Back in 2011 there was the Gay Girl of Damascus, supposedly a young lesbian blogging from the Syrian capital in support of the Arab Spring, but who turned out to be a 40 year old man from Georgia, USA, living in Scotland. Now, five years on, we have @AlabedBana tweeting from Aleppo.
The Bana story all began in September of 2016 when 7 year old Bana began to tweet from eastern Aleppo to share with the world her anxiety about living in a war-torn city. It is perhaps a sad reflection of the world we live in that her arrival on the social media scene provoked a certain amount of scepticism, hilarity even. It seems only fair to endeavour to consider the Bana case objectively.
Bana, as we are told, lives with her parents and two brothers in Aleppo. Her mother Fatemah is a teacher who ‘manages Bana’s Twitter account’ and occasionally tweets herself, and her father Ghassan works in the ‘legal department of the local council’, whatever that means – the area is totally controlled by al Nusra who have set up their own council:
Bana’s first tweet was heartwrenching:
Bana’s sole purpose in tweeting is to tell us about the bombing of Aleppo by Putin and Assad, and to ask us to do something about it (Bana herself has lost one or two friends to the bombing, though we never learn their names). The tweets are almost invariably variations on the themes of bombs, the need for peace, pray for us, save us.
Bana is desperate enough even to suggest it is worth declaring World War III, just to save Aleppo.
There are also calls for Assad and Putin to be tried for war crimes:
Wee Bana hit the ground running on 24 September with about 20 tweets, and has continued at a good rate ever since, managing over 120 on 4 October (including retweets). I myself used Twitter for weeks before I used hashtags and I was slow to learn the jargon. Bana, however, was up to speed from the beginning, and over the first two days we got #Aleppo, #HolocaustAleppo #MassacreInAleppo #StopAleppoMassacre. She is well up on acronyms like POTUS and OMG. Followers were impressed with Bana’s command of English idiom:
To have mastered English contractions like ‘I’ll’ and idiomatic expressions such as ‘horrible dream’ at the age of seven puts Bana in the genius category. The problem is, when cute Bana was videoed, it became apparent that she wasn’t a child prodigy at all, in fact she couldn’t put two words of English together if not rote-learned. It was clear that whoever wrote the tweets was nothing to do with the small actor reciting, eg. on her 1st day of tweeting (yes, the video was all set to go too): pic.twitter.com/yeTjREZW
She was slightly more practiced by 6 October:
29 October was another disaster: pic.twitter.com/45GNr4U40x
One sharp-eyed fan was very impressed with the new clothes sported by Bana and her brothers in the above clip (thank you Vivienne@KitchandBot):
Bana has a friend, Abdulkafi Alhamdo, who has described himself variously as a teacher at Aleppo University, a reporter, and activist. It is possible that he helps with the technical aspects of running the Twitter account, such as videoing and either uploading or passing them on, and maybe language coaching.
He himself has both Twitter and Facebook accounts. Most of his friends are located in Aleppo; many of these, if not all, are members of terrorist groups:
Alhamdo ostensibly resides in Aleppo, along with Bana. However another possibility is Gazientep over the border in Turkey, which is a base for a number of Western-backed NGOs and journalists. A number of Kurdish cities and towns in South-East Turkey such as Mardin and Diyarbakir have been badly shelled by the Turks and might provide the necessary apocalyptic scenes, for both Bana and journalists claiming to report from eastern Aleppo. Thus Alhamdo and Bana could be in South-Eastern Turkey, safe both from bombs and exposure.
Bana’s ‘father’ ‘Ghassan Alabed’ has his own Twitter account, @ghassanalabed77 which was opened in September, coinciding with the launching of the Bana Project (thank you @Qoppa999), and Facebook page, with visible posts from 6 October 2016, so again probably opened for the project. There is no evidence that Bana and Ghassan have met as Ghassan does not feature in Bana’s tweets and videos. I previously suggested, incorrectly, that Ghassan was attributing the wrong name to Bana, Zahra, but that was due to Facebook showing only a bad machine translation for that post from Arabic, and not the Arabic original – it would seem that Ghassan does not know English.
