Anthony Loyd: Portrait of a psychological warfare expert

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Turks woke up on the morning of Dec. 27 to shocking news that their country has links to Daesh fighters. Yet, it didn't take too long to understand that the report was fake, because the source was The Times's Anthony Loyd, a journalist who is well-known for his yellow journalism for years

On Dec. 27, Anthony Loyd of The Times reported that 300 British Daesh militants were on the run in Turkey. Needless to say, the story sent shockwaves through Turkish media outlets and social media. He wrote: "When the ISIS-held cities of Raqqa and Mosul were retaken this year, thousands of jihadists fled to Turkey, among them at least 300 Britons." His source was Ciwan Xhalil, a senior member of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People's Protection Units (YPG), which are the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist organization.

Clearly, Loyd had not heard about the secret agreement between his beloved YPG commanders and Daesh militants, which resulted in the release of hundreds of Daesh terrorists from Raqqa along with their weapons. As a matter of fact, The Times had spoken to Talal Silo, a former Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) spokesman who has since defected to Turkey, who told the same newspaper that thousands of Daesh militants had been released by YPG commanders in return for bribes and cash payments.

According to sources in Ankara, Loyd had not contacted Turkish authorities about the allegations. And neither does Turkey seem to have any information about the hundreds of Britons mysteriously crossing the heavily guarded border. "Looks like the reporter knew that the story was too good to be true and feared that it would turn out to be a lie if he started digging," a senior Turkish official said. Instead, Loyd took a known terrorist's word for it.

Loyd's relationship with the PKK and YPG, it turned out, is not new. To make matters worse, a quick look back at his contacts with the PKK network revealed that he did not walk into those meetings as a journalist. Instead, his role was more reminiscent of a psychological warfare expert whose job was to send a message or make an impression rather than report the facts.

Loyd's relationship with the PKK dates back to 2003, when he interviewed Osman Öcalan, the younger brother of the PKK's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, in northern Iraq. At the time, the organization was trying to recover from its founding leader's capture and the end of a four-year unilateral ceasefire was imminent. Praising the "hardiness of [PKK] fighters and leadership," Loyd carried their message to the world that they would fight back if Turkey enters Iraq.

In July 2015, he produced another propaganda piece for the PKK and PYD that focused on the role of members of the Women's Protection Units (YPJ), the YPG's female counterpart. Seizing the opportunity, a female terrorist recited the group's talking points to Loyd: "We are not just fighting for feminism, we are fighting mainly to protect our people and our land. As women, we are proud to fight an enemy like Daesh – men who like their women as housewives, stuck in the kitchen, cleaning dishes."

Again in March 2016, Loyd was in northern Iraq, spending some quality time with Cemil Bayık, one of the PKK's senior leaders and founders, eating out of his hand. "If [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan defeats us, then he can defeat everyone in Turkey who wants democracy," the PKK leader told him. "We are the greatest obstacle to Erdoğan achieving his dreams. Our main aim now is the fall of Erdoğan and the AKP [Justice and Development Party]. Unless they fall, Turkey can never be democratic." There was nothing to suggest in the story that Loyd confronted Bayık about the PKK's relentless attacks on civilians and security forces. Nor did he seem to question how carrying out heinous attacks, such as the car bombing in Kızılay that claimed the lives of dozens of civilians, were going to help address the perceived problems in Turkey. There was no mention of allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against PKK commanders, either.

Finally, in May 2017, Loyd was asked to publish another story about the YPJ. This time, though, he focused on Kimberley Taylor, a British foreign fighter from Lancashire. The moral of the story was impossible to miss: Here was an ordinary British girl, a former vegetarian and non-smoker, who risked everything for a cause in which she believed. The evil Turks, she told Loyd, had killed some of her friends. Once again, there was no pushback from the reporter. There were no questions about the YPG's war crimes or the plight of conquered communities across northern Syria.

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