London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The US Department of State is embarking on a media offensive to counter the false information carried out by three Islamic websites it accuses of waging a misleading campaign against US interests. A newspage has, recently, been added to the Department’s Arabic language website, http://usinfo.state.gov/ar/Archive/2005/May/13-401696.html . Entitled “The Inaccurate Media”, it states that “this incorrect media, whether intentionally or not, deceives and creates suspicion and ill feeling. It also undermines the credibility of journalists.” “Our new webpage aims at rectifying false allegations about the United States in the media, exposing these sources, and helping readers to discover the truth about significant international events.” The three websites the US government considers major sources of misinformation, especially on events in Iraq , are: Islam Memo ( www.islammemo.cc ), the Free Arab Voice
(www.freearabvoice.org ), and Jihad Unspun (www.jihadunspun.net ).
Islam Memo is reserved the most criticism by the US authorities. It is an Arabic site which supports al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents. According to the State Department’s statement, all three websites try to disseminate deceiving information, most of which disappears into cyberspace, while some allegations spread worldwide. It says Islam Memo is “perhaps, the internet site most suspect with regard to news from Iraq . For example, it carried a news item on 27th March 2005 , that announced the death of more that 88 US soldiers in Iraq . The news was translated into English by the Free Arab Voice site.” In reality, however, no soldiers were killed on that date. According to the website, in the period between 20 th and 29th March 2005 , a total of 334 soldiers were killed. The truth, however, points to the more conservative estimate of 8 military deaths.
Asharq Al Awsat repeatedly emailed the administrator of Islam Memo to discuss the US report but received no reply. Islamist sources in London described the report as “biased” against Islamic internet sites, adding that Islam Memo had lost more than one correspondent, killed in Iraq .
The US report also mentions the editor of Free Arab Voice, Mohammed Abu Nasr, who translates articles by Islamist websites to English, especially those of Islam Memo. According to the US government, Abu Nasser is a Communist sympathizer, judging by the content of his website, where he recently included a letter, dated 1935, by the former Syrian Communist Party Leader, Khaled Bakdash, because he believed the letter carried “contemporary repercussions”.
Abu Nasr translates a number of news items posted on Islam Memo, on a daily basis, and publishes them on his own site as reports from Iraq . The information appears elsewhere on the internet, for example on Jihand Unspun. Articles carried on Free Arab Voice are, at times, provocative with titles such as “The Battle for Terminology in the Arab-Zionist Conflict”, “Who Are the Revisionist Historians?”, “Why Should We Concern Ourselves With the Holocaust?”, “Who Benefits from the Attack Against Shia Mosques in Iraq?”, “The Resistant Media: A new Perspective”, and “Human Bombs in the Balance”.
One example of the misinformation propagated by Islam Memo, according to the US Department of State, is a letter that appeared on the internet site on 18 th December of last year. In the letter, a woman held at Abu Ghraib Prison, West of Baghdad, named Fatima , alleges that she was raped along with 13 other Iraqi women.
In its latest campaign, the State Department is adamant that the events described in the letter are totally false. Accordingly, Fatima never existed as only six women were held at Abu Ghraib, temporarily, between July and mid December 2004. Two female detainees fell ill and were transferred to hospital and the others were held for no more than 10 days and none were subjected to sexual abuse.
Despite the letter being fake, it was published on several Islamist websites and circulated by emails as it subject matter was offensive. Jihad Unspun published the full letter on 24th December 2004 . For its part, Islam Memo claimed that Fatmia had been killed during an attack on the prison earlier that day. Since Fatima was now dead, it was now impossible to verify the claims made in her letter. Abu Ghraib prison hadn’t even been attacked on the above mentioned date.
As for Jihad Unspun, the US government states that it is owned and run by a “Canadian woman who embraced Islam after the events of 11 September 2001 ”. The English language website regularly posts the latest statements by bin Laden and al Qaeda, most recently a study on the strategy of the organization until 2020.
The government accused the website of a history of publishing false information.
On 22nd November 2004 , it published a report on an attack on a US base in Baghdad which killed 270 soldiers. In reality, no one was killed. It has also praised the reliability of the news coverage on Islam Memo, for example at the end of last year. Two months later, however, in February 2005, Jihad Unspun expressed reservations on the credibility of Islam Memo. It published a letter it had sent to the under fire website, stating “familial hostility is brewing. Islam Memo is currently under stack from several Arab websites. Your critic’s voices are becoming louder.”
All three websites devoted a lot of space to a misleading story on the US of Mustard Gas by the US Military when it attacked the city of Fallujah . The false report was later carried by the Cuban News Agency “Prensa Latin” and repeated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Jihad Unspun went as far as publicly asking questions about Islam Memo, saying “why are the numbers of US casualties reported by Mujahedeen websites far less than those published on Islam Memo?”
Abu Mubarak, the manager of Islam Memo, defended his internet site, telling Asharq Al Awsat, in a telephone conversation from Riyadh , “We are extremely professional in our work in Iraq . We respect ourselves and our readers and report correct information.” He revealed that eleven correspondents had lost their lives while reporting on the insurgency in Iraq . Islam Memo, he added, has 33 reporters, mainly located in major Iraqi cities. Abu Mubarak believes it is this accuracy that has angered the US government. He clarified that the site is launched from a server in Canada . As for financing the website, Abu Mubarak said it depended on revenue from advertising. Another individual who works for Islam Memo told Asharq Al Awsat “What else would you expect from the US government with regard to Islam Memo?” He then switched his mobile phone off, because of a reported battery failure.