Ghassan has close links with Aleppo and the terrorist groups that have been occupying eastern Aleppo. On 29 April he changed his Facebook cover photo to ‘Aleppo is Burning’, which was a campaign originating in the Western to call for even more intervention on the part of the West, in order to prevent Syria and Russia driving terrorists out of eastern Aleppo. Both on Facebook and on Twitter Ghassan follows a large number of accounts associated with the insurgency in Syria, such as that of al Zinki, the gang that cut off the head of little Abdullah Issa, Jaish al Mujahadeen (a group that describes itself as part of the Free Syrian Army but is allied to al Nusra), and also of the Saudi cleric Muhaysini, spiritual leader of al Nusra (al Qaeda in Syria).
In October Bana, or rather Bana’s mother, was interviewed by one AJ Joshi (@AJ) via Periscope. The interview makes for painful listening, but @JohnDelacour has provided a transcription of a typical segment – it is hard to believe that Fatemah has the language skills to compose either her own or Bana’s tweets.
In mid-November Fatemah uploaded onto Youtube a strange video which purports to prove that Bana’s family really are being bombed. Fatemah talks and there are the sounds of children, but no attempt to show any of these people. We see ruined buildings and smoke in the distance, which could come from bombing, but not the promised airplanes. There is absolutely no reason to believe that this is not footage with a completely separate voice-over added later.
After three weeks Bana was following 51 people. None of them would be an obvious pick for a seven year old girl: without exception they were politicians, corporate media or social media activists. Most of them could be considered sympathetic to the war on Syria; many of them have strong links with terrorist groups. Iyad el-Baghdadi, Louisa Loveluck, Julian Roepcke, Sophie McNeill, all determined supporters of the Syrian ‘revolution’, are very familiar to pro-Syria activists who spend any time on social media. Bana is also following the pro-terrorist National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, as well as the White Helmets, the fake humanitarian organisation that presently has a petition calling for a no-fly (i.e. NATO bombing) zone in Syria. A particularly sinister choice is @IranArabSpring, which is focused on regime change in Iran, presumably by the same bloody route laid down for Syria.
One of the first to be followed by Bana, and typical, was the Australian journalist Sophie McNeill who was instrumental in promoting the Madaya hoax/beatup in January 2016. The story went that inhabitants of Madaya, a town besieged by the government, were starving and that it was all the fault of the Syrian government who were preventing aid from reaching the town. In fact many if not all the photos were fake, aid for three months had gone into Madaya in October, and the chief problem was terrorists selling food at exorbitant prices. Many others followed by Bana are likewise involved in pushing misinformation on the Syrian war.
Bana built up a huge following within days, reaching 65,000 by 3 October. A large proportion of the followers appeared to be fake accounts, which again suggests that very savvy people are managing the project. (Screenshot from @laissezfaire; it cannot be verified because of dramatic changes to the account, see below.)
Regardless of the discrepancies and warning signals, the corporate media have taken Bana to their hearts, without exception, with poignant articles free of all doubt appearing in the Telegraph, the Guardian, and on all the main television channels. The New Statesman went on the attack against the many people who have made fun of the account.
The latest endorsement has come from author JK Rowling, famous author of the Harry Potter series, who sent Bana a set of ebooks (in English), and has retweeted her several times in the days since then:
Would-be trolls of the Bana account should note too that in October Bana was one of the 2210 people followed by @Jack, i.e. Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Twitter.
