Dutch Media "Discovers" Government Supported Syrian Terrorists

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    Opinion
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    Denis Bolotsky
    6415

    On September 10th, two Dutch journalists published a story about the country’s government spending millions of euros on cars and gadgets for Syrian jihadists. Though it shocked many, the topic was actually “old news” – unreported by mainstream press and ignored by politicians for over a year.

    If you enter just about any car dealership in the Netherlands, you would mostly see small cars. The eco-friendly Priuses and hybrid Yaris’s are local favorites. Heavy pickup trucks are harder to get hold of, but it’s still possible to find some. 

    For two years the Toyota Hilux was “the truck of choice” for government officials, who, according to Dutch journalists, were sending aid to anti-government terrorist groups in Syria. The “non-lethal aid” program was running between 2015 and 2017 and was designed to assist the Free Syrian Army and other groups, who were trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad's government. 

    In September of 2018, the daily newspaper Trouw and TV program Nieuwsuur ran an investigative story which identified at least six terrorist groups that were receiving Toyota and Isuzu pickup trucks, as well as laptops, satellite phones, backpacks and other gear, paid for by the clueless voters in the Netherlands. One of the groups – the Jabhat al-Shimaya (also known as the “Levant Front”) was listed by the Dutch prosecutors’ office as a Salafist, jihadi organization. Other “moderates” also appear to have been guilty in war crimes and serious human rights violations.  

    The report made it into domestic and international headlines, but the revelations of Trouw and Nieuwsuur seemed a bit antiquated, since this exact topic was covered 15 months prior by their colleague – Novini journalist Eric van de Beek.

    Eric says that his own investigation started when he asked Dutch MPs whether they knew about the “non-lethal aid” program. Only representatives from three Christian Democratic parties replied to him. Other politicians preferred to ignore the subject. 

    In the 2017 Novini article, van de Beek wrote that Bert Koenders – Holland’s foreign minister at the time — was in favor of the “non-lethal aid” program. The Dutch government claimed that it had two goals in mind when sending aid to “Syrian moderate rebels”: help them bring down al-Nusra* and Daesh*, and, at the same time, get the opposition closer to deposing Bashar al-Assad.

    “This really frustrates me, but I must say that this newspaper – Trouw, I think they did a very good job, because they came further than I came a year ago.” – says Eric van de Beek — “They started like me, and they started asking the Minister of Foreign affairs 'Which groups are we supporting?' Minister Bert Koenders didn’t respond to me last year — he told me that it was confidential. A year later the newspaper Trouw – they asked the current minister Stef Blok the same question, and they received the same answer: 'This is confidential information'."

    The aspect where Trouw and Niewsuur also went further than van de Beek, was interviewing numerous members of rebel groups. And that led to even more strange discoveries: 

    “To their surprise, some of the leaders of these groups – they had no difficulty whatsoever to tell them: 'Ok, we are supported by the Dutch government and we are very grateful'.”

    Normally, when a story of government wrongdoing like this one gets out, one would expect a Watergate-like scandal, with politicians losing their jobs, or even ending up in jail. But, apparently, this isn’t the case here, as the Netherlands' mainstream media seems to be occupied with other things. 

    Sputnik wanted to ask Ghassan Dahan and Milena Holdert from Trouw and Nieuwsuur why they ran their story now, more than two years after the subject was first brought up in the Dutch parliament. But they did not reply to email requests and messages. Eric van de Beek tweeted that this kind of reaction is typical for "Russophobic NL media."

    It’s hard to guess why this story suddenly gained importance for Trouw and Nieuwsuur journalists and why they didn’t want to communicate. But with the anti-terrorist campaign in Syria leaving almost no terrorists alive, according to Eric van de Beek such "digging" by the mainstream media is losing its value. 

    "There is no use now. Because the government has stopped this help, because there are no rebels anymore to be supported – only in Idlib."

    "Safer criticism" may be another reason: Foreign Minister Koenders left office at the end of 2017, which would probably make Mark Rutte’s current cabinet less vulnerable to media attacks, as the government could always blame the retired politicians.

    This case may an example of the Dutch press “cashing in” on hitting weak targets, or, perhaps — a sign of a late “awakening” in the country’s mainstream media in regards to events in Syria. 

    Nevertheless, it’s unclear whether the facts discovered by the Dutch journalists will eventually lead to further legal action against current or retired officials responsible for donating state-of-the-art machines to terrorists, who committed atrocities in war-torn Syria. 

    *Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/Islamic states) and Nusra Front are terrorist groups banned in Russia

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