A story on an obscure American news website, Mint Press, has been central to Russian claims that rebels exploded chemical weapons in Damascus rather than the Assad regime.
The credibility of that story has since been undermined, and today Buzzfeed takes a long look at Mint Press' shadowy backers and their Iranian links.
Middle East specialist Brian Whitaker has been digging deeper and asks detailed questions about its author and whether the story was actually planted by Russia:
I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks looking into the story that Saudi Arabia provided rebel fighters in Syria with chemical weapons. More specifically, I have been looking at the story of how it became a story - along with the questions this raises about the boundaries between journalism and propaganda, and about attempts to manufacture credibility for a report that was lacking in evidence...
...The eagerness with which Syria "truthers" latched on to this tale was bizarre since it relied on anonymous sources and uncritical quoting of them – practices that the truthers object to vigorously when they are found in mainstream media. But on this occasion it told them what they wanted to hear...
...Essentially, what Mint Press did with its chemical weapons story was to take a short cut by piggy-backing on the credibility of an international news agency, the Associated Press. Dale Gavlak's association with AP added enormously to the story's credibility and helped to compensate for its flimsiness in terms of hard facts. That's why Mint Press insisted on including her name on the story, even though her actual role in it is disputed.More: Manufacturing Credibility. How the Syria 'Rebel Chemicals' Story Was Over-Sold
Whitaker has tracked down a comment written by the author of the Mint Press story, Yan Barakat aka Yahya Ababneh, written on the Daily Mail website, before the Mint Press article was published:
Barakat then adds some information that wasn't included in the Mint Press story which has done so much to excite Russian officials: "Some old men arrived in Damascus from Russia and one of them became friends with me. He told me that they have evidence that it was the rebels who used the weapons."More Yahya Ababneh exposed: Syria "rebel chemicals" story may have come from Russian source.