Two independent journalists killed in Syria

Editor’s note: In a follow-up report published on April 19, 2012, CPJ found questions about the journalistic credentials of the deceased.

New York, March 27, 2012–Syrian security forces shot and killed two freelance international journalists and wounded a third during an attack on Monday in the town of Darkoush near the Turkish border, according to news reports and a witness interviewed by CPJ.

The Spanish daily El Mundo, citing local activists, identified the deceased as Naseem Intriri and Walid Bledi, and the witness interviewed by CPJ confirmed the identities. The wounded journalist was not immediately identified. The French Foreign Ministry confirmed to CPJ that Intriri was a French citizen, while British officials said Bledi was a British citizen.

The journalists were filming a documentary about Syrians escaping the conflict and fleeing to Turkey, according to the London-based Guardian and regional press freedom groups. They were staying with several Syrian activists in a house in Darkoush in Idlib province, which is a center for the conflict, news reports said.

The Syrian army, along with plainclothes militiamen known as “Shabiha,” began shooting at the home Monday morning, according to the witness interviewed by CPJ. The man, who is not being identified for safety reasons, stayed in the house with the journalists for about a week and provided some support services for them.

The witness told CPJ that when the firing began, Intriri and Bledi fled the house for a time, returning to retrieve equipment when the shooting seemed to have stopped. The man said Syrian forces fired at them, hitting one journalist in the head and the other in the chest. He said the army took the journalists’ bodies, although that was not immediately corroborated in news accounts.

The wounded journalist was shot in the left shoulder as he fled from the house, the witness told CPJ. He said the journalist was driven to a hospital in Antakya by Syrians who crossed into Turkey.

“We offer our condolences to family and colleagues of Naseem Intriri and Walid Bledi,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Their deaths are yet another illustration of the grave dangers that journalists face in reporting a conflict that the Syrian government has sought to hide from the world.”

The state-run SANA news agency portrayed the attack as an assault on terrorists trying to infiltrate Syrian territories from the Turkish border. The Syrian government did not immediately release an official statement.

The Guardian also reported that the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office said, “We are aware of reports and [are] looking into them.”

After the Syrian uprisings began last year, the government sought to impose a blackout on news coverage by controlling local media and expelling or denying entry to international journalists, CPJ research shows. CPJ research shows that numerous journalists have said they have smuggled themselves into Syria in the past two months to report on the unrest despite the dangerous situation for journalists.

In all, eight other journalists have been killed in Syria since November, making it the most dangerous place for journalists in the world right now, CPJ research shows.

Editor’s notes: The original text of this alert was modified in paragraphs one and two to correct the citizenship of Intriri. He was incorrectly described as a British citizen in the original text. The original version of the alert was also modified to correct the death toll in Syria.