In a video titled "Inside Halab" and posted on the Internet on February 9, 2015, British hostage John Cantlie interviews top French ISIS recruiter Salim Benghalem, whose trial in absentia is due to begin the first week of December in Paris. In the video, Benghalem praises the perpetrators of the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo and other terror attacks in Paris, and calls on Muslims living in the West to carry out similar attacks.
Cantlie: "Hello, I'm John Cantlie. In the last film in this series, we're in a city that's been at the heart of the fighting since summer 2012. Used to be home to more than two million people and has some of the most ancient architecture in all of the Middle East. And now, after two years of bitter fighting, much of the city lies in ruins and many of the people have fled. This is a civilian area that has been bombed flat by two years of war. The area became famous for indiscriminate bombing by the Assad air force, which has now been joined by American jets dropping bombs overhead and has left huge sections of this town and the surrounding area smashed to rubble.
"Today, we're inside Halab. What we're gonna find out, is if all this bombs, all this fighting, and all this destruction has even slowed down the advance of the Islamic State."
Title: "From Inside Halab"
Cantlie: "The advance and stretch of the Islamic state is in fact remarkable and breathtaking. Driving into Halab, one can truly appreciate firsthand the large swathes of territory liberated and in control of the mujahideen. Agriculture is a key driver here in Halab, tilled land stretches as far as the eye can see, sown to feed not just the people of Halab, but also its thriving economy. Grain silos are packed to the rafters with wheat reserves, which are then bagged and delivered at bottom-low prices. Livestock leisurely graze on the lush, green grass. A beautiful beginning to a delicious end here in Halab's vibrant, colorful markets. Most impressive though, are all the minarets that rise high, announcing the call to prayer alongside the masjids that stand in full glory. But what really matters is what goes on inside, so let's go take a look."
Teen boys recite Koran verses in lesson
Cantlie: "Now one of the common accusations of the West, is that under an Islamic State, education will suffer. Religious studies and changes to the curriculum don't quite fit the image of progressive schooling. But here in Halab, these young men here are learning Quran recital and languages, and, with any luck, they will form the mujahideen for the next generation in this region."
Boys continue lesson
Title: "Inside Halab"
Cantlie: "Now, floating around in the skies above us is a drone, I don't know if you can just see it above my right shoulder. There were drones in Mosul, and now there are drones flying overhead here in Al-Bab, just northeast of Halab. But life continues, the mujahideen really don't care how many eyes in the sky are looking down on them. And at some point, that drone will be taking photographs, dropping bombs, or firing missiles."
"We're in the middle, here, of the market, which is a completely civilian area, and there has just been a large bomb strike on that building behind me. We heard the explosion, when we were just about five minutes over that way. The fire brigade, the Islamic State Fire Brigade, are here to try and clear up the mess. But it's absolute pandemonium, and all this follows a drone, which we saw five minutes ago, and then Assad's air force comes in and drops bombs on the market. Now as far as I know, the Syrian air force does not have drones, that must have been an American drone. But that was definitely Assad's bomb dropping here on the market.
"So, what's going on? Someone is working with someone around here to drop bombs. Look around, it's smashed there, smashed there, the people are absolutely terrified from bombs being dropped by Assad's air craft and with American drones flying overhead."
"Okay, we've been told that we've got to get out of this area. Because that drone's in the sky, they might hit this area again, so we've gotta get out of here. Everyone's been told to clear the streets, so we gotta go. C'mon, let's go."
Title sequence again.
Cantlie in voiceover: "Despite all this destruction, Halab remains a place of serenity and surreal beauty.
Fighters are seen sitting in a group, fishing off a bridge, drinking tea
"The mujahideen are not fazed by the bombings at all and continue to conduct classes on the banks of the Euphrates river with maybe a little bit of fishing or just enjoying a nice cup of tea back in town. And despite the bombings we just saw, people are still getting on with it. They continue to build new dwellings out of this gorgeous, white stone that Halab is so famous for. It is used extensively here, in single villa homes, to big city apartment buildings. And all over Halab's countryside, and inside its towns which are under the control of the Islamic State, the standard of the Caliphate flutters high. It is the shari'ah law that rules here, so let us explore this law further inside a shari'ah court of the Islamic State."
