BEIRUT – A captive British photojournalist is being exploited by the Islamic State group to take on the role of a war correspondent in the extremists' latest propaganda video.
In the video made public on Monday, John Cantlie stands before a camera in what he identifies as the embattled Syrian town of Kobani. He says Islamic State fighters have pushed deeper into the town despite airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition. It was unclear exactly when the video was recorded, but Cantlie mentions specific news reports and statements by Western officials earlier this month.
"Without any safe access, there are no journalists here in the city," Cantlie says in the video, without mentioning the other reporters beheaded on video by the Islamic State group. In the newly released footage, he wears black clothes and is bearded. In previous videos, he wore an orange jumpsuit — as did the hostages beheaded by the extremists.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the video, although some of the images, including footage the Islamic State group says was shot by a drone, appear to look like Kobani, a town near the Turkish border. Sporadic gunfire can be heard in the background. At one point in the 5½-minute broadcast, a Turkish flag can be seen flying atop a grain silo; Cantlie is not in the same shot.
Islamic State militants launched an offensive on Kobani in mid-September, capturing dozens of Kurdish villages and entering parts of the town. The attack has displaced more than 200,000 people. American officials say the U.S. has conducted dozens of airstrikes against the militants in and around the town, killing hundreds of Islamic State fighters.
"Airstrikes did prevent some groups of mujahedeen from using their tanks and heavy armor as they'd have liked, so they're entering the city and using light weapons instead, going house to house," Cantlie says in the video, a fly buzzing around his head.
"The battle for Kobani is coming to an end," he continues. "The mujahedeen are just mopping up now, street to street and building to building. ... As you can hear, it is very quiet — just occasional gunfire."
The video is entitled "Inside Ayn Al-Islam," the name IS uses for Kobani. The Arabic name for the predominantly Kurdish town is Ayn al-Arab.
Since September, IS has used Cantlie, a freelance photojournalist, as a public face.
"Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking he's only doing this because he's a prisoner. He's got a gun at his head, and he's being forced to do this. Right?" Cantlie said in the first Islamic State group video featuring him. "Well, it's true, I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But, seeing as I've been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State, I have nothing to lose."
Cantlie said he worked for publications including The Sunday Times, The Sun and The Sunday Telegraph and was kidnapped by the Islamic State group shortly after he came to Syria in November 2012. He was previously held by militants for several days in July 2012 along with a Dutch journalist.
Nicolas Henin, a French journalist held prisoner with Cantlie and released in April, expressed admiration for his friend and his journalistic skills.
"It's incredible how much humour and strength John Cantlie manages to find after almost two years of captivity," Henin tweeted on Monday.
Cantlie's 80-year-old father, Paul, previously made his own video appeal for his son's release, saying from his hospital bed: "I want John to know how very proud I am of him."
Paul Cantlie died weeks later.
Reach Zeina Karam on Twitter at www.twitter.com/zkaram.