Toy Smuggler of Aleppo
Finnish-Syrian activist Rami Adham made news in 2016 as the "toy smuggler of Aleppo," working with charities in Finland to sponsor war orphans in Aleppo, and personally walking into the country with toys for the orphans. He was praised for providing a bright spot amid the ongoing gloom of the conflict, and for his heroism after sustaining injuries in an airstrike. He was worried about some, over assault and "doping" charges, his connections with Islamist groups in Syria, and troubling statement suggesting he had the same genocidal beliefs as them. Then, he was exposed by a Finnish media investigation to be a complete fraud as well.
Rise to Fame
Apparently, the story runs, toys must be smuggled because "Assad" has banned them in his war on children. A hero emerged. (basic popular sources)
Rami Adham reportedly started his charity work in Finland in 2012, and has apparently been active inside Syria since at least 2014. Fame eluded him for some time. He seemingly faked his bombing injury only in January, 2016, then finally started getting serious attention a bit in the summer, and then heavily in September and early October, when the revelations came out, cutting his pinnacle of fame quite short.
- ‘If people like me don’t help, who will?’: Aleppo’s toy smuggler risks his life to serve Syrian children Syria Direct, October 3, 2016
- Q: Has wide media coverage of your project increased donations?
- I’ve been invited to appear in a documentary about my work, and how I smuggle toys. I hope it will raise funds that I can bring back to Syria.
- Of course, the media coverage and the interest of the world increased by 1,000 percent. At first, there was just local Finnish attention in our work. In the past three months, however, international media has given us huge worldwide attention. Since then, the donations have increased.
- We hope God accepts our work and ends our people’s suffering.
Helsingin Sanomat report
This paper has followed Adham's rise to fame in a different way since 2014, when they reported he travels in Syria with the islamist Liwa al-Tawhid brigade.
- A story too good to be true – The toy smuggler of Aleppo’s jihadist connections, made-up stories and an orphan project run aground - Maria Manner, Paavo Teittinen, Helsingin Sanomat, October 21, 2016
- Aid worker Rami Adham has gained international recognition for helping orphans in Syria. However, an investigation by Helsingin Sanomat finds that Adham has misled the public, has tight links to jihadist groups and his Aleppo orphan project also has many irregularities. Adham denies the claims.
- The news spread from the Facebook page of Adham’s NGO, the Finland-Syria Community (Suomi–Syyria-yhteisö). “Brother Rami has been the victim of a bombing today. Unfortunately we have still not been able to contact him”, the post said. (screen capture, small size)
- “Unfortunately we have lost contact with brother Rami Adham today. We have reports suggesting that he was among the injured of the bombing near Aleppo!” Agreed story recorded in leaked conversation.
Adham denied to HS that he invented the injury. "He says he may have joked “about some things”, but that he certainly did not mislead. “That’s a ridiculous accusation. Nobody could just make up a story like that. I was in a warzone, a really dangerous place.”"
- The WhatsApp messages also reveal that Adham and Meshaal wanted to make a video of the bomb attack. Meshaal advised Adham on the best choice of spot for the footage. “We’ve filmed four times already. Three of the bombs were duds”, Adham texted. The video was never released, because the people involved couldn’t agree on the details.
On faking ID papers: “We can do forgeries if you want. Why not? I just did one for myself today”, Adham wrote. “The Finns will swallow it. If not, we’ll shove it into them as a suppository”
- In addition Adham has posted numerous comments on Facebook deriding shia-muslims and kurds, calling the largest shia strand ”a sick and extreme cult” and demanding that all shia-muslims be driven out of Syria.
Further Reports and Developments
Finnish legal investigations
The National Bureau of Investigation (KRP) has has launched a pre-trial investigation into a campaign to raise funds for children orphaned by the Syrian Civil War. The newspaper revealed late last week that Adham has fabricated stories from his visits to the war-ravaged region in an attempt to gain media attention and has close ties to Northern Relief, an organisation implicated in an ongoing terrorism investigation conducted by KRP.
- Helsinki Times report (Finnish)
- October 17: YLE.fi reports Rami quits the Finnish Social Democrat Party (SDP), which he was invited into just earlier that month. This was after Helsingin Sanomat reports on his jihadist ties. The allegations were discussed with SDP party officials, but they all said these weren't directly related to his decision to leave the party of his own will, he says, to focus on his humanitarian work. YLE quotes him explaining "If taking up politics is already getting in my way at this stage, then imagine what will happen later." (4 days later the leaked conversations were also released)
- BBC cites the allegations of "Helsingin Sanoma" and highlights Adham's denials.
- He told the BBC he has receipts for all spending and is open with the Finnish government about his contacts, but "may have exaggerated" the injury.
- Note: the apparent proof that forced his hand shows he had agreed on the exact exaggeration well in advance.
- Hovioikeus vahvisti ”lelusalakuljettaja” Rami Adhamin vankeustuomion useista rikoksista - uudet syytteet jo käräjillä - Iltalehti, Auguat 29, 2018
- Convictions confirmed by higher court.
On working with Islamists
- "This is something you do when you go to a war zone. In order for me to go to Syria and especially Aleppo, I have to go through many groups," Mr Adham told the BBC. He says he has been working in full cooperation with Finnish police and intelligence organisations: "They are fully aware of what exactly I am doing in Syria, and who exactly I move around with."
- Note: It's likely true he's been open, and stuck to the "moderate" Islamist groups it's not a crime to travel with. But having to work with unsavory people is less likely to explain his own sectarian comments, or praises for the ISIS-liked Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Mohaisany as "the example of the mujahideen" and "worth a hundred thousand men." (as cited in HS)
- GoFundMe Fund The Toy Smuggler of Aleppo "Fund The Toy Smuggler of Aleppo is no longer accepting donations," as of October 27)
- Huffington Post reports he happened to be in Ataturk airport returning from one of his Syria visits when the suicide bombing happened there in late June, 2016, receiving an apparently non-faked injury to his left hand.
- Finnish-Syrian ”toy smuggler” suspected of pocketing fundraiser money - YLE News, September 9, 2017
- Police suspect Rami Adham of pocketing nearly 300,000 euros from the Finnish-Syrian Association to send to his personal account in Turkey and buy a new garden shed.
Arthur Peirce, Huffington Post, October 25 writes that "unexpected, remarkable people like Rami Adham," along with the White Helmets, show "acts of love" to contrast with the conflict's brutality, and we should focus on these to avoid "cynicism." Peirce evokes a comparison to Holocaust survivor Viktor E Frankl, who wrote that "the salvation of man is through love and in love." Ironic then that "Adham has posted numerous comments on Facebook deriding shia-muslims and kurds, calling the largest shia strand ”a sick and extreme cult” and demanding that all shia-muslims be driven out of Syria," or perhaps instead put in concentration camps and exterminated.
This is a common theme among the segment he moves in - shared openly by ISIS, JaN, Jaish al-Islam (see here), at least, probably Ahrar al-Sham, much of what's called Free Syrian Army, and most of the rest of tem as well. They openly embrace policies that would usuall classify as genocidal, and that's their softened public position - yet they remain branded as "moderates" because they don't embrace the Al Qaeda-ISIS project of attacking the West