Given the calculated nature of the operation, and the standard of the English, many Bana-watchers have assumed that while Bana and her mother may have direct help with videoing and the English in Aleppo or Gaziantep, the base of operations and the source of the tweeting would be elsewhere. London tends to be first choice, partly because of the language used, and perhaps also because the Foreign Office is the primary funder and probable instigator of the White Helmets. As yet there is no definitive evidence of who ‘Mr Bana’ is, but one can hypothesise. For example:
Although there appears to be no direct link between Bana’s ‘father’ Ghassan Alabed, and Bana’s friend Abdulkafi Alhamdo, they do however, have a mutual acquaintance, BBC journalist Patrick Evans. Alhamdo features in an article on Aleppo by Evans (the article presents the viewpoints of people who are supposed to be representative of eastern Aleppo, but who are in fact all terrorists or terrorist supporters). Evan’s describes himself as a BBC journalist; as well as the Aleppo article he has written an article on the Donbass, similar to the Aleppo article in that it is likewise hostile to those allied with Russia .
Patrick Evans is also one of a small number of English speakers who are friends with Ghassan Alabed on Facebook.
Evans’s own Facebook page is significant in that all except about eight of his 54 ‘friends’ have Arabic names. Most of these do not appear to speak English; most have manifest links with Aleppo and/or terrorism.
The person pictured above describes himself as a mujahid, or jihadi, in the service of God, based in Aleppo; the Syrian Revolution Network is an ‘activist network’ focused on Aleppo.
Evans’s LinkedIn profile is even more interesting. He has worked for the BBC since finishing studies at the University of York in 2013, which could put him in the mid-twenties (consistent with the rather immature prank of putting in Bana’s mouth the call for World War III). His skills as listed on LinkedIin are not necessarily what one would expect from a BBC journalist: while writing and investigative skills are not mentioned, social media skills are right up there.
Although most of Evans’s Facebook friends are Arabic speakers, no skill for Arabic language is listed on LinkedIn. Moreover, these Arabic speaking Facebook friends hardly feature in Patrick Evans’s Twitter feed; Evans follows very few Arabs on twitter, none non-English speaking, and the tweets relating to Syria are sufficient to reflect the times and his profession, no more. Whether Evans truly has no knowledge of Arabic, or whether it is a skill he chooses to suppress, it is not possible to decide on the information to hand.
Patrick Evans’s tweets are heterogeneous and mainly retweets, and are largely devoid of emotion and humour, all of which give the account an artificial feel. Evans seems to be a fan of JK Rowling, following an account called @HogwartsLogic, and also follows Sophie McNeill. There are a couple of retweets from Abdulkafi Alhamdo, alhamdo14nov
and from Rami Jarrah, a pro-insurgency activist, journalist and film maker of Syrian parentage, along with tweets relating to Evans’s article on Aleppo. There is also this tweet from Evans to Rami Jarrah:
The Patrick Evans of the Facebook page seems completely divorced from the Patrick Evans of Twitter. There is, however, one essential connecting factor between the Facebook and the Twitter accounts: Abdulkafi Alhamdo. As well as featuring at least twice in Evans’s twitter feed in November, he is Evans’s Facebook friend.
So we have:
- a young man in London, Patrick Evans,who works for the BBC, and who
- provides a link between Ghassan Alabed, Bana’s ostensible father and Alhamdo, known acquaintance of Bana.
- Alhamdo in turn provides the link between Evans’s Twitter account and his Facebook account.
- Although this is not evident to anyone who looks at Evans’s tweeting, his greatest professional skill according to LinkedIn is a knowledge of social media,/li>
- Evans appears to have two different persona, his Facebook one, where almost all his friends are Arabic-speaking terrorist supporters, probably terrorists themselves, and Twitter, where the people he follows are English-speaking and tend to be from the Western media, and it it is difficult to gauge any strong interests, particularly political ones, apart from a conservative bent.
- Patrick Evans wanted to speak privately with Rami Jarrah, well-known pro-terrorist activist and media expert, based in Turkey, six weeks before the Bana Project was launched on 14 September.
‘Bana’ could well be a person, or people, like Patrick Evans.