In shari'a court waiting room
Cantlie: "Of course, where you have the Islamic State, you have Shari'ah law. It is one of the absolute principles why they fight, and it is a very different rule of law to that which went before. It's 1,400 years old, and it is the rule of God, the rule of Allah. Therefore, it cannot be changed. Unlike the laws of democratic countries, which change to fit every circumstance or fit every different week, the rules of shari'ah are remarkably simple. For example, if you are convicted of robbery, with the correct number of witnesses and such forth, you have your hand cut off."
"Sounds harsh, but you're not gonna commit the same crime again, and it will dissuade others from doing the same.
"This is a waiting room, where normal civilians wait to see a Shari'ah court judge. And like any other waiting room of any other law court in the world, they're playing TV in the background. This being the Islamic State, they're playing Islamic State videos, and I must say, they're a lot more entertaining than watching the News at 6."
Title: "Ribaat Point"
Cantlie: "We're on the outskirts of the town of Akhtardeen, in Halab's northeastern province. This is where the Islamic state starts and runs all the way over to Mosul in Iraq. It is a complex situation, the mujahideen have been gathering here in anticipation of the fight ahead, and there's more U.S. airstrikes overhead. So let's go in and talk to the Mujahideen and find out what's been going on."
Enters tent to speak to a fighter.
Cantlie: "There's been an increase in the number of U.S. airstrikes over Islamic State territory. How do these strikes affect the mujahideen?"
Fighter, speaking in Arabic: "The crusader alliance and disbelieving West have not understood the nature of this religion nor the nature of its people who defend it. If this religion was dependent upon people, it would have died when Muhammad (sallallahu'alayhi wa sallam) passed away or when the rightly-guided khulafa' passed away. And history is full of many examples for this. Our contemporary history also proves this. Shaykh Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi was killed, yet the fighting did not stop. And after him, Abu 'Omar Al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamzah, yet the fighting did not stop, rather it became more severe and expanded. All praise is due to Allah. They did not carry on this path except for this goal, to get killed for Allah's cause. Let the disbelieving West know that the death of the leaders of jihad only emboldens and motivates us upon this path, by Allah's permission. The historical examples of this are many. Every time one of our leaders is killed, tens rather hundreds succeed him and replace him as leaders upon this path. This is the religion of Allah ('azza wa jail); it is not affected by the death of any person."
Title sequence again. Halab city scene
Cantlie: "Meanwhile, back in Europe, David Cameron in Britain, in his Christmas speech, talked of Christian values. 'On Christmas Day, thousands in our armed forces will be protecting people and entire communities from the threat of terrorism,' he said. But, as we saw in the attack on the market here, with U.S. drones flying overhead, they're very possibly coordinating the attack on the marketplace itself. It's the West who are acting aggressively. The people of Halab just want to get on with their lives in peace, and that is more possible now since the Islamic State took over.
Walks over to an ISIS media point.
"The media points of the Islamic State have set up, they've been all around the other towns where they hand out media and news information. Thank you very much indeed. The idea is that it counters the news that comes out from the West and so it gives people here, on the ground, and idea of what the Islamic State is really doing, and not the distorted view that people get from the Western media.
"And of course, what made all the headlines in the Western media recently, with the attacks carried out in France [i.e. in January 2015 in Paris]. So, it is only fitting to close with the words of a French mujahid living here in Halab."
Title sequence again.
Salim Benghalem, speaking in French: "Firstly, may blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah. In the Name of Allah, the most Merciful, the most Beneficent.
"These three attacks only made us happy. And every time we hear about one or more brothers defending their religion in the West, we only feel delighted. We learned a few days ago about these attacks and this is what delighted us.
"And we heard about other brothers who did the same and carried out attacks. Before this attack it was Mohammad Merah – we ask Allah to accept him – who carried out an exceptional operation and emboldened all my brothers in France, all my brothers in the West, to defend their religion.
"[If] presently, Allah has not facilitated for you [to make] hijrah to our state – no problem. Defend your religion where you are. Kill them with knives. At the very least, strike them in the face. For the religion of Allah needs you more than you think.
"You are sitting on your couches, while today Muslims are being slaughtered in every corner of the world. What will be your excuse before Allah? What is your excuse when this orphan loses her family, and you did not get up to defend her?
"So I call you to either come here or defend your religion where you are.
"To all my brothers in France, I say to them: start carrying out individual attacks. Be wolves on the earth, for each man amongst you can be equivalent to an entire army.
"And I say to all the nations of the West that have resolved to attack us, we have also come to strike you, and we are already there to attack you. The Muslims in the West number millions, and they are capable of inflicting mass carnage. So I call on them now to move forward and do what is obligatory on them in support of their religion."