Late on the night of Tuesday December 3rd a senior Hizballah operative named Hassan Lakkis (also Laqis) was allegedly shot outside his home in Beirut and later died of his wounds. By Wednesday lunchtime local time, a Lebanese Sunni group had taken responsibility for the incident.
“The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Battalion officially claims the heroic jihadist operation of assassinating the leading member in the party of the devil [Hezbollah] Hassan Houlo al-Laqis in [Hezbollah’s] home ground,” the group wrote on twitter.
“The jihadist operation was implemented by free Sunni lions from Lebanon,” another tweet wrote.
The BBC News website’s coverage of the story began on Wednesday morning and has since undergone extensive changes. From the first version of the article, however, one of its dominant themes was the repetition of unfounded Hizballah accusations concerning Israel’s involvement in the attack, despite the BBC clearly being aware of the absence of any evidence to support them.
The article as it currently stands at the time of writing, together with the side box of analysis by the BBC’s Beirut correspondent Jim Muir, totals 666 words – with the words ‘Israel’ and ‘Israeli’ being used nine times.
In the body of the article readers are told that:
“Hezbollah blamed Israel for his death but Israel has denied the accusation. […]
“The group [Hizballah] said Israel had tried to kill him several times previously.” […]
“Israel denied any involvement in the death.”
“These automatic accusations are an innate reflex with Hezbollah,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “They don’t need evidence, they don’t need facts. They just blame anything on Israel.” […]
“Hezbollah fought a destructive 34-day war with Israel in 2006. The group said that one of Lakkis’s sons had been killed in that conflict.”
In his sidebox of analysis Muir writes:
“One of his colleagues, Ghaleb Awali, was killed by a car bomb in southern Beirut in 2004, an incident which Hezbollah also blamed on Israel.” […]
“Israel usually does not comment on assassinations in which it is believed to have had a hand, such as the killing of another senior Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in a bomb explosion in Damascus in 2008. But on this occasion it adamantly denied killing Hassan Lakkis, in what appears to have been a fairly clumsy operation by whoever did it.”
In a filmed report broadcast on BBC television news and also placed on the BBC News website, Muir repeated the Hizballah line.
“But of course Hizballah itself has been very quick to blame Israel for this killing – something the Israelis have denied. Now normally, if they have had a hand in something, or it’s believed they have, they keep quiet – they say absolutely nothing.”
So busy is the BBC repeating and promoting the baseless propaganda of a terrorist organization, that exploration of the possibility that the assassination might have been carried out by any actor which is not Israel is reduced to one vague sentence in Muir’s analysis, which was repeated in the body of the main article’s earlier versions – including the decidedly curious use of the term “unlikely target”.
“But Lakkis might be an unlikely target for Sunni militants angered by Hezbollah’s role in Syria.”
Likewise, the terrorist organisation’s role in the Syrian civil war is also downplayed, both in the article itself and in Muir’s sidebox.
“Iran is a major backer of Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to Syria to back the government of Bashar al-Assad.”
“Lakkis’s death comes in the context of repeated attacks on Hezbollah’s heartland in Beirut’s southern suburbs which are seen as connected to the movement’s involvement alongside Syrian government forces in their struggle with mainly Sunni rebels.”
Notably, the article fails to make clear to readers Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization which is operational worldwide, describing it thus:
“Hezbollah – or the Party of God – is a powerful political and military organisation in Lebanon made up mainly of Shia Muslims.
It emerged with financial backing from Iran in the early 1980s and began a struggle to drive Israeli troops from Lebanon.”
As Michael Totten has noted:
“And yet Hezbollah is still often described, by itself and by its Western apologists, as an indigenous Lebanese “resistance” movement in a twilight struggle against the Jewish state. It is, in fact, a multinational terror operation with Iran as its funder and controller.”
The BBC article also states that:
“Little is known publicly about Lakkis, but he was reputedly close to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and an expert in weapons manufacturing.”
“In 2001, Mohammad Dbouk was indicted in U.S. federal court under Operation Smokescreen. According to U.S. investigators, Dbouk is an Iranian-trained Hezbollah operative and “an intelligence specialist and propagandist [who] was dispatched to Canada by Hezbollah for the express purpose of obtaining surveillance equipment.” According to information collected by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) during its investigation into Mohammad Dbouk’s activities in Canada, first in Montreal and then in Vancouver, Dbouk was acting under the direction of Hezbollah’s then chief of procurement, the aforementioned Haj Hassan Hilu Laqis, who was based in Lebanon.” [emphasis added]
Just a couple of weeks ago the BBC was amplifying Iranian propaganda on the subject of the terror attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut – see here and here. In this article (as well as in a separate one) it now adds Hizballah propaganda to its cocktail of unfounded accusations surrounding that incident.
“The news comes a day after Hassan Nasrallah said Saudi Arabia was behind last month’s bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut.”
The BBC clearly has a problem knowing how to relate to the streams of all too predictable propaganda regularly produced by regimes and terrorist organisations in the Middle East. Its current practice of uncritical repetition and amplification of baseless rumour, conspiracy theories and propaganda is clearly incompatible with its obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues” and its self-declared aspiration to “remain the standard-setter for international journalism”.
The BBC’s remit is to help audiences look beyond the propaganda and rhetoric they can just as easily view on websites and television stations run by Hizballah or the Iranian and Syrian regimes rather than giving it inappropriate credence through uncritical repetition and amplification on its own website and television news.