There can be no doubt that the Bana project is a hoax, like the Gay Girl in Damascus and the White Helmets. The tweets are not the thoughts of a little Syrian girl wanting the world to save her from Russian bombs. Rather, they are the product of a sophisticated and well-planned operation designed to shape public perception of the Syrian and Russian operations, in order to justify Western intervention in Syria and facilitate regime change.
The sympathies of the Bana project are totally with the extremists who are terrorising residents of eastern Aleppo, shelling western Aleppo, and are in imminent danger of being forced out by the Syrian Arab Army and allies like Hezbollah and the Palestinian Al Quds brigade.
From the first days Bana accused Assad and Putin of perpetrating a holocaust, a massacre, of carrying out a bombing campaign using cluster bombs, phosphorus, thermite bombs, and of course barrel bombs. Since then the account has continued the theme of bombing and Assad/Putin culpability, along with constant calls for the world to do something, ‘to stop the bombing’.
No mention is ever made of the terrorists who mow down demonstrators in the streets of eastern Aleppo and prevent humanitarian aid reaching the area. Bana’s family may be in a position to repeat the dubious claim that Russia bombed a school in Idlib, but shows no interest in the atrocities caused by hellfire cannon directed by terrorists at western Aleppo. When young swimmer Mireille Hindoyan was killed by a terrorist shell in the Armenian quarter in western Aleppo, the Bana project, along with the Independent, smoothly implied that this was due to Russian bombing.
The purpose of the Bana Project is to create in the outside world a conviction that Russia and Syria are committing serious war crimes by recklessly or even deliberately bombing civilians, hospitals, schools, blood banks and animal shelters.
Persuading the world that atrocities are being committed could lead to one of two outcomes. As with Madaya, there is pressure on Syria and Russia to abandon the siege and any hope of liberating Aleppo, east and west, from terrorist depredations. Syria and its allies would be circumscribed, at worst the terrorists would be allowed to make gains, and at the least there would be a stalemate, facilitating eventual partition. The other desired outcome, first preference for many since early in the war, is to garner support for a no-fly zone. Russia and China have so far vetoed any UN resolution to that effect, having seen how the resolution was applied to Libya.
The US, however, have recently passed a resolution that calls for evaluating and developing plans for the United States to impose a “no fly zone” inside Syria unilaterally, despite the inevitability of a clash with Russia. Whether it is prepared to take this step, or whether it can act before Aleppo is completely liberated, remains to be seen.
Is the end nigh for Bana?
Things are now moving fast in Aleppo, with the Syrian Arab Army, Hezbollah and the Palestinian-Syrian al Quds Brigade taking new areas of Aleppo on a daily basis. Bana has been sending out desperate warnings of impending doom with one last tweet from Fatemah:
and then another from ‘Bana’ at 3am:
It is somewhat surprising that while 7.8 thousand people had retweeted the above when I viewed it, of the dozen or so people who commented the majority were people who ridiculed the tweet, a few more were clearly activists or trolls, and only one or two were in the ‘kind-hearted stranger’ category. How many genuine followers Bana actually has is therefore in serious doubt.
There has been speculation that Bana is about to be written out, however at 10.00am Syrian time, 28 November, she was alive and still tweeting…
Update (6 December 2016)
Bana survived the bombardment and continued to tweet, but complained of being homeless, thirsty, and ill.
There are repeated calls for the world to do something:
On 3 December it really did seem that the end had come:
Clearly a better choice would have been a miraculous recovery, rather than a line about being confused about which child died. The interpretation from @HKX07 is fairly persuasive:
Within 24 hours there was a further development: the @alabedbana account was shut down. Whether this is a permanent state of affairs, or whether Bana will reappear, perhaps in Idlib, even Raqqa, time will tell.
Stop Press: Bana has reactivated her account, and is monitoring it closely for trolls, blocking critics on a daily basis.