Over the weekend, an interesting story emerged via several media outlets, beginning in the U.K., about a British sniper who managed to shoot down three armed executioners with the ISIS group from a distance of nearly half a mile away.
The story, which was first featured in the Daily Star, describes the heroic events as follows, based on the recollection of an anonymous source:
“A tall bearded man emerged and drew a long knife. He began addressing the crowd and slapping the father and his son around the head and kicking them on to the floor. Standing either side of the executioner were two other Isis fighters, both armed with AK47s.”
The SAS marksman, using a .50 calibre sniper rifle fitted with a silencer, killed the executioner just in time.
The source added: “The ISIS thug who was about to decapitate the father was shot in the head and collapsed. Everyone just stared in confusion. The sniper then dispatched the two henchmen with single shots – three kills with three bullets. Someone from the crowd then ran over and untied the father and son’s hands and took their blindfolds off.”
The story, if true, is indeed inspiring. It was retold at the websites of the U.K.’s Express and The Blaze here in the States, and elicited a number of positive reactions, such as this one from National Review writer David French:
“The story is amazing, and it shows the value of — to paraphrase the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Creed — engaging and destroying your enemies in close combat. The effect can be demoralizing… This is how you win friends and influence people in the Middle East, by using decisive force.”
Truth be told, upon my initial reading, it garnered a similar (though slightly less war-hawkish) emotional response from yours truly:
I don’t advocate violence… but as I’ve said before, when we have thugs like ISIS who are going to drag innocent children into the streets for public beheadings, I’m more than okay with a British sniper taking out the executioner, and his two armed guards, with swift shots from a half a mile away.
Like God tossing thunder bolts toward the ground, in this extraordinary instance, death came unseen from above, smashing a handful of men whose sick ideology made them think they held the right to choose life or death on behalf of innocents.
“Judge not,” as the saying goes, “lest ye be judged.” Here, judgement was swift, deadly, and I believe it was certainly for the better, too.
However, later after further consideration about the story, it’s anonymous source, and the apparent lack of details pertaining to the mysteriously absent “report” cited by various media outlets as the source of this story, I began to wonder if anyone aside from me, and a handful of friends of mine on social media, had begun to question the story.
As it turns out, someone had.
Another anonymous source told Graham Lanktree, writing for the International Business Times, the following:
A story about a “hero” SAS sniper who reportedly killed a member of an Islamic State (Isis) death squad as he moved to behead Syrian villagers is an “easy sell” to the British public, according to a military expert.
“Such stories don’t require corroboration to have their desired effect on the readership of such publications,” a spokesman for a UK military think tank told IBTimes UK on the condition of anonymity.
Interestingly, Lanktree’s source went on to say the story bears the hallmarks of “the classic SAS hubbub,” saying that, “deniability works both ways and just fuels the appetite for such stories.” The source was identified as a spokesman for a British military think tank, and it was noted in the IBTimes article that “the release of such unverifiable stories could be laying the ground ahead of political moves to increase the UK’s military roll fighting Isis in Syria.”
Considering the possible apocryphal nature of the story, I decided to reach out to a couple of “anonymous sources” of my own: two military servicemen, one a U.S. veteran of Afghanistan, the other still active with the British military (each of these men specifically requested their names not be used, I’ll point out), and each of them had interesting things to say about the affair.
The story my American friend related was perhaps the most interesting, and while unrelated to the present U.K. affair, does give us some cause for pause about the media treatment of such circumstances:
“It is hard to say [whether this story is true]. I just wanted to tell you a story. When I was there [in Afghanistan], there was a point where CNN came and filmed a village that was being taken over, and they wanted us to pose as though we were doing an assault against terrorists. There was nothing going on there, and there was no resistance… that was in 2005, I can’t imagine what else has happened behind the scenes.”
My U.K. contact, on the other hand, felt there could still be some truth to what happened, and that it was simply a matter that had been discussed with the press outside any official disclosure. “There might be a small truth to it,” he told me. “Our only snipers out there at the moment are SAS.”
Also noteworthy is this similar story also carried by the Daily Star back in December, which not only describes a similar successful sniper kill, but at times even employs language similar to yesterday’s report. For instance, yesterday’s story cited it’s anonymous source as saying, “It was a good day’s work.” In December, a similar caption read, “It wasn’t a bad morning’s work for the guys, taking out a complete mortar team.”
So is the current story of a sniper-rescue legitimate? It could be… but what has been touted by the media thus far is hardly anything verifiable, and in truth, has virtually no hard facts or sources to support it.
While it’s sad that this story might have been made up, I can understand why they may have done it. If you’re reporting on destruction and death day in and day out, people will become tired of it and either start ignoring the reports or become jaded, disillusioned that there may never be a positive outcome. Stories like this provide a candle in the dark, something positive that came from a very, very dark situation.
Take for example a (hypothetical) building collapse: 238 people die, including children. The reports say no one made it out alive, but then a rumor starts on social media about a baby that was found alive and safe in the rubble, accompanied by a picture of a little baby. No one bothers to verify it yet and it spreads. Eventually a couple people here and there do some research and find that it’s not true. At this point though, it doesn’t matter because people are going to continue spreading the miracle that came from tragedy. Ultimately, that’s all people want. Something positive to come from it. It doesn’t matter if it’s true if it gives them hope.
Now, for me personally, this makes me angry because, no matter the intentions, if this doesn’t have some grain of truth, then it was wrong to begin with. A true story of someone being saved is better than a thousand lies.
re: “it was a good day’s work.”
given that people in the military often use similar terms, idioms and catch phrases, it is neither surprising nor unfeasible that SAS snipers might use similar terminology when descibing a successful shoot, especially if one takes into consideration the standardized military training, and language, they receive.
of course, similarity of language is not proof the stories are true, but neither is it evidence the stories are made up…
It is interesting both newspapers mentioned in the UK were owned by Richard Desmond. I don’t want to sound snooty, but they don’t have a brilliant reputation for truthful, investigative journalism in the UK, and both papers push stories that support Mr Desmond’s political views. This doesn’t mean that the story wasn’t true, but it wasn’t in the media generally in the UK, only papers owned by the same company, which would point against it being true.