A French national identified as a second French 'executioner' in the latest Islamic State (IS) group video has denied participating or featuring in the clip in a Twitter posting on Thursday.
In a Twitter message in French posted Thursday, Dos Santos said, “I categorically announce that I was not present in the video.”
Experts on jihadist groups from FRANCE 24 and RFI (Radio France International) confirmed that the Twitter account used by the Frenchman was authentic.
Doubts over whether Dos Santos featured in the IS group (also known as ISIS or ISIL) video emerged soon after French authorities on Wednesday said they had “specific and solid evidence” that the 22-year-old was the second French national in the beheading video.
On Monday, officials in Paris identified another national, Maxime Hauchard, as one of the executioners of 18 men, identified as captured Syrian Air Force pilots and US humanitarian worker Peter Kassig. The almost 16-minute clip ended with shocking footage of the slain Kassig.
In his Twitter posting on Thursday, Dos Santos ridiculed French intelligence officials for what he insinuated was a major gaffe. “My brothers are dying with laughter, but the RG [a famous but now defunct French domestic security service], the media, and France are always lying to create a buzz,” tweeted Dos Santos.
Amid media reports that the 22-year-old Frenchman’s family had identified him in the grisly IS video, Dos Santos maintained that his family had denied his presence in the clip. “The worst thing is that my family had told them, no it was not me, they recognised that it was not me.”
Suspiciously good command of Arabic
Shortly after Paris prosecutor François Molins named Dos Santos on Wednesday as one of the executioners, FRANCE 24’s Wassim Nasr and David Thomson from FRANCE 24’s sister radio station RFI (Radio France International) began questioning the identification.
“We’ve been alone in raising doubts about this, but I noticed many elements that made me think it was not him,” explained Nasr before adding, “But at the same time, the prosecutor’s office has information and elements that I don’t have.”
A recent convert to Islam, Dos Santos grew up in France, but his parents hailed from Portugal. He left France in 2013 to join the IS militant group in Syria and gained notoriety on social networks.
According to Nasr, the man in the IS video identified as Dos Santos spoke perfect Arabic with a distinctly Syrian accent. “I heard the video maybe 30 times to make sure – it’s simply not possible that he could have learned Arabic this quickly and gained a perfect Syrian accent in less than two years,” said Nasr, adding that it was just as unlikely that the IS group’s propaganda arm would dub over the Frenchman’s voice since IS is proud of the multinational composition of the group.
Futhermore, some of Nasr's intelligence sources have identified the man in the video as a jihadist of Syrian origin.
RFI’s Thompson, also a specialist on foreigners waging jihad in the Middle East, said on Wednesday that his own sources had identified the IS militant in the video as Abu Umarayn, a native of Syria.
While admitting that there was “a real physical resemblance” between Dos Santos and the Syrian jihadist identified as Abu Umarayn, Nasr noted that closer examination revealed distinct facial differences.
"There is also the colour of his eyes,” Nasr notes. “He clearly has green eyes in the various pictures he has posted of himself on Twitter. In the beheading video, the executioner’s eyes are brown."
Distressed families, mistaken identifications
But Nasr cautioned against rushing to conclusions too quickly. “We should remain careful because it’s his [Dos Santos’s] word against the prosecutors and many others. But I believe there’s now more room for doubt.”
The Paris prosecutor’s office has placed Dos Santos and Hauchard under investigation for premeditated murder, participation in a terrorist organisation, and conspiracy to commit crimes.
While there are questions over whether the now infamous second Frenchman in the IS video, there’s little doubt Dos Santos has joined the ranks of IS jihadists. “He has been active there for many months,” said Nasr. “He’s had many Twitter accounts, he’s posted many pictures of himself.”
On Wednesday, several French news organisations reported that Dos Santos’s mother and grandmother had identified the recent convert to Islam in the disturbing video. Nasr noted that the fact that his family was aware that Dos Santos had joined the jihad, coupled with their emotional distress, could have accounted for the mistaken identification.
In a break from previous beheading videos, the latest IS clip featured unmasked jihadists, including militants of non-Arab ethnicity.
British intelligence services are also trying to establish the identity of a number of suspected British nationals on the tape – including the familiar figure of a militant dubbed “Jihadi John” by the media.
A day after the video was released, the Daily Mail quoted British national Ahmed Muthana as saying one of the jihadists in the video “looks like my son”.
The senior Muthana however later denied his son was in the line-up of jihadist 'executioners'.
Date created : 2014-11-20